Fake News and Faded Glory
November 10, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Haggai 1:15b-2:9 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 Luke 20:27-38
Are our best days behind us?
As a nation, the language we use suggests that many of us think so. We throw around terms like “Greatest Generation” and suggest that other generations don’t measure up. “Make America Great Again” suggests that it isn’t great now, rival politicians say that they want to get our country “back on track” and implying we are already off-course.
But what about the church? It seems undeniable that Christ Church was built to seat many hundreds of people while today we would think that one hundred would be a banner day. Our denomination, and almost every denomination in the United States, has been declining in both membership and attendance for decades. And, with that in mind, we ask ourselves whether the best days of our church, or even Christianity, might be behind us.
But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time in history that such a question has been asked. In 538 B.C., the emperor of the Persian empire, known as Cyrus, or Darius, allowed the people of Israel to end their exile in Babylon and return to their homeland. But those who were old enough to remember the glories of Solomon’s Temple, wept at how far their nation had fallen and how little they had in comparison to what was once theirs. (Haggai 1:15b-2:9)
1:15b In the second year of King Darius,
2:1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 2 “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place, I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
About 50,000 Jews returned to Israel with Zerubbabel, and for two years they labored to build a temple on the temple mount. But, for the people who had seen what was there before and had been witnesses to the glory of the past, what they built seemed to be as if it were nothing when compared to what had been there before. They had not only lost fifty or more years of their lives, but it seemed as if they would never be able to restore what they had once had. The campaign to “Make Israel Great Again” seemed to be a horrible failure.
The way that we see the world around us is often nothing at all the way that God sees things. And that was exactly the case here. The temple that Zerubbabel and the people had built was a pale shadow of Solomon’s Temple, but that didn’t matter to God. Although the people couldn’t see it, God knew that this humble temple would become the home of his Son, the Messiah Jesus. God knew that the temple would be improved and expanded by Herod the Great and he also knew all the things that would happen in that place and how those things would change the world.
While the new temple appeared to be sad in comparison to the glory of the temple that once stood in the same place, God declares that the glory of the new would be greater than the old. Where Solomon’s temple had been the center of controversy and warfare, the new one would be where God finally brings peace on earth. When the power of their nation and of their church seemed to be in terrible decline, God’s message was, “Don’t be afraid. Trust me.”
It seems as if, in the story of scripture, and throughout history, the people of God like to worry about the wrong things. That was what we saw in the message of Haggai, and we see it repeated in the questions that the Sadducees directed at Jesus in Luke 20:27-38 where we hear these words:
27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
It is worthwhile to remember that the Sadducees didn’t like Jesus and, like the Pharisees, often came to him and tried to trip him up with trick questions. Luke even points out that they are asking Jesus a question about resurrection and an afterlife because they didn’t believe in an afterlife. The question that they bring is deliberately crafted to trap Jesus into saying something that sounds stupid or foolish because he believes in, and is teaching about, an afterlife.
But all that aside, Jesus refuses to fall for their trap. In answer to their question, Jesus restates his belief in an afterlife by explaining that all those who have died in this world remain alive in the Kingdom of God. Jesus says that God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Jesus says that the dead are not really dead and that the question of the Sadducees is irrelevant because the future is different than the present. The rules in the Kingdom of God will be different than the rules in the kingdoms of men.
Asking who will be married to whom is worrying about the wrong thing. Instead of worrying about the wrong things, Jesus essentially says, “Don’t be afraid. Trust me.”
And finally, in a world where we can change the channel and hear different versions of the truth, and where we constantly hear accusations of “fake news,” it is helpful to be reminded that we are not alone, and that none of this is new. As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, he is concerned that other people are inventing news stories, writing to the church, and pretending to be him. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17)
2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things?
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Paul knows that others have written to the church, pretending to be him, or others on his team, saying that Jesus had already returned and, two thousand years ago, he is compelled to combat the effects of “fake news” so that the church would not be deceived. Paul encourages the church to hold on to what they know is true, and to “stand firm and hold fast” to what they had personally heard him preach or had personally written to them. Paul prays that Jesus Christ would encourage their hearts and strengthen them in all the good things that they would do and say.
In other words, in a world where the latest information might be “fake news” and where people pretended to be something that they weren’t, Paul reminds the church to remember what they had been taught. He reminds them, and us, of the same message that we heard from Haggai and from Jesus, “Don’t be afraid. Trust me.”
The world that we live in isn’t so very different than the world of the Old and New Testaments. When it seems as if our nation or our church are in decline, remember that God is in control. When people twist your words and try to get you to say something stupid, or distract you from what’s really important, don’t allow yourself to worry about the wrong things. When the world is uncertain, when people pretend to be something they are not, and when we are bombarded by “fake news” designed to distract us from the truth, we would do well to remember the message that God has been sending to his people for thousands of years.
“Don’t be afraid.”
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