New Testament

Responses to Jesus I: Enemies

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Jesus Before Herod Antipas, Albrecht Durer, 1509

I was preaching at a church this past weekend, Palm Sunday, and was given five texts to preach from in 10 minutes.  It was an Episcopal church, they cover a lot of text in a short amount of time.  Efficient.  Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-40; 22:14-23:56.  Only 148 verses.  About Jesus’ Passion and death.  In ten minutes.  No problem.

Now, to be fair, they told me I could just focus on one aspect, so being a good Old Testament scholar, I skipped the Old Testament (and Paul), and focused on the gospel, of Luke, in this case.  So that eliminated 21 verses; only 127 left.

I then decided to reflect on the question of how do people respond to Jesus, and I’ll divide my 10 minute sermon into 3 short blogs.  Today, we focus on how Jesus’ enemies respond to him during his final hours.

  • The biggest question we have to face in this life is…
    1. How do we respond to Jesus?
    2. Over the course of his ministry people either loved or hated Jesus, which sounds a bit like the presidential candidates.
    3. But as Jesus’ ministry winds down during Passion Week, the responses to him shift from being both positive and negative, to being exclusively negative.
  • How do Jesus’ enemies respond to him?
    1. One, they mock and beat Jesus (Luke 22:63-65; 23:11-12, 35-38).
      1. In three separate incidents, the solders, the chief priests, King Herod, and even one of the criminals hanging on a cross next to him take turns mocking and beating Jesus.
    2. Two, they interrogate and accuse Jesus (Luke 22:66-71; 23:1-10).
      1. In three separate incidents, the chief priests, Pilate, and King Herod interrogated and accused Jesus of perverting the nation and instigating a rebellion.
    3. Three, they crucify and kill Jesus (Luke 23:26-46).
      1. Three times the crowd tells Pilate to Crucify Jesus (Luke 23:21, 23), which was exactly what the chief priests were hoping for.
    4. Mocking, accusing, killing…that’s how Jesus’ enemies respond.

Jesus’ enemies are brutal, even vicious to him, before they kill him.  And we see a pattern of their brutality being repeated in threes.

Jesus wasn’t surprised by any of this.  As we read through the gospels, he predicted it all, and yet he still went ahead, enduring the cross, despising the shame, for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:1).

Next we focus on Jesus’ friends.  

Image: By Albrecht Dürer – http://www.conncoll.edu/visual/Durer-prints/smallpass2.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1005637
bigstock_three_wise_men_and_the_star_8890138

Three Lessons from the Five Wise Men

Why three?  I think there were five.

We Five Kings of Orient Are…

Matthew 2 narrates the story of the wise men, sometimes called magi.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem…10 And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1, 10-12)

Notice, Matthew never says how many wise men there were.  In Eastern Christianity, the number is often twelve, according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong).

Why do we think there were three?  There were three gifts (2:11). We assume each wise man brought one gift–one brought gold, one, frankincense, and one, myrrh. But just because three things listed doesn’t mean each brought something separate. Five magi could have gone in on three gifts, or there may have been three separate gold gifts.

Do any of you who are parents ever go in together on a gift for one of your children? In the context of these wise men, it makes more sense to give communal, not individual gifts.

I think there were five.

At our church (Calvary of Souderton), a few years ago there was a Christmas competition where teams had to answer questions about the Bible. One of the questions asked, “How many wise men were there?” Possible answers: 2, 3, 4, or unknown.  My son Noah’s team instantly said, “3.”  Noah said, “We don’t know.” They didn’t believe him at first, but he continued, “Trust me.  My dad’s a Bible nerd.” Noah’s team was the only one to get the question right. Sometimes it pays to be a Bible nerd.

Why should we care if there were three or five? I’m really not trying to ruin it every time you sing “We Three Kings” I like the song, and there may have been only three. But I think it’s important as we reflect on the Christmas story to read our Bibles carefully, to not make things up, even things repeated in a popular song. We should expect to learn something new about Jesus’ birth at Christmas.

What unexpected lessons can we learn from the story of the five wise men?  I see three (not five).   

First, wise men, and wise women, follow God’s direction. These wise men followed a divinely given star at the beginning of the story (2:2, 10), and a divinely given dream at the end (2:12).  Let’s expect God to guide us in unexpected ways this Christmas season.

Second, wise men, and women, travel to meet Jesus. These wise men came from lands east of Jerusalem. We’re not sure where they were from exactly, but lands east of Jerusalem today include Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Some of the first people to meet Jesus were from lands that are now Muslim. They still need to meet Jesus. These countries are often considered to be our enemies, but even if they are, thirty years after his birth the Prince of Peace told us to pray for our enemies. Over a quarter million people have died in the past few years in the war in Syria. Let’s pray for peoples east of Jerusalem this Christmas season, particularly ones in Syria, and ask God to guide us (see lesson #1) how he wants us to care for them.  (More about Syria in the next blog.)

Third, wise men, and women, fall down and worship Jesus.  That’s what these wise men did.  Ultimately, the story is about Jesus and our adoration of the incarnate king, born to serve, die, and rise again.

Expect the unexpected when Jesus arrives on the scene. For Christmas, you might be planning for three guests, but get five instead.

 

Jesus Behaving Badly?

“I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ easily the most dominant figure in all history.”H. G. Wells.

Since my wife Shannon is on staff with InterVarsity, she occasionally receives free books from InterVarsity Press.  She received a recent package of books on Saturday, but since she had just left for 9 days in Nigeria, I decided she wouldn’t mind if I opened it for her.

What did I find?–Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee (the book, not the person) written by Mark L. Strauss.

Several close friends said, “Dave, IVP just sent me this book about Jesus.  They stole your idea!  You should get a cut.”  While I appreciate their concern for me and my intellectual property, the whole “X Behaving Badly” meme predates me by a long time.  (I wrote God Behaving Badly which came out in 2011.)

Strauss uses the Wells quote at the beginning to show how everybody loves Jesus, which is sort of the problem.  Most people (except Old Testament professors) think that God in the Old Testament is the one who behaves badly, while everybody loves Jesus.

But as Strauss shows, there’s a lot of problems with what Jesus says and does.  We all know about him over turning the money-changers tables, but he also cursed a helpless fig tree, he sent a herd of pigs to drown in the sea, he encouraged people to cut off hands and pluck out eyes, he spoke about hell more than anyone else in Scripture, he told his followers to hate their parents.  Jesus appears to be judgmental, provocative, chauvinistic, racist, anti-environmental, and angry.  Jesus really did behave badly.   How do we make sense of this Jesus?

If any of these behaviors of Jesus are problematic for you, you should definitely check out Strauss’ book.  The tone is similar to that of my own in God Behaving Badly, casual academic, for a general audience.  I appreciated his relevant comments about the Greco-Roman background to the Gospels.  He brings his scholarly insights to bear in a light, engaging manner, without overwhelming you with footnotes and references.  He tells personal stories, where we get a glimpse into his family and a sense of how engaging he must be as a teacher.  I really enjoyed reading it.

I must confess that it took me longer to figure out the cover of the book than it should have.  I just didn’t imagine the table looking like that.

Which story about Jesus do you find the most troubling?    

“But some doubted” (Matthew 28:17)

Immediately before Jesus gives his final words to his disciples, perhaps his most famous address, often called The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), the text includes a curious phrase.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I was speaking on The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) at a church retreat over this past weekend.  As I was studying the text, I kept reflecting on the phrase: “but some doubted.”

It seems so out-of-place right before Jesus’ final commission.

What can we say about these doubters?

1) Doubters were Jesus’ disciples.  The context suggests that these doubters were part of the eleven (Judas is now dead).  They were people who have seen Jesus teach, perform miracles, cast out demons, and come back from the dead.  Even disciples doubt.
Just because you struggle with doubt, doesn’t mean you aren’t a follower of Jesus. 

2) Doubters may have worshiped.  Notice the text here doesn’t say, some worshiped, others doubted.  It appears that the doubters were a subset of the worshipers.  People can worship and doubt.
If you doubt, keep worshiping. 

3) Doubters obeyed.  A few verses earlier, Jesus had told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to tell the disciples to come to Galilee.  After denying and abandoning Jesus at his moment of crisis the disciples this time, including the doubters, obey the command to go to Galilee.
If you doubt, keep obeying. 

4) Doubters doubted publicly.  Somehow people knew what these doubters were thinking.  We don’t know how, but presumably they let it be known that they were doubting.
If you doubt, let other people know so they can pray for you.

Personally, I’ve struggled with doubt more in the past few years than I ever have in my life.  I think one of the factors contributing to my doubts is that I’ve been focusing so much of my time and energy on some of the nastiest bits of the Bible, texts like the Canaanite Genocide (Josh. 10-11) and the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judg. 19).  I think most Christians need to stop ignoring these troubling texts, but perhaps most people don’t need to spend as much time reflecting on them as I do (maybe my next book should be on Psalm 23?).

I went a long time without telling anyone about my doubts, but that didn’t help them go away.  Finally, I started talking about them with my family and a few close friends, and God began to strengthen my faith.  It’s still a work in progress, but I’m confident, as I keep worshiping, obeying, and talking about it, my faith will continue to grow.