In the Name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Jesus appears in Israel in the role of the new leader, God’s appointed leader, and through his teaching and his miracles and the power of his presence, he is drawing a large following but he is not drawing them to the Temple to worship or to the steps of the Sanhedrin to be instructed by the old establishment. Jesus is leading this large group of people into a completely new way. It is a new way because it cares for the poor and the less fortunate. It is a new way because it attempts to be God honoring not just with lip service, not just with Temple worship, but in the day to day fabric of life. It is a new way that acknowledges God as the Everything to which we owe our everything. It is a new way, with a new leader and it challenges the guardians of the old way.
Now the old guard responds to Jesus in a predictable way. They start a campaign of lies and insinuation and rumor designed to discredit Jesus. It is not all that different than a presidential campaign these days. (It is sad but true that it is easier to win votes away from your opponent by by slandering him than to win votes because of your own worthiness.) Anyway, the old guard begins a campaign of character assassination. They make false accusations, they start malicious gossip and resort to out and out slander. “He is out of his mind,” they whisper. They pull people aside and say, “He is possessed by Beelzebul.” They explain away the miracles, the healings and the casting out of demons by saying, “His power comes from the prince of demons.” It’s all designed to destroy God’s appointed leader, to thwart God’s intended purposes and to reestablish the old guard’s power and authority over the people.
The truth was that Jerusalem, which had once been a shining city on a hill, the place from which God’s people reigned as a mighty kingdom, had fallen into disrepair and ill-repute. The once proud nation of Israel had become a vassal state, under the thumb of Rome. The old guard had failed to maintain the legacy they had received from generations past. They had been unfaithful to God and they failed God’s purposes but they were still grasping onto power with every tool at their disposal. (We ought to mention that holding onto their power was the worst possible scenario for Israel. They were failing and they were trapped in the old way. While they may have wanted to be faithful, they had lost the ability to listen for God’s Word or to see God’s Presence in their midst and they had resorted to huge body of laws and harsh rules thinking they could force their people to be good children of God.) They believed they were right and that God’s beloved Son, this Jesus, was an imposter.
Now this is a very, very important point. If the old guard leadership of Jerusalem succeeds in assassinating Jesus character, if they are successful in discrediting him, if they manage to win the battle for control over Jerusalem, they destroy themselves and they destroy Jerusalem. Jesus is God sent. Jesus has been sent to provide God’s salvation to God’s people and the people are faced with a decision. They may receive God’s gift of forgiveness and grace or they may reject that gift but there is no third option. Choose Jesus or Barabbas, that’s it. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago I said, “There is no gray twilight between good and evil?” It is either one or the other. The same is true of God’s plan of salvation: there is faith and obedience to Jesus or there is a rejection of Jesus and disobedience. Jesus leads to life, the other leads to death and the people of Jerusalem must decide.
And by the way, they do and they choose poorly. When their attempts to discredit Jesus failed, they resorted to more violent means and they killed the Son of glory. That was somewhere around 35-40AD and in 70AD the Romans destroyed the Temple, burnt Jerusalem to the ground and bathed it in blood. The people who chose Barabbas were killed en mass. Those who escaped the sword were scattered around the world and their ancestors would not find their way back to Jerusalem for nearly two thousand years. The Temple which represented God’s presence among his people has never been rebuilt. Of course we know that God does not dwell in buildings. God’s presence among his people is not to be found in any building but in his Son.
Now it is time to do some application here. These stories that we read are not just history lessons or biographical sketches of Jesus. They are teachings. They open up the circumstances of our lives in our day and they inform us about the errors of the past and the hope of the future. And this particular story is particularly applicable to our common lives.
1) We are called to put our faith not in a what but in a WHO. The hope of God’s people is not to be found in buildings, properties or bank accounts. We always act as if it is but this country is full of churches that are empty shells. They have magnificent buildings constructed during the glory days of Christianity. They cost a king’s ransom to build but they are now nearly empty and in disrepair, not for lack of money—many of them have huge endowments. They are failing for lack of caring, lack of purpose, lack of genuine commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ. They got it backwards. They put their trust in trusts, and endowments, and brick and mortar but all of that has proven to be worthless. Genuine hope is found in Jesus not in the Temple.
We are always tempted to believe that we are facing an uncertain future because our buildings are at risk. It’s not true. O, it is true that our future is at risk, but our future is only risky to the extent that we refuse to place our faith in Jesus and refuse to serve our King. If we choose to allow Jesus to speak to us especially when those words are uncomfortable and challenging, if we allow Jesus us to call us into activities that seem too ambitious or too risky, if we place Jesus’ priorities ahead of all other priorities in our lives, then we will know genuine security because we will be living smack dab in the middle of God’s will and God’s purpose for our lives.
2) When we make a decision to be faithful to Jesus, not to the world, not to our stuff, the next problem we face is one of evaluation. How do we know that we are being faithful? We can’t judge based on how easy life is. Lots of faithful people endure hard lives. We can’t know based on material gain. Jesus never suggests that faithfulness will lead to an abundance of things. So how can we know that we have placed our hope in Jesus and are serving him.
There is a way. We can know positionally. Here is what I mean. If you look at the gospel this morning there are several groups of people representing several different spiritual positions. I see three possible positions: Opposition, Ambiguity, and Acceptance:
There are those who are opposed to Jesus. They are accusing Jesus of being a fraud. Some go so far as to say he is evil. They are actively fighting against Jesus, arguing against his teachings, and disputing his miracles. They refuse to value the things that Jesus values or to do the things that Jesus does. And Jesus says, ‘When you set your heart against the Spirit of God you have placed yourself in a unpardonable position. Unless you change your mind and allow the Spirit room to work, you are damned.’
There is a group who are living in ambiguity. They are listening to the opposition. They are considering the possibility that Jesus is a fraud. They are seriously entertaining the possibility that their best interest is to be found somewhere other than with Jesus. It’s no accident that the people representing this position in the gospel are Jesus’ family, the people who should be closest to him, who should have no doubts and who should be “all in.” Notice that they are not in the room with Jesus. They stand outside. They are not heeding his call to come. They are calling Jesus to come to them. They are ‘concerned’ for their son and brother, but their concern is based on bad information and an unwillingness to recognize that their own doubts are at the bottom of their refusal to accept Jesus. Jesus’ family refusing to accept Jesus as Lord is a metaphor for Israel, God’s family, refusing to accept God’s plan of salvation. May I suggest, as gently as I can, that Jesus’ family refusing to accept Jesus wholeheartedly is a metaphor for a so called “church” not accepting Jesus as Lord too.
The third position is Acceptance and it is represented by a third group. These are those who are being healed by Jesus, who are answering his call, who are sitting at his feet, listening to his Words, going out to spread the word, and serving Him and one another unselfishly. These are the ones Jesus is referring to when he says, those who do the will of God are my mother, brother and sister. Jesus says that our relationship to him is not so much a blood relationship as a positional relationship. We become family, we enjoy intimate relationship with him, and we become co-heirs in the Father’s kingdom not as an accident of birth, not because we are genetically linked to the chosen people but by believing in God’s plan of salvation whole-heartedly.
Now I want to put a ribbon around this and tie it up in a bow. There is only one person who can choose what you believe, where you go and what you do. That person is you. WE love to blame others for the messes in our lives but they are not to blame. Most of the time, I am the source of the problems in my life. Most of the time, you are the source of the problems in your life. Each of us chooses and we then harvest the fruit of our choices. This is most especially true in regards to our spiritual lives.
Your position to Jesus is a decision that you choose to make. Many choose to reject Jesus and his teachings. They choose to live by a different set of values and they serve different “Lords,” the Lords of this world. There are certain short term benefits to opposing Jesus but ultimately this decision ends in eternal isolation from God and God’s grace.
Many, many choose to live in an ambiguous relationship to Jesus. In fact, even many church people choose to listen to the doubters, entertain their own doubts and fears, and live outside the room, calling Jesus to come outside, calling to Jesus to honor their doubts. Our gospel this morning is clear. Jesus will not come outside to entertain our doubts no matter what sort of claims we want to make about being his family.
True closeness to Jesus comes through a genuine, and repeated, choice to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It is a choice that I have to remake every time an opponent of Christ challenges his authority or maligns his goodness. It is a choice I have to make every time the culture demands that I put something ahead of my Lord. It is a choice I have to make every time my selfish interests are prohibiting me from acting in the way that Jesus would have me act. It is necessarily a radical choice. Half a commitment is no commitment at all.
In our gospel reading this morning Jesus faces opposition from those who seek to be in control and in charge, and seek to destroy his influence. Many, including Jesus’ own family are entertaining the criticism and they are seeking to get Jesus to be more moderate, less committed, a little more compromising. They stand apart from him too. But there are those who accept Jesus as the Lord and Savior, who submit to his teaching and who devote themselves to the work of God’s Kingdom and it is these last ones who are intimate family members of the Son of God. Amen.