Jesus the Destroyer

“Jesus the Destroyer”

August 14, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 12:49-56                   Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2                  Isaiah 5:1-7

 

If any of us have learned anything from the current election cycle, I think that there are two lessons that we have seen repeated over and over again. First, many people are not what they appear to be on the surface, and second, that no matter how badly you have mess up, a good publicist can “spin” it to look like something that wasn’t really that bad.  These same lessons can be applied to scripture.  By that, I don’t mean that Jesus has a publicist that is busy making him look better than he really is, but what I mean is that well meaning teachers, pastors and interpreters often focus on the good things, the nice things, the gentle things, about God and Jesus while overlooking some of the harsher aspects of their personalities.

Occasionally, this is deliberate, but I would guess that most of the time it is done simply because explaining and understanding these harsher realities is a little more difficult.  Likewise, understanding these harsher realities is more difficult for all of us to fit within our pre-established assumptions and understandings of both God and Jesus. But it is for exactly that reason that covering these aspects of scripture is important.  It is one thing to vote for a candidate because you heard all about the wonderful things that they have done, but before you vote, it is also critically important that we understand how they behave in private and that we know something about their core moral and ethical values.

If these things are important for us to know before we vote for a candidate for president, how much more important are they for us to know these things about the God that we worship?

We begin this morning with God’s message to the people of Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah.  Here, God describes Israel as his very own vineyard where he had high hopes of raising a good crop, and producing a fine wine, but got something else entirely. (Isaiah 5:1-7)

I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

God says that he cleared the land, planted the absolute best quality stock, watched over it, and did everything he could to prepare for a good crop, but all that he got was rotten fruit.  God asks, “what more could I have done?”  “Why did my vineyard only produce rotten fruit?”  But clearly, God is not pleased and he has already decided on a course of action.  The walls that protect it will be torn down, the hedges that made it pretty will be uprooted, and the vines will be trampled underfoot.  Nothing and no one will live there except briars and thorns.

Even the rain will refuse to go there.

And God says that is what will happen to Israel because the people of Israel are the vines that God has cared for and tended.  God didn’t look for grapes or wine from his people.  What God wanted was justice, but instead they only produced violence.  What God wanted was righteousness, but what his people produced was the distress of the poor, the underprivileged, the outcasts, and the outsiders.

Even though Israel worships a merciful, giving, loving, compassionate god, they have exceeded his patience and God declares that he will remove his protection and allow them to be trampled underfoot by their enemies.

That isn’t the picture of God that we usually get, but it is a vitally important one.  God is a god of justice, mercy, love and compassion, but God has limits.  There are limits to his anger, there are limits to his compassion, there are limits to his mercy, and there are limits to his love.  Just because God loves us, just because he is merciful, compassionate, and loving does not mean that we can do whatever we want.

We worship a loving God, but there are limits to what he will tolerate.

God freely pours out his love and his blessings upon his people, but he still expects something in return.  God expects his vineyard to produce fruit.  God expects his people to act with justice and righteousness.

We must also remember that Jesus is not just a nice man who was kind to women and children, who welcomed strangers and foreigners, and loved everybody.  Jesus has more than one mission.  During his first time on earth, Jesus came as the holy Lamb of God.  He came to be the rescuer, the redeemer, and the sacrifice for the sin of humanity.  But that isn’t the only role that Jesus has to play.  Jesus is also the commander of the Army of the Lord, the Lawgiver, the Lord of our Righteousness, the Mighty One, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the one who will sit upon the Throne of Judgement.

In Luke 12:49-56, Jesus says,

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

Jesus says that he has been sent to set fire to the earth and he wishes that the fire had already started but he cannot because the time is not yet right.  Jesus says that he has not been sent to bring peace, but division.  In this role, Jesus is the destroyer.  The coming of Jesus will divide families, communities, and nations.  The coming of Jesus really is the beginning of the end of the world.  After his coming, Jesus says that we should be on the lookout for signs that will help us to interpret the times that we live in.  Some of these are signs of the coming of the end of the world but others are signs that we can, or at least should, interpret because they have happened before and we can find them in scripture.  What happened to Israel, God’s favorite nation, his very own people, the people with whom God made a covenant of love and protection, when Israel became morally corrupt and God could no longer find justice and righteousness in his vineyard?

God brought destruction.

And the reality of scripture is that the coming of Jesus wasn’t the beginning of pie in the sky by and bye where the world would be filled with everything wonderful and all God’s children would finally get along with peace and harmony.  Instead, the arrival of Jesus was a sign of the beginning of the end times.  Because of the coming of Jesus, families would be ripped apart, and family members would turn against one another.  Not only did this happen in good Jewish families and in Greek and Roman families in the time of Jesus but it is happening today.  It is difficult to think of a better example than those we see in the news in Muslim families where children are disowned, beaten, or even murdered because they have become Christian.  This is not limited to Muslims.  It is not uncommon for Jewish families to disown family members who convert, great tensions are created in some atheist families when one member comes to faith, and I have met Indian men whose families turned their backs on them when they converted from their Hindu faith.

So what is it that God desires from us?

We’ve heard it before in previous weeks but in Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, Paul says,

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets,33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

What Paul says is that following Jesus is no guarantee that life will be one endless chain of joy and wonder.  We aren’t guaranteed a dance in the meadow with unicorns and rainbows.  Instead, Paul reminds us of all the faithful people who died because of their faith… many of them horribly.  But Paul says that all of these faithful people are watching over us, are praying for us, and encouraging us.  Our goal is to do the best that we can, to trust Jesus as much as we can, even when life doesn’t isn’t all roses and margaritas and doesn’t go at all the way that we planned.  Paul’s message reminds us to hold on to faith even if we don’t live to see God’s promises fulfilled in our lifetime.

Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God, the Author and giver of life, but also the commander of the Army of the Lord, the Lawgiver, the Lord of our Righteousness, the Mighty One, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the one who will sit upon the Throne of Judgement.

All these things are true.

We know that our God is a god of love, grace, mercy and compassion, but we also must not ignore the reality that God’s patience has limits and that we do not have license to do as we please.

As people of faith, as followers, and as disciples of Jesus Christ, we trust God, but we must also be constantly striving to be worthy of the God that planted us in his vineyard…

…so that we can produce fruits of justice and righteousness.

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Compassion Theater

“Compassion Theater”
November 08, 2015
(Veterans’ Sunday)
By John Partridge

Scripture:  Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17               Hebrews 9:24-28                     Mark 12:38-44

How many of you have taken a vacation in the last ten years?

How many of you have flown on an airplane, either for vacation or for business in the last few years?

If you haven’t travelled much lately you might not have noticed, but if you went anywhere near the airport since 9-11 you will have noticed that things are very different than they used to be.

While there used to be security at the airport, since September 11th, 2001 there have been huge changes in the amount, the types, and the locations of security. You now enter security earlier, they check a lot more things, a lot more thoroughly, and they prohibit travelers from taking a lot more things with them. But for all of the expense, and all of the hassle, a lot of people have begun to refer to the entire process as “Security Theater.” The reason it has earned such a nickname is that for all the additional trouble, the process hasn’t really caught, or stopped, any more terrorists than the old system and, in fact, the people in charge of our security have been arrested for crimes many times more often than they arrest anyone else. No other country in the world made the changes we did, and their security is generally better. Worse, by some estimates, the new enhanced security is even less safe, and less effective than it was before they made us take off our shoes and took away our fingernail clippers. Security Theater is very much what the nickname implies. It’s a great show, with marvelous acting. It makes you feel like you are safer, but doesn’t really do much else.

But the same thing happens in a lot of churches. People put on a good show, but don’t really do much else. To better understand what I mean, let’s return to the story of Ruth. Here, after Ruth and Naomi have returned from Moab, to Israel, they struggle, as widows, to survive on the kindness of others but try to find stability and hope for the future. (Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17)

3:1 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.

4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, was not fake. Her actions were not an act. Because Ruth is not a native of Israel she knows that she doesn’t always understand the language, the culture, or the way people think. But she trusts Naomi with her life and when Naomi comes up with a plan, she agrees to do whatever Naomi tells her to do. Because of her trust, faith and obedience, Ruth and Boaz are married, find the stability and hope that both women were seeking, and Ruth becomes, eventually, the grandmother of King David.

That isn’t theater. That’s the real deal. Ruth’s trust and devotion are real.

But in Mark 12:38-44, Jesus warns his followers about a completely different kind of person.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Jesus wanted his disciples to watch some of the church leaders because they were participating in “Compassion Theater.” Instead of being ‘real’ like Ruth, instead of truly having faith, trust, and obedience to the words of God, these men do all that they can to put on a good show so that they look good, despite the fact that, in reality, they are more despicable than many unbelievers. These were men who were more than willing to foreclose on poor widows and steal their houses, but still offered loud and long prayers in public places where everyone could see them.

In total contrast to these men, Jesus points out a poor widow, whose total net worth amounted to two copper coins. This was all the money that she had in the world, and she was willing to give it to God and trust him with her future. Others, rich people, came to give offerings, once again, in public, and gave large amounts of money… because they could. For them, even though the gifts were large, they weren’t costly. They were rich and could easily afford to give large gifts and never miss the money. Their giving was fake and all for show. Their giving never required them to sacrifice anything. But that poor widow was completely real, and gave an offering that represented the sacrifice of all that she had.

So where does that leave us?

What message should we take away from all of this?

Before we get to that, let’s read one more passage of scripture. In Hebrews 9:24-28, we remember the gift that Jesus gave to every one of us.

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, came to earth to give a gift to the people that he loved. He had everything. He created the universe. The cattle on a thousand hills, and all that exists, belongs to him. And yet, the gift that he gave required sacrifice. Jesus, in order to truly give a gift of love, sacrificed himself.

And so the message we need to digest is to be careful that we do not participate in “Compassion Theater.” We should not give to the poor just because we want others to think that we care. We should not make a show of our faith in public just so people look at us and think that we’re good. Instead, our goal is to be as real as possible, to live a life of trust, faith and obedience to God instead of worrying about how good our charity or church attendance make us look.

We are impressed by the gifts that our veterans have given to us, not because they were drafted or because they volunteered, but because their gifts were costly. They spent years of their lives in service to our country, they spent time away from their families and friends, and they risked their very lives for our protection. Ruth’s gift to Naomi was real trust and devotion that risked everything. Jesus was impressed by the poor widow because her gift represented a significant sacrifice. Jesus could make all of his followers rich, but since he is the creator of everything, that wouldn’t be all that impressive. But we are astounded by Jesus’ gift to us because it represented real sacrifice, even for the King of kings.

As we give gifts to God, whether those gifts are financial or not, we need to ask ourselves if we are doing them to look good, or if we are truly doing them to honor God.

Real gifts, gifts that have meaning, are gifts that cost us something.