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|Second Sunday in Lent||
March 11, 2001
The Rev. John H. Pavelko
| A BITTEN LEG
A little girl and her older brother were wrestling in the playroom. What began as some good natured-fun slowly degenerated into a more combative struggle. When the older brother began to dominate the contest his little sister become increasingly frustrated. Enjoying his superiority the boy started mocking the little girl. Suddenly the parents heard a loud scream and came running down the stairs to find their son squirming in pain, holding the calf of his leg and yelling "She bite me, she bite me?" With the skill of a Sherlock Holmes, the parents asked her if she had bitten her brother. She quite defensively denied the accusation. When the parents examined their son's leg, they discovered a full set of teeth marks on his skin. Again, they asked their daughter if she had bitten her brother and again she adamantly denied the offense. So, they asked her to explain the evidence. She stated that her brother must have bitten himself. Wanting to help their daughter tell the truth, the parents attempted to persuade the little girl to admit her wrongdoing to which she declined. Finally, the parents asked the girl to demonstrate how her brother could have bitten himself on that portion of the leg. For several minutes she wiggled and twisted on the floor trying to 'bite herself.' However, even after her repeated failures she still maintained her innocence and stubbornly refused to repent.
Unfortunately, too many people are like that little girl. Regardless of the evidence, they deny their transgression and defend their innocence. Rather, than admit that they were wrong, they redefine reality to defend their offense. Jesus has both compassion and a stern warning for people whose stubbornly refuses to accept his offer of grace.
NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF OUR MISSION
This passage has an introduction that raises more questions than answers. Luke tells us that a group of Pharisees came to inform Jesus that Herod was plotting to kill him. This is rather strange. Why would the Pharisees warn Jesus about this pending threat? Weren't these the same people who plotted to kill him? And if Herod was so intent on killing Jesus why didn't he do it when Jesus appeared before him the night of his trial? On that night, Herod seems more interested in witnessing a miracle than a murder? These are very perplexing questions, that do not have an easy answer? Some scholars have suggested that Luke presents the Pharisees in a much more positive light than the other gospels. Three times Luke records that Jesus was invited to a Pharisees house for dinner. The physician never once links the plot to kill Jesus with the Pharisees. Nor does he even mention that they were a part of his trial and execution. Luke appears to conveying that while he often made them mad, the Pharisees were on friendly terms with Jesus. They may have been impressed by his knowledge of Scripture. They may have been intrigued by his devotion and reverence to God. Or they may have been enamored by his insight and understanding of the spiritual realm. Whatever their reason they had heard reports that scared them and they wanted to persuade Jesus to go to some other town or region of the country where he would enjoy greater safety.
However, Jesus would not be persuaded nor prevailed upon. He remained resolute in the pursuit of his goal. Luke had previously stated that after his transfiguration Jesus 'set his face toward Jerusalem.' Luke is not charting his route, but his purpose. The physician is trying to convey to us that Jesus kept his final destiny always before himself. Whether he went into a tiny village or a major city, Jesus knew that Jerusalem was his ultimate destination. Nothing would distract him. Nothing would detour him. This provides us with our first insight from this passage--we must never lose sight of our mission.
Ultimately the church has one mission, Jesus told his disciples
Go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Mt 28:19)
The purpose of the Church is clear. We are to go and make disciples of all nations. We We are not to be passive people merely welcoming people who are seeking God. We are to initiate contact with people who do not know Christ. We are to reach out to them and share our love. We are to become involved in the lives of people who have not discovered the wonder of God's amazing grace. We are to introduce them to the love of God in Jesus Christ. And we are to persuade them to confess Christ as Savior and Lord. Each and every church is called to do this. We are not simply a quasi-religious social club that gathers to sing, drink coffee, and enjoy superficial conversation.
C. Peter Wagner has written a very insightful and interesting book on mission entitled, On the Crest of the Wave. (It would be a great book for an Adult Education Class.) In the introduction, he talks about things in the Christian life that are optional and things that are mandatory.
Some things in life are optional and some are not. Wearing shoes is optional. But eating is not. Driving a car is optional. But once you choose the option, driving on the right hand side of the road (here in America) is not. Becoming a Christian is optional. But once you decide to ask Jesus Christ to take control of your life, involvement in world missions (discipleship) is no longer optional.
I'm not saying that these things are impossible. You can choose to go without eating, but if you do you must take the consequences. You must be willing to exist at a low energy level, to invite infection and disease, and, if you persist, to die.In our mission statement, we state that we are called to be a beacon of light. An elder of this church told me that in his opinion our mission statement did not truly portray our ministry. He said that a beacon by definition is active not passive. It does not wait for people to come and observe it. A beacon shines out. It is proactive. He noted thought that we as a church were more passive than active in our outreach. He realized that the church needed to develop ministries that reach out into the community rather than to wait for people to come to us. We needed to step out of the safety of these four walls and enter the lives of hurting people.
Whenever the topic of missions or outreach comes up some people will always express caution and reservation. They will point out that the church barely has enough money to pay its own heating bills. They will remind the elders that roof repair is very expensive. They will bring the difficulty that the Children's Ministry Team has in recruiting teaching for Sunday school. They will come up will several very legitimate reasons why a program or idea should not be done, so did the Pharisees. They had some very good reason why Jesus should be more concerned about his safety than his mission but he would not allow any of them to block his vision for his ministry. He had one goal in mind and he would not lose sight of that goal. He would not allow well intentioned but misguided religious people from detouring him. Even when people stubborn refused to listen to his message, he would never lose sight of his mission.
NEVER LOSE OUR COMPASSION FOR THE LOST
Jesus reply to the Pharisee's reveals his biting humor. I refer to it as biting because the people did not find it amusing. I doubt if Jay Leno or David Letterman would have much to worry about if Jesus would reappear and venture out on the nightclub circuit. His comments are not the sort of humor that produces laughs in Vegas. Only King Herod's enemies would have laughed at Jesus' comparison of the King to a fox. The animal is a skillful and cunning hunter, but does not command the respect of a lion. A fox survives but it does not rule. Herod and his enemies would have heard the political sting in those words.
Jesus understood Herod. The manipulative King did impress or intimidate our Lord. Political leaders may think that they have power but Jesus recognized that they ruled only under the sovereign grace of a Supreme Ruler. So, he told the Pharisees that he would continue to cast out demons and to heal. He would not lose sight of his mission. He also told them that he would reach his goal on the third day.
The phrase 'the third day,' should not to be understood for its chronological accuracy but its theological insight. Jesus did not intend to arrive in Jerusalem exactly three days hence. He knew that his message would eventually take him to that city. Jerusalem was the city of God. If Israel was God's chosen people, then Jerusalem was God's chosen city. It embodied the dreams, the ideals, and the aspirations of the people of Israel. To dwell in Jerusalem was the equivalent of dwelling in the presence of God.
Jerusalem had a special place in the heart of God. Jerusalem also had a special place in the heart of the Son of God. In spite of its years of stubbornly refusing to admit their wrong doing, In spite of persecuting and killing prophet after prophet, God's love for the city never wavered.
People told me that Rowena was one of a kind. She spoke her mind regardless. She could compliment and insult within the same breath. I called her on the phone to arrange a pastoral visit. Her first words were filled with anger, "I'm not coming back to that church ever again." I told her that I did not want to visit to bring her back to church. I had called because I was her pastor and she had been diagnosed with cancer. I visited twice a month for three months. Every week she told me that she did not have any intention of returning to church because the last pastor upset her so much. I kept visiting anyway. Easter came and with it the traditional Easter breakfast that always featured Rowena's homemade applesauce made with apples from her orchard. Rowena could not buck tradition. After all, she had always done it that way before. She made the applesauce and attended the sunrise service. A few weeks later, she resumed her attendance at worship and reconciliation between her and a few other members took place. Six months later, she died and the church together with her family held a service of witness to her resurrection to eternal life.
We must never loss sight of our compassion for people even when they stubbornly refuse to agree with us or accept our message.
NEVER LOSE OUR CERTAINTY FOR THE MESSAGE
Many people have difficulty discussing the topic of the Christian message because the subject raises the uncomfortable question, What about the lost? What about those who do not confess Jesus as Lord? What about those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God? What about those who stubbornly refuse to admit their pride and turn to God?
Some people have tried to relieve their feelings of dissonance by tempering the message. They have broadened their theology to allow for greater inclusiveness. They are most often referred to as universalists. They contend that all men and women eventually will end up in heaven. They approach the matter from several positions. Some suggests that human beings are not that bad. Others argue that even if a person does not confess Jesus as Lord, God will provide other chances in the future. Still others say that a loving God, simply will not require anyone to spend eternity in hell. And the indecisive say we just do not know the mind of God, but if God is a God of grace, some how grace will eventually triumph. And finally, some say that if Christ died on the cross for the whole world, the whole world will be saved.
Universalism shows deep compassion for humanity. It is sensitive, and considers the love of God, but it fails all of Scripture. The closing line of today's passage contains words of lament from the mouth of Jesus for the city of Jerusalem. They are not anit-Semantic but driven by both the compassion and righteousness of the Son of God. Jesus is deeply moved by his love for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He feels the love of the Father for the chosen city. Yet, he also feels the pain of rejection. Throughout the centuries, the city chose to stone the prophets who God had sent to call them to repentance. The sorrow of his heart reveals his desire to protect them against the impending judgment. "With utmost devotion and self-sacrifice he tried to lead them to spiritual and temporal safety, but they persistently opposed Him." Yet, he also knows that "they can meet with no other end but destruction and devastation..."2 William Barclay expresses the anguish of his soul over such inner tension,
Nothing hurts so much as to go to someone and offer love and have that offer spurned. It is life's bitterest tragedy to give one's heart to someone only to have it broken. That is what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem; and still he comes to [women and] men, and still men [and women] reject him. But the fact remains that to reject God's love is in the end to be in peril of his wrath.3
The thought of the city's destruction broke his heart but it did not change his message. He knew that the people's stubborn refusal to repent and turn from their sin would bring the judgment and I dare say the wrath of God.
1. C. Peter Wagner, On the Crest of the Wave, (Ventura: Regal Books, 1983), 43,44.
2. Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1951), 383.
3. William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Revised Edition), (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975)
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