A Date with the Gallows

A Date with the Gallows

September 26, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22               Mark 9:38-50                         James 5:13-20

Do you watch movies?

Have you seen Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean?

There is a literary device that has been used in many books and movies and was used to good effect in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  The literary device to which I refer is one in which one of the main characters has been sentenced to death by hanging and awaits their appointment with death and their date with the gallows.  In The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow stands in line and waits for his meeting with the executioner until Will, and then Elizabeth, intervene to save his life.

As we read such stories or watch such movies, we imagine what it would be like to be in such a position ourselves.  How would we feel if we were sentenced to death and were only waiting for our date with the gallows or our appointment with death?  And imagine how much worse it would be if everyone that we knew, everyone of our family, friends, and community, were similarly condemned?  How would we feel?  What would we do?  It seems impossible, but that is exactly the situation that Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai, and all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire, faced.  An enemy of the Jews, Haman, was a close aide to the king, and had deceptively persuaded the king to sign an edict that doomed every Jew in the Empire.  But Esther had a plan.  Even though the mere act of appearing in the king’s presence without an invitation could be punishable by death, even for the queen, Esther dares to do so anyway.  And when the king rescues her, invites her in, and allows her to speak, she invites him to dinner for further discussion and then in Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22, we hear this:

 7:1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Once the truth was known, and the consequences of the king’s edict, and Haman’s treachery, were understood, the king found a way to turn the tables.  The Jews were saved, Haman was hung on the six story tall gallows that he had built, and the sorrow of the Jews was changed into joy, and their tears transformed into gladness.

But sometimes it is hard to tell one side, or one team, from another.  It’s a bit like trying to watch, or even to play, a football game in which all of the players, from both sides, are wearing the same uniform.  That is the situation in which the disciples find themselves in Mark 9:38-50.  They thought they knew which side they were on.  There was Jesus, and then there was the twelve, and then there were the handful of people that generally hung out with them.  But suddenly their entire understanding of “us” and “them” is disrupted.

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus takes this moment to teach a two-part message.  First, “us” is not so easily defined as “Jesus and the twelve.”  Jesus says that even if someone wasn’t physically following Jesus but was doing “deeds of power” in Jesus’ name then they couldn’t say anything bad about Jesus and must have been connecting to the power of God through Jesus’ name.  For us, that means that we shouldn’t always be so certain that we know who is “us” and who is “them.”  

The second part of that instruction hits even closer to home for the disciples, and probably does for us as well.  Jesus says that not only are there people on our side that we didn’t know about, but we also need to be careful not to drive people out of the kingdom of God by doing, or saying, something foolish.  Our words, and our actions, can sometimes be the things that cause others to trip and fall, or to step off the cliff into unbelief.  And Jesus says that we must not be a stumbling block, we must not be the reason that someone else stops believing.  Worse still, Jesus’ description offers us a terrifying picture of what might happen to those who cause others to stumble.

Finally, Jesus reminds us that, like salt, we were created with a purpose.  And, just like salt that isn’t salty, we cease to be useful if we fail to do the things for which we were created.  Salt that isn’t salty was typically just thrown out and used to fill in potholes on the walking path outside your house.  We wouldn’t want God to have that kind of opinion about our usefulness.

Instead, we should strive to be about God’s business and to do the work that Jesus has left for us to do.  Jesus’ brother James has this to say in James 5:13-20:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James reminds us that while we are trying to be useful, one of the things for which we were created is to connect with God through prayer.  Pray for the sick and the suffering, sing when things go well, and ask for forgiveness when we fall short.  If the prayers of Elijah could stop the rain for three years and then start it back up again, then we know that our prayers are sufficient to bring the wanderers and the prodigals home again and return the lost to a closer walk with Jesus.

Never forget that rescuing God’s the lost children is the purpose for which we were created.  Without Jesus, we are like those pirates and other characters in books and movies who were waiting for their date with the gallows, or like the Jews who waited for their destruction.  Without Jesus, death awaits us all.  But when we return the lost to Jesus, through prayer or through the actions of individuals or through the work of the church, we change sorrow into joy, and tears into gladness.

Let us not sit idly and watch as others wait for their date with the gallows.

Instead, may God find us busy doing the work of rescue and restoration.


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Expansion

The Expansion

January 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 49:1-7                          John 1:29-42                          1 Corinthians 1:1-9

 

How many of you know how to drive a stick shift?

I want to be clear, what I mean by that is, how many of you have driven a stick shift truck or automobile?

I make that clarification because when I first got my driver’s license, I thought I knew how to drive a stick.  I had been in the car with my Dad and with my brothers on countless occasions.  I had a driver’s license, and I understood the principles and the mechanics of how a stick shift operated.  But the first time I tried to put that knowledge into practice, I drove my father’s Mustang into our garage door.  Thankfully, I didn’t do much damage to either the garage or the car, so I wasn’t in a lot of trouble.  But this was a great learning opportunity that reinforced the idea that there’s a big difference between knowing and knowing.  There’s a difference between hearing about something, or knowing about something, and having knowledge that comes from doing that thing.  There’s a difference between knowing how to drive a stick shift and physically driving a stick shift long enough to become skilled in doing it.  In the same way, there’s a difference between knowing about a person, and knowing that person because you’ve spent enough time together to genuinely know them.

As I found out when I drove my dad’s Mustang into the garage door, the difference between these two kinds of knowing can be critically important.  A few years ago, while our son Jonah was shopping for a car, a friend from school wanted to sell him one.  Jonah liked it but, since it was a stick shift, and since he didn’t know how drive a stick, Jonah asked me to test drive it with him.  It looked nice enough and to Jonah, the car seemed great.  But when I got behind the wheel, something about the way the clutch worked and the way that it shifted seemed wrong to me.  I admitted that it had been several years since I had regularly driven a stick, but even aside from my slightly rusty skills, something just didn’t seem right, and my hesitancy caused Jonah to look elsewhere.  There’s a between knowing about and knowing from experience and that difference in knowledge often causes a difference in behavior.

It is this difference in knowing that we see in several of our scriptures this morning.  We begin in Isaiah 49:1-7 where we hear the story of how God called Isaiah to be the prophet of Israel and how God intended to use the nation of Israel, and Israel’s messiah, to call the world to repentance.

49:1 Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says—
    the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
    to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
    princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

 

Isaiah says that God called him before he was born, prepared him, and set him aside to be his servant.  But he did the same for Israel.  Israel was called by God before it was born and was set aside to display the splendor and glory of God to the world.  It was God’s intention to restore Israel, and to make that nation, and her messiah, a light to the Gentiles, a people that would go out, extend itself into the world, and expand the kingdom of God so that the kings, and the people, of the world would bow down and bring honor and glory to God.  It was God’s plan for the world to know him because they had known Israel.

 

And, in a much more personal way, we see this same idea play out in John 1:29-42 when two disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and (probably) John, meet Jesus for the first time.

 

29 The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

 

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So, they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

 

As disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and John would have heard stories and preaching about the messiah that God had promised to the nation of Israel.  They would have been told that the arrival of the messiah was imminent, and that John the Baptist had been called by God to prepare for the arrival of the messiah.  But, at that moment, John makes it plain that Jesus is the one about whom he had been preaching and that Jesus was God’s Chosen One and the Lamb of God.  And immediately, those two disciples had a different kind of knowledge.  Knowing that the messiah was coming was different than knowing that the messiah had arrived.  And then, having met Jesus, and now actually knowing Jesus, something else was required of them.  Now that Andrew genuinely knew Jesus, just knowing wasn’t enough.  Now that Andrew knew Jesus the first thing that he did was to find his brother Simon and tell him that they had found the messiah and the very next thing that he did was to bring Simon to meet Jesus for himself.

 

Knowing the messiah was coming, and even knowing that the messiah had arrived, were different than knowing the messiah.  Once Andrew and John had met Jesus, once they knew him, that knowledge changed their behavior and demanded something from them.  It wasn’t enough to know Jesus.  Knowing Jesus demanded an expansion, knowing Jesus demanded that they tell others about what they knew and introduce others to him.

 

And, just in case we are tempted to say that this was only true for the disciples of John the Baptist, or was only true for the first few disciples, in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Paul explains that knowing Jesus changes the rest of us as well.

 

1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Paul says that once we know him, Jesus pours grace into us and enriches our lives by giving us all kinds of speech and knowledge in order to confirm the testimony about Jesus by the changes that are evident among the people of the church.  Once the people came to know him, Jesus poured out gifts of grace, speech, knowledge and, according to Paul, the church receives every spiritual gift as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  And just in case we weren’t sure what every spiritual gift means, Paul provides a list later in this same letter in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, where he lists some of these gifts as being wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, spiritual discernment, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. 

 

Paul is clear that knowing about Jesus, and genuinely knowing Jesus are different things. 

 

Knowing Jesus changes us.

 

When we meet Jesus and get to know him, when we experience the changes that are evident in his people and in his church, and when we receive the gifts that Jesus gives to his people, we are no longer the same people that we used to be.  Knowing Jesus not only changes us, it calls us, and it demands something from us.  Like Andrew, once we meet Jesus, we are unable to keep that knowledge to ourselves and we are compelled to introduce him to others so that they can know him too.

 

From the beginning, it has always been God’s plan for his people to be a light in a dark world.  God has always intended for his people, for his church, to go out, to extend itself into the world, and expand the kingdom of God so that the people of the world would bow down and bring honor and glory to God.

 

We have met Jesus and we have been changed, transformed, and blessed because of it.

 

And now that we know him, we are called to tell others about him so that they can meet him and know him too.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.