Death of Rebellion
August 08, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 John 6:35, 41-51 Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
How do you feel about rebellion?
Are you a rebel?
As citizens of the United States of America, we often talk about rebellion because our nation was founded upon our willingness to rebel against the rule of King George and the nation of England, and even to fight and die in rebellion against them for our independence from them.
And layered on top of our national historic association with rebellion, in recent years many of us, and certainly our children, have grown up watching the Star Wars saga unfold in a host of movies, cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, fan films, and other products. And in the whole of the Star Wars drama, the bad guys are from the evil Empire and the heroes are those who fight for “The Rebellion.”
But what exactly is rebellion?
Simply put, rebellion is resistance against any established authority, control, or convention.
The Rebellion in Star Wars fought back against the rule of the Emperor and the galactic empire, the American colonies fought back against undue taxation without representation and other oppressive systems of King George and the British Empire, but we also find ordinary rebellion in those of us who disobey our parents, choose not to wear masks during a pandemic, or who cut in line at the grocery store, or who check out with 14 items on the “12 items or less” aisle, or those of us who simply choose to drive five miles per hour over the posted speed limit. But of the multitude of ways that we can rebel, and an almost equal number of things against which we can rebel, the one that is important for us to consider on Sunday morning is that of our rebellion against God.
We begin this morning by returning to the story of David, but we’ve skipped ahead a few decades. Here, David’s son, Absalom, has grown to adulthood and become physically attractive, persuasive, influential, and politically astute. Over time, he deliberately cultivated relationships with many of Israel’s leaders and elders and began to poison them against his father David and lead them toward policies that he favored instead. Absalom finally rebels against his father and used his accumulated influence to execute a coup. Absalom’s coup was temporarily successful, but he overplayed his hand. David barely escaped Jerusalem with his life, but many of his generals and much of Israel’s military remained loyal to him and that resulted in a civil war for the control of the nation of Israel. And that is where we rejoin our story in 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33.
5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
6 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him, and killed him.
31 Then the Cushite [messenger] arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Despite David’s orders to be gentle and merciful with Absalom, and despite Absalom being found alone and helplessly hanging in a tree, David’s commanders took it upon themselves to order Absalom’s death. I am certain that they believed that Absalom was unavoidably likely to cause trouble for their king if he was left alive, but in killing him, they caused the grief of a loving father who loved his son unconditionally.
What is also certain, is that the rebellion against David died with Absalom.
But other forms of rebellion continued and in John 6:35, 41-51 we find leaders, elders, and others from Jesus’ hometown resist and rebel against his authority because they watched him grow up and can’t believe that he could possibly be who he says that he is.
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
For the people of Jesus’ hometown, it was difficult, and perhaps even almost impossible, to believe the things that Jesus was saying. Jesus said that he came down from heaven, but they knew his parents, they saw him in their arms as an infant, and they watched him grow up. They knew where he came from… didn’t they? They knew that he was a carpenter, a builder, a contractor, and the son of a man who did the same thing, and so how do they begin to believe that he could be “the bread of life”?
Many of them couldn’t. And so, they resisted. They rebelled against his authority.
They rebelled against Jesus and against God, and in this case, we think about the spiritual aftereffects and not the physical ones, but like Absalom, their rebellion caused their death.
When human beings rebel and reject God, the repercussions can be deadly.
We don’t want to rebel against God, but we’ve also been taught that Christianity brings great freedom to do as we please without being required to rigorously follow a bunch of rules. As it turns out, that’s exactly what Paul was worried about and in his letter to the church in Ephesus, he tries to explain how we should follow Jesus without rebellion, but also not fall into the trap of the Pharisees who made lists of strict and unbending rules to govern their behavior. (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2)
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Notice that Paul doesn’t lay out a bunch of rules to follow. He doesn’t say that we need to say prayers at sunrise or sunset, or attend church services, or observe a list of holy days, or make pilgrimages, or commit to a year of missionary service to the church, or to donate money, or refrain from walking or cooking on the Sabbath, or any kind of restrictive rules like the Pharisees had. Instead, Paul says that we follow Jesus when we tell the truth, and he cautions us not to allow our anger to cause us to sin. It’s worth noting that Paul doesn’t say that it is a sin to be angry, it isn’t. But when we are angry, we must be careful how we direct our anger and where we allow our anger to lead us. We learned from Jesus that we should be angry about things like poverty, injustice, abuse, and other things that God condemns. But our anger must be directed in constructive ways.
Paul goes on to say that we shouldn’t steal, we should be productive citizens who do something useful so that we have the resources to share what we have with others. We should control our language so that what come out of our mouths is wholesome and beneficial to those around us. We should rid ourselves of bitterness, rage, anger, fighting, slander, and malice and instead be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. Despite his history as a Pharisee, and his familiarity with a religion of rule-following, Paul doesn’t even begin to tell us what to do, but instead tells us what kind of people we should strive to become.
Ending our rebellion against God hasn’t ever been about following a bunch of rules.
Ending our rebellion has always been about becoming.
As we become… more and more like Jesus… …rebellion dies.
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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.