Enemies United

unity-racial-divide“Enemies United”

December 04, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10                    Romans 15:4-13                                 Matthew 3:1-12

 

Who was your worst enemy in high school?

Are you still mad at them, or did you finally make friends with them?

Although our personal lives can be messy and we can harbor grudges for a long time, in global politics, time has a way of shifting our opinions.  Our nation was once divided into factions of north and south, but people cross back and forth so freely today that it’s almost impossible to be in a place, north or south, that doesn’t have people who were born on the other “side” of that border.  The United States and its allies fought World War Two against Italy, Germany, and Japan, but those nations are, today, some of our closest friends and allies.  We fought the cold war against the Soviet Union, but now work together every day with Russia to keep the International Space Station, a joint project, up and running.  France, England, and Spain once fought generations of bloody wars against one another but now, despite England’s vote for “Brexit,” they all live and work together as a part of the European Union.

Our scriptures for today remind us that God has sent his Son, not only to rescue us, but to heal the divisions between his people.  In Isaiah 11:1-10, God said this about the coming Messiah:

11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

The messiah will come and he will have wisdom, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord.  He will decide based on righteousness, aid the poor, strike down the wicked, and rule with righteousness and faithfulness.  And when the messiah comes, natural enemies will lay down their hostility forever.  Wolves and lambs, calves and bears, will be friends and even the lion, who is often the enemy of everyone, will become as harmless as an ox.  No longer will their hostility toward one another bring harm or destruction in God’s city.  And then Isaiah concludes with some very obvious military battle metaphors.  To those of us in the twenty first century, in a world of radios and instant communication, these may not be quite as obvious as they once were but if you’ve ever watched the history channel, or read stories about Richard the Lionheart, or even Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, these metaphors remain clear.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

The messiah will raise his banner for the people.  Before the advent of radio, armies went to war and the king, or commander, communicated with the disparate segments of his forces by using flags.  In the chaos of battle sometimes even the king had to move from place to place, and his forces could be scattered but, at some point, once a new position had been secured, the king’s banner, battle standard, or battle flag would be raised.  Everyone could see where the king was, and they would rally, warriors who had been scattered all over the battlefield would fight their way to where the king was and regroup.

This is the picture that Isaiah paints.  In that day, the messiah will raise his kingly banner, and nations from all over the world will join him and stand together.

In Romans 15:4-13, Paul reiterates this idea while both clarifying and amplifying it.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says that what had been written in the past was intended to encourage us and to teach us endurance so that we might all come to have the same attitude, or the same mindset, so that we might think like Jesus.  And even greater than that, Paul says that in having the mind of Christ, we would be able to accept one another just as Jesus has accepted each one of us.  But Paul wants to be sure that his readers understand exactly what he means and so he clarifies this with an example, Paul says that we shouldn’t just accept people who are like us, because Jesus had become a servant of both the Jews, who had received the promises of Abraham, as well as the Gentiles whom the Jews had considered to be the enemy for thousands of years.  And just to be sure that his readers really understood that this is what he meant, Paul quotes four different passages of Isaiah that remind them that God intended to invite the Gentiles, the outsiders, the enemy, into his camp alongside the Jews.

Paul concludes by saying “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This once again reminds everyone that as we trust in Jesus Christ, our hope in God should fill us with joy and peace in such measure that our hope overflows into the people, and the world, around us.

But as the time approaches for the arrival of the messiah, John appears in the desert preparing a way for him by preaching a baptism of repentance. (Matthew 3:1-12)

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John called God’s people to repent, and they came confessing their sins before God, except the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Knowing their character, and how John reacted to their presence, it appears that these church leaders did not come to repent and to confess, but instead came as a group to see where all their people were going and what all the fuss was about.  To them, John says that is isn’t enough to claim the ancestry of Abraham for your salvation before God.  Simply being a member of the family, or being a member, or even a leader of the church wasn’t enough.  What was necessary was to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  And what that means is, that real repentance looks like it made a difference in your life.  People who find real repentance live as if God, and his teaching, actually matter.  People who find real repentance produce fruit for the kingdom of God.

John ends his speech with a warning for everyone.  He says that although he has come to baptize and to issue a call for repentance, he is only preparing the way for the arrival of another.  The one who is coming is more powerful than John.  So much more powerful, that John is unworthy even to be the servant that carries his shoes.  John’s warning is that although he himself is calling for repentance, the one who is coming will come not to plant, but to harvest.  When the messiah comes to bring in the harvest, he will gather the wheat and burn the rest.

And so, as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah at Christmas, we look forward to a day when all of God’s people are united, friends, strangers, and enemies, people of every language, and every color skin, and from every nation on earth.  We are encouraged to read the scriptures and to internalize their message so that we become like, and think like, Jesus.  We are called not only to read about Jesus, and not only to think about Jesus, but to act like Jesus.  And we are warned that failing to do so will come at a cost.

As we celebrate this season of Advent, may we all recommit ourselves to becoming more like Jesus, thinking more like Jesus, and acting more like Jesus so that on the day he raises his banner, we can stand with our brothers and sisters, from every nation of the world, at his side.

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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