Today we wrap up our 6 week series called The Generous Life looking at the issue of stewardship. We started this series right after Easter, and we began to realize, that in a very profound way, that living a Generous Life is what it means to live Resurrection lives in the world.
We talked about stewarding the body that God has given to us. And we realized that if the resurrection was true, than God actually does care about humanity, and for more than just our “souls”. He does care about our bodies and how we use them and how we view them. That we are called to steward them well by exercising, getting enough sleep, etc.. But also he is concerned with how we view our bodies and our own self image.
We talked about God’s care for the environment and how he has called us to steward his good creation. He has called us to have dominion over the earth, and rule it in the exact same way that he has dominion and rules over it, with love and grace.
We spent two weeks talking about money. We talked about the importance of stewarding our financial resources well and also talked about the importance of giving to the local church, to be about the work of the Kingdom of God.
Last week we talked about stewarding of the gifts and talents that he has placed within each one of us. We talked about taking risks and using the gifts for his Kingdom instead of burying them in the ground, and/or using them for our own selfish gains and glory.
Today, we wrap up the series by coming full circle. By putting an exclamation point on our conversation. By coming around to the most important part of what it means to live resurrection lives. And sharing the foundation that we need to have when it comes to being a good steward. Without what we will be talking about today, everything that we have covered in these past 6 weeks, stewarding our bodies, the environment, our finances, and our gifts, would be done out of wrong motives. When it all comes down to it, stewardship, and living the Generous Life and living the resurrectional life, is all about love. Love of God and love of others.
Jesus said the same thing when it came to what the most important of the OT law was. In Matthew 22:34-40 we read these words, “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So let’s look at this text and see what it might have for us in relation to our topic today of stewardship of relationships.
The first thing we see is the Pharisee’s getting together for the expressed purpose of trapping Jesus with his words. The Pharisee’s had just seen the Sadducees asking a question of Jesus in relation to resurrection, even though they didn’t believe in it. So the Sadducees according to Matthew were silenced, so the Pharisees thought that they could get together, and come up with a better plan to get Jesus in trouble with the Religious leaders and possibly even the Roman empire itself. After getting together they ask Jesus a question that had been a question of the Jewish religious leaders from the time of the founding of the law of Moses. That question was “What is the most important commandment?” You see that was a raging debate in Jewish circles. There were a total of 613 laws that people sought to follow. These laws were divided into greater and smaller laws. So they wrestled with questions about the laws, which were more important than others, and what if two of the laws were somehow in tension which one would you follow.
So the Pharisees come to Jesus to get him to weigh in on this centuries old debate on which law is the most important. They ask him point blank, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” His response is to pull together 2 commandments directly from the Old Testament.
The first and greatest commandment Jesus says is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. His answer is pulled right from Deuteronomy 6:5 which every observant Jewish person would know by heart because Deuteronomy 6:5 is also part of the Shema, which is a Jewish prayer that they would pray daily. I believe Jesus starts with love of God as the greatest commandment, because I believe then everything flows out from there. If we love God with all of our hearts, soul and mind, then we will naturally seek to live out the Kingdom which includes loving our neighbors as ourselves.
So what does it mean to love God with all your heart, should and mind and what does that have to do with stewarding relationships? I believe in this text there are three relationships that are mentioned that we are called to steward, and the first one being our relationship with God. Jesus calls us to steward our relationship with him with our hearts, or with our emotions, and with our will. He calls us to love him with our soul, or with our lives and living solely for him. And he calls us to love him with our minds. Following Jesus, unlikely how it is so often portrayed in popular culture, is not about turning off our minds and becoming sheep who blindly follow. There is a book that I have and it unfortunately points to a scandal within contemporary evangelicalism. The book is called Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and the authors premise for writing the book is that the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind. But God calls us to use our minds in loving Him. We should not be afraid to read, study, interact and engage in critical thinking, not only about other world views and beliefs but our own as well.
To steward our relationship with God means that all of our facilities are used to grow in closer relationship with him. It means we spend time in the classic spiritual disciplines of Scripture reading and mediation, prayer, sabbath, silence, and even fasting. It means that we spend time reading, growing, asking questions, and exploring the Christian faith. It means that all of our selves, everything that makes us human, our intellect, our will, our desires, our feelings, our emotions, etc… need to be brought into play in stewarding our relationship with Him.
Now when we steward our relationship with God well, there will be a natural byproduct of our engaging with God, that being love of others. Jesus said it like this, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Here Jesus is quoting from Leviticus 19:18. If the life of God is real in our life it will show by the presence of our love, first for God and for others. The more we steward our relationship with God, the more we will begin to love everyone we meet and come in contact with. If we are stewarding our relationship with God, and we don’t love our neighbors, than 1 John puts it this way, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
So the second relationship that God calls us to steward is that of others or as Jesus puts it, neighbors. That includes those who would call themselves followers of Jesus and those who are not. How do we steward relationships with others? I think that is where crossover happens in how we look at our walk with God and our relationship with others. I would say one of the best ways to steward your relationships, with God and with others, is in relation to time. If you want to love God more. If you want to love him with all your heart, soul and mind, it means spending the time in relationship with Him. If you want to love your neighbor as you love yourself, that also requires time. Time spent with people. Without time there really is no relationship. And without time there really is no love. If you aren’t willing to invest time, whether in your relationship with God or in your relationship with others, I would challenge you to take a serious look at your life and see whether or not you actually love God and people.
The last relationship which I believe God wants us to steward as well is in our relationship to ourselves. He says we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. But I know many people who feel that they do a better job of loving others than loving themselves. Obviously Jesus isn’t saying that if you don’t love yourself then you are off the hook with loving others. I believe that one of the biggest things that I need to work on in my life has to do with loving myself and that is really rooted in my relationship with God. If I am stewarding my relationship with Him, and truly understanding what it means that I am made in the image of God. If I am spending time listening to the truth of His Word and how it calls me a son of the King of the world, instead of listening to the lies from the evil one calling me useless, evil, sinner with no hope of redemption, and a failure, this will help me to begin the journey of loving myself.
What does it mean to love yourself, not in a narcissistic way, but in a God honoring way? It means what we talked about the first week of this series. It means the external things like eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and probably one of the hardest in our culture of perpetual busyness, is taking a needed sabbath rest. But it goes beyond external things to deeper more substantial inner issues such as self-image, and where we derive our sense of self and self worth from. To love ourself means we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of Him. We begin to see ourselves as sons and daughter’s of the King. As someone who has intrinsic worth not because of anything we do, but because of whose we are and that we are created in the image and likeness of God.
So when you boil it all down. When you take the entirety of the Old and New Testament. Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. The entirely to Christian and Church history. You come down to only one word. One word that sums up everything that God is calling his people to do and to be. That word is love. Love of God and Love of others.
If we got through this entire 6 week series and never got to this point, it would, in my opinion, be a waste. If we became a better stewards of our bodies, but didn’t love God, others, and ourselves more. If we became better stewards of the environment, but didn’t love God and the world around us and those who will be inheriting the planet from us. If we became better stewards of our financial resource and gave more to the local church, but didn’t love God, people and ourselves more. If we became better stewards of our talents and the gifts that God has given to each of us, but we weren’t using those gifts out of love for God, for others, and ourselves. Then we have just created another list of rules and laws to live by. This “Great Commandment” begins to come into their own when they are seen not as orders to be obeyed in our own strength but as invitations and promises to a new way of life. A Generous Life where we are stewards of our bodies, the environment, our money, our talents, and our relationships because we love God with all of our hearts, soul, and mind and we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
So let’s unpack a little more about stewarding our relationships with God, others and ourselves. Let’s talk about how we can better steward those relationships. Let’s talk about concrete steps that we can take in order to be better stewards. And let’s see what God might be saying to each one of us and our community and what he wants us to take away from our conversation today and our series as a whole.
1. What thoughts, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. How are you doing in stewarding your relationship with God? What is one thing that you might do to grow in stewarding your relationship with God?
3. How are you doing in stewarding your relationship with others and/or yourself? What is one thing that you might do to grow in stewarding your relationship with others and/or self?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we continue our series entitled the Generous Life. Throughout the last 5 weeks we’ve been exploring what it means to live a Generous Life and to be a good steward of everything that God has put into our care as humans. We have explored what it means to be a good steward of our physical bodies, how we need to take care of the environment, and the past two weeks we’ve explored what it means to be generous and a good steward with our money, finances and the idea of tithing to the local church. Next week we will explore together what it means to be a good steward of the relationships that God has entrusted into our care.
Have you noticed the explosion and the proliferation of television shows that are all about finding a person with the best talent? Maybe it is America’s Got Talent. Or maybe it’s the Voice. Or the old standby American Idol. It seems like our world is obsessed with the idea of finding people with a talent that will propel these people into the spotlight and change their lives forever. Now you and I might not have the most beautiful voice in the world. We might not have a talent that could land us in the finals of America’s Got Talent and win us a million dollars. Or we might never end up on TV showing off our amazing talent. But know this, God has blessed each one of us with a abilities, gifts and talents. And because he has blessed us with these gifts, he is calling us to use them to bless others (and unlike what we see on TV, not use them for our own glory and blessing)
So today we’ll explore what it means to be a good stewards of the abilities, gifts and talents that God has given to us. We’ll do that by looking at, for those who grew up in the church, what might be a very familiar parable, called the Parable of the Talents. This parable is found in Matthew 25:14-30.
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Before we jump to much into this text, I have to share with you that this Scripture is one of the main reasons that Kim and I planted this community. Back in 2007 I was wrestling with my vocational call in ministry. It was during the year that God kept bringing the word risk to me through various mediums like quotes, various church gatherings, church values, and this parable kept showing up over and over and over again. So this parable is really one of the reasons honestly that Kim and I decided that God was calling us out to plant Veritas.
Secondly, we need to look at the beginning of the text because what we read started this way, “again it will be like.” Which leads me to the question, what will it be like? What is Jesus talking about when he tells this parable. And to understand what it will be like we need to go to Matthew 25:1 which starts another parable with these words, “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like….” So what Jesus is getting at here in Matthew 25 is about what life in the Kingdom of God is all about. What does it mean to live under the rule and the reign of King Jesus? If there is a King and a Kingdom that God calls us to live under, we have to make a choice then to decide to live under his rule and reign or decide to live under our own rule and reign. And that in a huge way is really also what this parable is all about. Do we decide to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, and use what he has entrusted us with to help further his Kingdom, or to take what we have been given and either use it to further our own Kingdom or (which is really the same) to bury it and not use it for his glory and his kingdom.
So let’s take a further look at this parable that Jesus tells. We see in this parable a man about to go on a journey, and he entrusts his wealth to his servants. The servant’s then are called to steward what he had given them to care for in his absence. One of the servant’s received 5 bags of gold, one servant received two bags of gold, and one servant received one bag of gold. In an older translation of this parable the bag of gold would have been translated talent. A talent in Jesus day was a unit of money. A talent would be a lot of money. In fact it was around 15 years worth of a Laborer’s wage for 15 years. So even the servant who received only one bag of gold or talent received a lot and was entrusted with a lot.
The one who was entrusted with 5 bags of gold set to work and made a profit of another 5 bags of gold. The one who was entrusted with 2 bags of gold also set to work and made a profit of another 2 bags of gold. But the one who only had one went out, in fear, and buried in the ground, so at least he wouldn’t lose the one bag of gold that he was given.
One of the biggest difference in this story lies between the reaction of the first two servants and the last servant. The first two servant’s were given the most to steward and therefore had the most to lose if they didn’t steward the Master’s money well. They took the biggest risk in putting their Master’s money to use in order to gain more. What would have happened if they wouldn’t have gained double what they had been given? What if the one servant that was given 5 bags of gold, spent the 5 bags of gold to make more but lost it all? Because I am sure that could have been a possibility. But both of the servants who doubled their Master’s investment knew the risk, and took it anyway. They weren’t bound up in fear like the last servant. Only in that conscious decision to risk losing what they had been entrusted with, were they able to multiply that gift to be used by their master.
The last servant was afraid. He said so himself when he said in verse 25, “So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.” What was he afraid of? I believe he was afraid of multiple things. He was afraid of the Master himself. He was afraid of taking the 1 talent and using it to gain more, because if he risked the 1 talent he might lose it all. He was afraid that he would not be able to use what he was given to make more. And so what did he do because of his fear and lack of risk? He buried it in the ground. it was fear that lead him to hoard and bury the resource in the ground rather than take a risk and invest it.
Last week we talked about tithing to the local church and one reason that Dave gave for not giving to the local church was fear. Fear that we wouldn’t have enough if we gave a portion of our income to the local church. And this is no different in relation to our talents. It is fear that keeps us from investing in the work of God. it is fear that keeps us from dreaming dreams with God. It is fear that leads us to hoard and bury our talents in the ground rather than investing them in the Kingdom. We need to make a conscious decision, like the first two servants, to risk using what God has entrusted to us, and then trust God to multiply our talents for the usage of the Kingdom of God. We can choose fear or risk when it comes to our talents and the Kingdom. It is up to us. But in this parable, the ones that risked the most got the most from that risk. The one who played it safe, was in the old expression, “left holding the bag”
Another question that I have been pondering is what would the original hearers of this parable understanding have been? How would they have understood the characters, the setting, and the point of it as? NT Wright says this about how Jesus’ original hearers would have understood it, “a story of a Master and slaves, in which the master goes away leaving the slaves tasks to perform and then comes back at last, would have certainly be understood, in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, as a story about God and Israel.” We then need to answer the question then who are the servant’s in this parable according to Jesus. NT Wright again says this, “It (the parable) belongs closely with Matthew 23 where Jesus denounces the Scribes and the Pharisees. They, may we suggest, are represented by the wicked servant who hid his Master’s money.” The Scribes and Pharisees had been given the law of Moses and the Temple- the sign of God’s presence among them. They were given a calling, a vocation, a covenant that God would bless them but that the blessing wasn’t just for them. But that God was calling them to use their blessing as a nation to be a blessing to other nations, and to the entire world. They, like the wicked servant, barrier their vocational calling to be a blessing in the ground, and over and over chose to use it only for themselves. They were like a city set on a hill, the light of the world, but they chose to cover their light with a bushel and keep it only to themselves. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 was a direct result of God’s people not living up to the calling that they were given, to bless others and point people to Him.
So the next question then for me was who are the other two servants? I believe these would be those who heard and hear the call of Jesus and lived/live in obedience of that call. They took on the Abrahamic covenant to be a blessing to the entire world as their own, and used their gifts to further his Kingdom. Who risked everything to follow Jesus and his Kingdom. Who risked living under the rule and reign of Jesus in the midst of a culture we it was radical, subversive, and could cost you your life when you said there was another king and it wasn’t Caesar.
So the question then becomes agin for all of us, who are we more like? Are we like the two who risked the most, and put their talents to use for the Kingdom? Or are we like the one servant who didn’t risk? Who played it safe and buried his calling, his vocation, his gift in the ground and didn’t allow that gift to be used for the Kingdom. I believe God has equipped each of us with gifts, talents and abilities. I believe he is calling us to steward them well. To use them for the blessing of the world and for advancing the Kingdom of God. I believe God calls us to use these gifts everywhere. In the world. In the church. For His Glory and for his Kingdom.
So let’s unpack and apply this message together. Let’s talk about how we steward our talents. Let’s talk about what talents we feel God has given us. Let’s brainstorm how the talents of this community may be used communally to further His Kingdom and bless the world.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the text and or the message?
2. What talent(s) have you been given and how have you steward them for His glory and His Kingdom? How have you buried them in the ground?
3. How might our gifts and talents as a community be used communally for His glory and His Kingdom?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we continue walking through our series entitle The Generous Life. We have been connecting the Generous Life with what we have been calling a resurrectional life. A resurrectional life that lives a life of stewardship, which we have defined as caring for things that God has given us, in the way that he would care for it. Stewardship then applies to things like money (of course), time, talents, relationships, our bodies, the environment, and more.
When we started this series 3 weeks ago we began talking about being a good steward of our bodies. That the resurrection, if anything, means that this world truly matters. And that are bodies matter to God and he wants us to take care of them. So we talked about exercise, sleep, etc… but spent a good deal of time talking about underlying. more foundational questions about image, self, etc..
Last week, as it was Earth Day Sunday, centered our time around taking care of the environment. That God wants us as image bearers to ‘radah’ (rule, dominate) over the creation in the exact same way that he would…which is in loving, caring, and helping redeem it. We also talked about that the creation was called very good at the beginning of Genesis, and that even despite of the fall into sin that affects even the Creation itself, that God, I believe, still calls this earth/planet good, and desires us to see it that way. And work towards the shalom of the planet, and that one day when Jesus comes back, he’ll set it all right, and it will be very good again.
Today and next week we talk about the topic that we all love to talk about so much when it comes to stewardship…that’s right..money. Today I’ll be talking about stewardship of money from more of a 30,000 feet viewpoint. And then next week Dave Witmer will come and talk in more detail about what stewardship of money looks like on a congregational scale and how our money influences our faith, and how our faith should influence our money.
So today we are talking about stewardship of finances and to do so we are going to go to Mark 12:38-44 and talk about this story that Mark tells about Jesus and his run in with the scribes, but also his encounter with a poor widow.
Look at Mark 12:38-44, “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, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” 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. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
At first reading, it seems like these two parts of our Scripture really have nothing to do with each other. But in looking at it deeper we see that there is a connection between these two parts. They are set against each other and Jesus is making a direct reference and difference between the teachers of the law, and the poor widow. How the teacher’s of the law operated when it came to stewardship and how the poor widow operated.
Let’s look first at the teacher’s of the law and what Jesus is really saying about them. Jesus says that they like to be seen as important. They like to be noticed. They like to be greeted in the marketplace, that they make a show of lengthy prayers. But the most interesting statement that Jesus makes about the teacher’s of the law is this statement: “they devour widows’ houses”. Commentaries are divided and unsure what this actually means. But the one that I read had this to say, “To devour widow’s houses means that the teachers of the law encouraged impressionable widows to make gifts beyond their means.” We’ll come back to this in a little bit in relation to the poor widow- who may have had her house devoured by the teachers of the law.
I am extrapolating this idea but I believe when Jesus sat down opposite where people gave money and saw the rich giving money, I would imagine that some of those rich people no doubt were the teachers’s of the law. It fits their MO so to speak. They like to draw attention to their acts of religiosity. Their devotion to God. And nothing like giving large sums of money “to God” to draw the attention, admiration, and respect of the people. You see in that day the only forms of money there were were coins. When Mark uses the word threw to describe how the rich people put in their offerings, he is getting at the point of the rich doing it for show. You see when you would throw your offering of coins into the temple treasury, the coins would make noise hitting the offering box. The more coins the more noise and the more attention it would bring to the giver. In relation we see the widow putting two small coins in, not throwing them in, not trying to draw attention to herself and her offering.
So it is evident from this that God cares not so much about how much we give, as in how we give. Throughout the Bible we see the idea that we aren’t to make a show of our piety. Jesus says that we aren’t even supposed to let our right hand know what our left hand is doing in relation to giving. And God calls us to be a cheerful giver, something Dave will explore next week. So how are you in relation to giving? Are you doing it to draw attention to yourself and your act of piety? Or are you doing it as a faithful steward, being grateful and thankful for all God has done in and through you?
So let’s now talk about the poor widow. This widow came to the offering box with two small coins which Jesus said were all she had to live on. These offering boxes we placed near the entrance of the temple, and the offerings went to the maintenance of the temple work, things like the building itself, the priests, and the furnishings.
So the poor widow came up to the offering boxes, and place two small copper coins in the box. These two small coins were what is called leptas. These coins were the smallest coin in the Greco/Roman world. The text says that they were only worth a few cents. Lepta’s were really only about 1/64th of a days wages, or in minutes, 6 minutes of an average day’s wage. This act of giving was an act of worship. This act of giving was an act of sacrifice, after all Jesus said that she gave out of her poverty, while others gave out of their wealth. This act of giving was a huge act of trust.
This part of the passage is then primarily about trust. The poor widow’s trust in God to provide. So as we are talking about stewardship of money today, we need to realize that stewardship when it all comes down to it, is really about trust. Do you trust God enough with your finances? Do you trust Him to come through when it seems like there is no way you’ll make it? Do you trust him enough to give part of your finances to him? Stewardship also when we come right now to it is not ultimately about what we give to the church. Rather stewardship reflects a conviction that everything we have has been entrusted to us by God. Stewardship is concerned with helping us use all that we have wisely. How we spend our money reflects our trust or lack of trust and also tells us and others about who or what our god actually is. This woman trusted God with all that she had. She was and is a picture of trusting God. What about each of us? Do we trust God with everything that we have, as it is ultimate his anyway, and we are just called to be good stewards of it?
But there is another part of this text that we need to explore. One that isn’t so evident on the surface. And one that I believe can help us understand more about stewardship from the heart and soul of Jesus, the one who we need to take our cue for how we give of ourselves and our money. And how our community, as a community of those who seek to follow Jesus, should live and how we should deal with this hard, divisive, difficult topic of stewardship and money. All too often churches actually get in the way of people’s journey to Jesus because of money. I just heard the other day someone said that they were told by a church that if they didn’t give 10% of their income, they were going to go to hell. That is so not Jesus. So let’s look at another side to this story. One that I brought up before when I mentioned the statement that Jesus said, “they devour widow’s houses.”
What if Jesus is not just holding up the poor widow as an example of piety, but also is holding her up as an example of someone who is being exploited by her religion? What if this story moves beyond just personal piety into the larger issue of right stewardship from a communal standpoint. From a religious communal standpoint. What if she was one of the widow’s whose house was devoured by the teachers of the law. That they were impressing upon this widow to give more than her means. You see in the previous scene Jesus is warning the crowds about the scribes and teachers of the law, who devoured widow’s houses. Also Jesus, after this scene leaves the temple for the last time. Perhaps after seeing how this religion, this temple system, took this poor woman’s money, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and he finally totally forsook the temple for good. Also we see that just after Jesus triumphal entry days earlier that he had driven out the money changers, and accusing them of exploiting the poor. What if this story shows us the underbelly of a religious system? Exposing the temple for what it was. Remember we talked about Jesus turning over the tables in the temple because the money changers were literally getting in the way of people finding God? This is Jesus again exposing the temple for what it was…bankrupt, and devoid of true Kingdom Life. And saddling poor widows with a burden that they didn’t need to be saddled with. This doesn’t diminish the widow’s gift. Actually it puts her in a much more profound and deeper respected place, because she is so much more a model of stewardship, trust, worship, and true devotion.
Jesus words about the widow push us to expect more of ourselves and also our communities of faith. Jesus expects us as individuals and as a community to take everything we have and use it according to the ethics and the patterns of the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom of this world. We need to ask ourselves these hard questions when it comes to stewardship of money: Where are our priorities? The Kingdom of God or our own comfort? How much do we trust God when it comes to our finances? How much do we trust Him to provide for us and take care of us (read Matthew 6:25-33)? How are we giving? Do we give to get? Get attention. Get approval. Get accolades? Get God in our debt. Are we more like the teacher’s of the law/scribes or the poor widow? And are we as a community who seeks to follow Jesus living our stewardship of money in the way that Jesus would want us to? Are we “devouring widow’s houses”? Are we using our communal “wealth” to prop up the system or are we using our communal “wealth” to further the Kingdom of God and use it for the shalom of the world (wholeness, healing, redemption, peace, etc..)?
So let’s dialogue around this text and see what might God be saying to us about stewarding our money in a Kingdom of God way and what that might look like for us as individuals and as a community.
1. What stands out to you? Thoughts, questions, insights, etc…
2. What area do you struggle with in relation to stewardship of money? (ie…trust, drawing attention, questions about churches use of money, etc..)
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?
Two weeks ago we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. During our conversation someone asked the question, whether stated in this way or not, around what does it mean to live a resurrectional life. So we promptly began a series entitled The Generous Life looking at the issue of stewardship in many areas, not just the only one that normally comes to mind (money). Stewardship is defined as the act of caring for someone else’s property in a manner consistent with the way he or she would care for it. So stewardship revolves around us caring for things that God has given us, in the way that he would care for it. Stewardship then applies to things like money (of course), time, talents, relationships, our bodies, the environment, and more.
Last week we started talking about stewardship by looking at the stewardship of our bodies. We talked about things like sexuality, exercise, sleep, etc. But we also spent a lot of time talking about self-image and being a community that encourages each other in relation to the self.
When we talked the last two weeks about the resurrection we talked about the idea that the resurrection means that, in a very real way, this world matters. This world of blood, sweat, tears, earth, and flesh really matters.
And so today we are going to explore what has, unfortunately, been a divided issue in the Christian world, even though I don’t understand how it could be. This issue is the idea of being a good steward of the environment. Or as some like to call it Creation Care. So what does it mean to be good stewards of the creation that is all around us? What does the bible actually say about taking care of the environment? Is it only something that “liberal tree huggers” care about or is is something that followers of Jesus need to speak out on, live out, and be involved in? Those are some of the questions that we’ll look at in relation to stewardship of the environment.
This week is Earth Day and some in the wider church have designated this day Earth Day Sunday, the day of the year when the church sets aside time to talk about the environment and being good stewards of it. That is why we have chosen to talk about this today.
To talk about being a good steward of the environment we are going right to the beginning. Let’s look at Genesis 1:26-31 and see what we might learn about our environment and being good stewards of it.
Genesis 1:26-31 says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.”
This text has been used in so many different ways, even promoting a lack of stewardship of the environment. James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan said, “God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” Another contemporary political and television personality said this in a more direct and pretty offensive way, “The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply and rape the planet. It’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining, and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players, and wet bars- that’s the Biblical view”. But is it really? Does our Scripture this morning agree with this statement or have we been reading it wrong to come up with that conclusion?
First, we want to look at the end of the verses we read. Verse 31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Now this was before the fall, before sin entered the world but I truly still believe that God’s creation is still good. I truly believe that God still calls it good, and wants us to steward it well, so that one day when it all is set right, it will be very good again. One reason to be a good steward of creation is because God calls it good, and if God calls it good, then we should as well. And if God calls it good, then we should work hard to keep it good.
Secondly, and the main part of this message revolves around the struggle of how we could draw two radically different meanings from the same passage of Scripture. Some people read it like those that I quoted above, and some others, more like myself, read it as a mandate to be good stewards of the environment, and for the environment not to be raped.
In order for us to get at what God is saying through this text, we need to do some unpacking of words, especially in verse 28. Verse 28 says, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The two words that we need to look at especially are the words subdue and rule or sometimes translated have dominion over.
First the word subdue is the word Kabash, which means something like conquering or taming it, as a farmer would tame a wild field. It is like the idea of bring order to it. So we are to bring order to creation. But the main word that many struggle understanding is the word, in this translation, rule. But in many other translations we see it saying “Have dominion over”. The world dominion is the word which has led people to believe that we can rule and have power over this planet and do whatever we feel like to it. We can pillage it, rape it, mine it, and use it for our own good. After all, many people say, Jesus is going to rapture us out of here, and then destroy the world anyway, so why recycle.
But what does the word dominion actually mean? The Hebrew word there is Radah. It is a word that is only used about a dozen times in the Old Testament and is rather special in it’s meaning. It almost always refers to to military action or political authority. We have taken it to mean “dominate over” just as a mediaeval rule or potentate would dominate over his subjects, using them for this own ends, his own pleasure, his own prestige, his own wars, etc.. But an examination of radah shows that this is not the type of dominion that we are called upon to have over the creation.
To understand how we are supposed to have dominion over creation, we need to look at the verses preceding this one. Look at verses 26-27 which says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” To understand dominion we have to understand that we were created in the image of God. And so we should have dominion in the image or likeness of God. Humans should rule or have dominion over Creation in a way that is consistent with the way God rules. But the question then becomes how does God rule? Let’s look at Psalm 72:8, 12-14, “May he rule (radah) from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” He rules (radah) with love, grace, mercy, and compassion. He rules (radah) not with an iron fist and a cold heart. God does not exploit or dominate or consume recklessly. God doesn’t use his power to hurt, but to heal. God values what cannot be replaced. God works to preserve life not destroy it. Mankind needs to exercise radah over the creation as God would exercise radah. Gerhard Van Rad says it this way, “Just as powerful earthly Kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erected an image of themselves in provinces of their empire where they did not personally appear, so man is placed above the earth in God’s image, as God sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominance over the earth.”
And so God calls us, as image bearers, to radah/rule over his creation, in his stead. To rule it in the way and in the likeness of how we rules over it. Our “radah” of the creation is not be be for our own selfish gain. Our “radah” of the creation is to be not for own sake, but for the sake of the sake of the one ruled, that is, for the sake of the creation. We “radah” creation as God’s representative.
Ultimately, even though he has given us “radah” over creation, the earth is the Lord’s and not ours, unlike what the person that I quoted before who said “It’s yours.” It isn’t ours. We are just stewards of it, just like everything else that he gives. Look at Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” So the creation is God’s and we are called to be good stewards of it. We are called not to “rule over it and subdue it” in the way that a tyrant rules over and subdues his people. We are called to, as image bearers, model the same love, same care and same devotion to the creation that God has for it. We are called to see the creation in the same way that God did and does, as good. Broken, crying out for redemption, fallen but still good. And that we as followers of Jesus, as image bearers, are called to do the hard work of working towards the wholeness, redemption, healing, fullness and shalom of the creation that God has called us to steward.
But what does that look like? What does it mean to do the hard work of bringing wholeness, redemption, healing, fullness, and shalom to the creation? What does it look like to live out the mandate that God has laid out for us to “radah” over the creation as image bearers, and as God’s representative here on the earth? How have you sought to “radah” in God’s image in relation to stewardship of the environment? And what is God calling us as a community to do in being good stewards of the environment? That is what we will seek to unpack in our time of discussion.
1. What thoughts, insights, questions, comments, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. How have you sought to “radah” in God’s image in relation to stewardship of the environment? Where do you need to “radah” over creation more faithfully as a steward?
3. What is God calling us as a community to do as good stewards of his creation? What steps can we pursue together to better “radah” over God’s creation?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we begin a new series entitled “The Generous Life” in which we will be talking about the biblical concept of stewardship. Stewardship is defined as the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. So often when churches and pastors begin to talk about stewardship, everyone thinks that we will be just talking about money. But there is so much more to stewardship than just money. Yes, it includes begin a good steward of money, but it also covers our bodies, the environment, our time, our talents, and our relationships. So for the next few weeks we’ll be covering all of these things and learning what it means to be a good steward. We’ll learn what it looks like to steward these things well so that not only will our lives be changed but also how the world around us can be changed by followers of Jesus stewarding their resources (time, talent, relationship, environment, bodies, and yes money as well).
The first thing that we’ll be talking about in relation to stewardship is stewardship of our bodies. I’m not sure if I have ever heard a sermon revolving around being good stewards of our bodies or not. Have you? But today, maybe for the first time, we’ll unpack and dig into what it looks like to live a generous life in relation to our bodies. To do that we’ll look at two passages of Scripture. The first one being 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and the second being 1 Timothy 4:8.
Let’s first look at 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 which says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
Now before we jump too much into this text, there are a few things that I need to say regarding stewardship of our bodies. Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Do you know that Easter is not just a one week celebration in the Christian church and the Christian calendar? It is a 7 week celebration called Eastertide running from Easter to Pentecost.). Jesus bodily died and he bodily rose from the dead. We talked about the fact that if he rose bodily from the dead, than that means that there is something important about our bodies. I quoted NT Wright when he said, “The point of the resurrection is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a good future in store for it.” If the resurrection does anything it affirms the importance of this world and of the material. All too often I believe the contemporary church has bought into a more Gnostic philosophy that says spirit is good but physical/material is bad/evil. But the resurrection of Jesus completely denies that possibility. Our bodies, like Jesus, will be resurrected (verse 14) at the end, and so what we do with our present bodies matter. What we do in and with our present bodies will have consequences, not just arbitrary rewards and punishments in the life to come.
So let’s do some unpacking of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. First of all when we look at the context of this text, Paul is referring to sexual immorality. Corinth was known as a very hedonistic city. It could probably have been called the Sin City of it’s day. So Paul in this section is addressing what it means to be Christian in relation to sexuality. What Paul is getting at in this section is about followers of Jesus learning to use the human body in the right way, for the right purposes. And he is also getting at the fact that our bodies are meant for the Lord. Paul makes it plain that the Christian’s relationship with the Lord Jesus is not simply a “spiritual” one, but also a physical one. He is getting at the sense that Jesus wants to know us and work through us as fully physical human beings, both here and in the hereafter. And since verse 14 lays it out pretty clearly that our bodies will be raised, just like Jesus, that means that there will be some sort of continuity between the present body and the future one.
Paul is making a claim, that to us, doesn’t seem all that radical but it was very radical for his day, and if we take a step back and see what our language that we use tells us, than what Paul is saying is still radical for our day and age as well. Paul in verse 19 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” In Paul’s day in the world of many gods, there was this concept that deities lived in buildings of stone and wood. And Paul is radically challenging that and he says, No. God doesn’t live in special buildings built for him. Just look at Acts 17:24, which says, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” No, God himself lives in a temple alright. But that temple is our bodies. The bodies of those of us who have made Jesus our King, Lord, and Savior. Even in our own day, it is not uncommon to hear people during a worship gathering call the place where they gather as the house of God, meaning that God somehow lives there and only there. God, in someway, when we open our lives to him, makes our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are the temple. If you are in Christ than the Spirit takes up permanent residence within you. Not just showing up when you “do religious activities”
And because we have the spirit of God living in us, and because of the fact that Jesus died for us, we need to honor God with our bodies. Our bodies, not just our souls or spirit were bought with a price, definitely referring to Jesus’ death on the cross. And so those of us who have been bought with a tremendous price or cost must remind ourselves of what special people we are, what it cost Jesus to redeem our bodies, and to learn what it means to be good stewards over the body that God has given to us. Paul puts it like this at the end of our text, “Therefore honor God with your bodies.” We are to glorify God with our bodies and to discover how to live the truly human life which brings glory to God in whose image we are all made and whose own unique image, Jesus, died to rescue us from all that will stop us from being the person that God longs us to be.
But what does it mean to honor God with our bodies? This is the question of stewardship, to honor him with what he has given to us, and in this case our bodies. What does ti mean to be a good steward of the body that God has given to us as a gift? I think the wider context of chapter 6 verses 12-20 gives us some possible ideas. Part of being a good steward of our body definitely has to do with sexuality. Paul makes the point that what we do sexually happens to our whole selves, not just a portion of our bodies (verse 18). People can think that our physical bodies and our spiritual selves are separate so what we do in our bodies doesn’t affect our spiritual lives, and vice-versa. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our bodies and spirits are intrinsically connected. So what we do with our bodies does affect us spiritually, and what we do spiritually affects our bodies. To honor God with our bodies in this text refers to sexuality. Many of you are single in this community. To honor God with your body in terms of sexuality means biblically speaking that you keep the future marriage bed pure, by abstaining from sex before marriage. It is also more than just about the physical act itself. It doesn’t mean to get as close to the physical act as you can, stopping short of actual sex. No, it means keeping our bodies and spirits pure by fleeing from sexual immorality which encompasses sex before marriage but also things like pornography, etc.. For those who are married honoring God with our bodies means keep the marriage bed pure as well, by abstaining from sex outside of marriage and keep our bodies and spirits pure as well.
But is honoring God with your body just related to sexuality? No. I mentioned at the beginning that we would look at two different Scriptures this morning and this is where the second one comes in. 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Know that this passage is talking about the importance to viewing spiritual development and discipleship as training and work. Discipleship takes as much training and work as physical training; But notice what Paul is saying here. Physical training is of some value. It has importance for this life. Just ask a doctor how important physical exercise is. Verse 8 is one of the clearest references to physical exercise in the New Testament. I believe a huge part of honoring God with your body revolves around physical training or exercise. When you get exercise you will become physically fit and able to work harder and enjoy more of life. When we train our bodies, I believe it can affect our spiritual lives. My wife when she gets in the habit of running, uses that time as prayer time. Just her and God out on the road, running and praying. I personally try to run somewhere between 3 and 5 days a week running around 3 and a half miles each time that I run for a total of between 10.5 and 17.5 miles a week. And I have noticed a difference, not only physically in my own body (energy level, weight, etc..) I’ve noticed spiritual growth from running as well. So another way to honor God and be a good steward of the body that he has given to us is to get regular physical exercise. What do you do to get physical exercise? How can that help your growth and development as a parson and in your spiritual life? That is one of the questions we’ll come back to in a minute.
There are a ton of other ways that we could talk about being good stewards of the body that he has given to us to use. We could talk about sleep, food, moderation, drugs and alcohol, and a few other things related to our bodies. But let’s turn now to thinking about what it means for you and I to be a good stewards of our bodies. Let’s talk about physical exercise and how we can help encourage that area in our lives together. Let’s talk about what areas of stewarding our bodies do we struggle with the most. Let’s talk about what God might be saying to us about how he wants us to steward this gift, this temple, that he has given to us.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. What do you do to get physical exercise? How can that help your growth and development as a parson and in your spiritual life? How can this community help in relation to physical exercise?
3. What area in relation to stewardship of the body do you struggle with the most? How can this community help you grow and develop in the stewardship of your body?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Here is an article that was written last week about the Emotive 2: A Good Friday Art Show that we just held at the Community Room on King this past Friday night.
LAURA KNOWLES LNP CORRESPONDENT
Art isn’t always about flowers in bloom and robins in spring.
Sometimes it’s about pain and suffering and deepest sorrow.
While it may not be easy to deal with these difficult emotions, this Friday’s art exhibit at the Community Room on King is titled “Emotive 2: A Good Friday Art Show.” The show will feature 10 local artists, most of them emerging artists.
This isn’t the first time the Community Room on King has tackled the tough subject of art with deeper emotions like grief and loss of hope. Two years ago, “Emotive: A Good Friday Art Show” took the first step in a show about the more sorrowful side of life.
“When we did the first show, we were looking at the emotions as they relate to the story of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins,” says curator Ryan Braught, a pastor for Veritas and organizer of the show.
As he explains, the title “Emotive” has to do with strong emotions for or against something. And what could be stronger than the feelings of abandonment, grief, loss and hopelessness that we all feel at times?
“It seemed appropriate on this Good Friday to revisit these themes,” says Braught, noting that in Matthew 27:46, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Among the artists exhibiting their work in “Emotive 2” are Shalom Beachy, Luis Quiñones, Mike Rock, Melinda Houvig, Emily Meneghin, Grace Engard, Alexandria Bonner, Sammy Lang and Grace Rhine.
Houvig knows something about betrayal and loss. Her sculpture is a powerful testament to the life-altering loss she suffered when she was an art student at West Chester University.
Her piece is called “Stage 5.” In Houvig’s life-sized sculptural installation, she relives the trauma of being a senior in college when she learned that she had cervical cancer.
“I underwent a partial hysterectomy shortly after I graduated in May 2012,” says Houvig “The surgery, and the diagnosis altered my life in many ways and the sculpture work functioned as a platform for a conversation about physical trauma and the resulting emotions that are left after losing organs and confronting never being able to have children.”
At first glance, her sculpture appears to be a pile of leaves, branches and birds’ nests. Interspersed are haunting body parts molded from her own body. A hand reaching out. A foot that has lost its bearings. A leg folded in hopelessness.
She refers to it as detritus, which is defined as “the pieces that are left when something breaks, falls apart, is destroyed.” And her work depicts the resulting emotional trauma from losing physical elements or parts of the original human form.
Yet, in many ways, Houvig’s expression of loss has a sense of hope. A year after her surgery, she was accepted into the MFA Studio Art program at Moore College in Philadelphia and will graduate in August to pursue her art career.
“The piece is meant to be outside and I hope to eventually find a buyer for it so that it can find a permanent residence outside on the land,” says Houvig.
Photographer Luis Quiñones is new to the art of photography and he takes an inside-outside view of the world. From his home on South Prince Street, he has observed the seasons changing and the views of the city. He started off snapping shots with his smartphone, then invested in a real camera.
His photograph of crows evokes Alfred Hitchcock with ominous black crows gathering on the branches of a tree outside his window. As he explains, birds like robins and bluebirds symbolize joy and happiness. Not crows.
“Crows are often linked with death,” says Quiñones. “But I see them as symbolizing mortality and freedom. I am fascinated by birds because they are not tied down by regulation. They are free.”
Quiñones likes to work in black and white, because of its power and simplicity, as in another photograph showing a child wearing skeleton makeup.
“In dealing with the emotions of suffering and loss, we can see the way to finding peace and hope,” says Braught.
If you go:
“Emotive 2: A Good Friday Art Show
Fri. 5-8 p.m. Free
Community Room on King, 106 W. King St. 572-5914 communityroomonking.com facebook.com/CommunityRoomonKing
We come to the end of our series called The Last Week looking at the last week of Jesus life’ here on earth, and in Jerusalem. Over the course of the last few weeks we have walked with Jesus through his week.
We started seven weeks ago looking at the beginning of Jesus week, on what we call Palm Sunday or known more specifically as the Triumphal Entry. We talked about his coronation as King and how his Kingship (represented by the animal that he chose to ride on) was not like the Kingship of this worldly Kingdom.
We then looked at Monday of that first holy week and his cursing the fig tree and cleansing the temple. We talked about how Israel and the religious leaders were getting in the way of people coming back to and finding God. We talked about how Jesus turned over tables so that people could find their way to God and how he needs to do that today in our own individual lives and our corporate lives.
Then we entered Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week and saw that for most of those days he encountered strong conflict and more conflict. We took one of those encounters when the Herodians and the Pharisees got together and asked him about paying taxes to Caesar. And Jesus responded by saying Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
And then we came to Thursday of Holy Week and looked at Jesus dinner at Bethany and how Mary anointed Jesus head and feet with oil and how she was pouring her whole life out onto him and preparing him for burial.
We gathered Friday night to walk through that fateful Good Friday. We read the account of Jesus journey that day to the cross and his death on that instrument of capital punishment in the Roman world.
When we left this darkened room on Friday night, Jesus had died. He breathed his last, was taken off the cross, and laid in a tomb. Death seemingly had won. The powers of sin, death, evil, the devil, and hell had triumphed, or so it had seemed to everyone, including the disciples. The disciples had fled and only the women had followed and saw where Jesus was buried. Ideally to be able to come back and anoint his body, when time allowed for it, and after the day of Sabbath.
This is where we pick up the story. That first Easter morning 2,000 years ago. The disciples dismayed, out of hope, confused, and unsure of what to do from this point on. They gave their lives to follow this messiah, this Jesus, and now he was dead laying in a tomb that wasn’t even his.
Let’s pick up the story in Mark 16:1-8 and see what we encounter on that 1st Easter Sunday, who we encounter in the story, and what that first Easter tells us about our lives, our world, and the future of everything.
Mark 16:1-8 says, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
So we need to talk about the ending of this text before we dive into the story. We should notice that there are two alternative endings to Mark and a footnote at the end of the section that we have just read. It seems like Mark’s original ending was lost. The two best manuscripts from the fourth century end where this text breaks off. The alternative endings were later writings. So a question that we could raise would be something like, “What do you think Mark’s original ending looked like? What part of the resurrection story did it contain?” If you look at the other 3 gospels and also the flow of chapter 16 you could probably fill it in like this, “the women eventually speak to the disciples. The disciples go to the tomb. And they all eventually meet Jesus somewhere in Galilee.” But that is getting ahead of ourselves and the text that we are looking at today.
So that first Easter morning 3 women got up early, headed off to the tomb where two of them saw Jesus laid only 3 days earlier. They were going there, not because they expected to encounter a risen Savior. They were going there to anoint Jesus body for burial. You see, a traditional burial process in the 1st century Jewish world was a two step process or burial. The first step would be to anoint the body with various spices and lay the body in a tomb. The spices were to mask the smell of decomposition. The second part of the two step process was to come back a year later when the body was nothing but bones and collect the bones and put them in a box called an ossuary. That way you could use the tomb over and over and over again. So these women went to the tomb to take part in the first first part of the burial process. They didn’t get a chance to do this before laying Jesus in the tomb because the body was taken down, and immediately put in the tomb, so that it wasn’t on the cross during the sabbath.
You see in verse 2 this understanding about what they were going to do. They were talking about who was going to roll away the stone, in order to get into the tomb to anoint his body. They had no concept, no idea that this day, this first Easter morning, would change the course of their lives, but also the course of history, from that day until this day, and for all of history.
When they arrived at the tomb, after their discussion of who would roll the stone away from the tomb, they saw that it was already rolled away. When they entered the tomb, no doubt wondering what was happening. No doubt, their hearts beating out of their chests. No doubt, their brains moving a million miles an hour seeking to understand what this all meant. When they entered the tomb, they came face to face with an angel. His presence no doubt freaking them out. His words hitting them like a ton of bricks. His words shattering their darkness. His words shaking them to the core.
The angel in the tomb spoke these words to the women, “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Obviously, as I mentioned before, these women didn’t expect the resurrection. Didn’t expect Jesus to come back from the dead. But Mark, told us, over and over again that Jesus tried to teach his disciples that he would suffer, die, and then be raised back to life. But they didn’t understand. In fact, it seems like the only ones who understood and thought about what Jesus said about his resurrection (even though they didn’t believe it) , were the chief priests and the Pharisees who come to Pilate and asked if they could put a guard at the tomb and secure it (Matthew 27)
We have clearly established that the early followers of Jesus, including the women, weren’t expecting the resurrection, even though Jesus clearly taught that he was going to suffer, die and then three days later be raised back to life. But my question for us today is what does the resurrection of Jesus actually mean for us and our world today? Resurrection isn’t just to secure an eternal future for us beyond this life. Resurrection for Jesus was about coming to bodily life after bodily death. So if it isn’t about an eternal future in some place called Heaven, what is resurrection all about? To get at that let’s go back to the text specifically verse 2 which says, “Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise,” Something about this part of the text clues us into, I believe, what the resurrection of Jesus is truly pointing towards. The first day of the week, if we are thinking biblically, should push our minds back to the beginning, back to Genesis and the story of creation. What is happening here in the resurrection of Jesus is connected with the story of creation. Jesus resurrection is to be seen as the beginning of the new world, the first day of the new week, and what God wants to do not only in Jesus, not only in us, but in all of creation. If Genesis 1 is about creation, than the resurrection story is about recreation. Jesus was re-created first, and then someday the rest of humanity who are in relationship with God will be re-created along with the rest of the created order. What we are witnessing in the resurrection stories is the birth of new creation. The power that has tyrannized the old creation has been broken, defeated and overthrown. God’s Kingdom is now launched and launched in power and glory, on earth as it is in heaven.
The resurrection is probably the ultimate place where heaven and earth overlap and inner lock. NT Wright has this to say about the resurrection, “The point of the resurrection is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a good future in store for it. What you do in the present- by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building, happily digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor and yourself- will last into God’s future.” The resurrection of Jesus is about this, that it affirms the material world that is currently broken and the promise of the renewal of all things. Scripture says it like this, “Behold I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) Jesus through his death and resurrection is making all things new. He is making everything, including you and I (as we follow him) new. He has redeemed all things (Colossians 1:20….and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.).
But the point of the resurrection is that God’s new creation has already begun. It began with Jesus. He went first. And that if you are in Christ, he has begun that work of re-creating you, making you a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And then he wants to use you and put you to work to make more bits of new creation happen within the world as it still is. And that we still live in the tension of a world that is being re-created but isn’t fully re-created. The world is not what it used to be, or what it will be. But we can know that because of the resurrection of Jesus, all will be made whole, made right, made new. And that because of Jesus resurrection, that shalom has happened, is happening and will happen. And that because of Jesus resurrection, we can not only be made whole, made right, made new but that we can be instruments of new creation (or as Paul says ambassadors). We are empowered to partner with God to remind our world that it isn’t always going to be like this. We, the people of God, are invited to live as though tomorrow’s new creation has already begun. And we know that, according to our resurrection text this morning, it already has.
Let me close with a quote from NT Wright about the resurrection and the work of new creation that the resurrection of Jesus began and what that means for you and I, and ultimately our world, “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”
So where are you seeing the resurrection work of re-creation in your life, in your relationships, and with the world around you? Where is the resurrection of Jesus touching down and breaking into your reality? These are the questions that we’ll be discussing together.
1. What thoughts, insights, questions, comments, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. Where are you seeing the resurrection work of re-creation in your life, in your relationships, and with the world around you? Where is the resurrection of Jesus touching down and breaking into your reality?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent, the 40 day period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter (not including the 6 Sundays- Days of Resurrection). A period of time in the Christian calendar that prepares us as we travel along with Jesus towards his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Lent is also the time in the Christian year where we focus on repentance, prayer, self-denial, and fasting.
During Lent we have been walking with Jesus through his last week on this earth. The last week starting with his Triumphal Entry and ending with his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
3 weeks ago we started this journey with Jesus on what we call Palm Sunday or the Triumphal Entry. We talked about the fact that this story is all about Jesus and his Kingship and Lordship.
2 weeks ago we covered the story of Jesus cursing the Fig Tree and cleansing the temple. We talked about how the religious leaders got in the way of people finding God. And we asked the question what tables would Jesus flip in our lives in order for us to get out of the way so people can find God.
Last we talked about giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God what is God. We talked about all about our allegiance being to God and to no other.
Today we look at the story found in Mark 14:1-11, a story that we can say is like a three panel painting. In the middle of the painting, which is the largest section, is the main part of the story centering around Mary of Bethany (verses 3-9). The panels on either side of the center section would be the story of the Pharisee’s and their desire to arrest and kill Jesus (verses 1-2) and the story of Judas and his part in handing Jesus over to the religious leaders (verses 10-11) and getting some financial recuperation from it.
So let’s look at the story found in Mark 14:1-11 and see what it might say to us today seeking to walk with Jesus through his last week while here on earth.
Mark 14:1-11 says, “
Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
Let’s take a look first at the center panel, the main part of the story and see what it might say to us.
We see in this center panel a women from Bethany coming to Jesus in the midst of dinner and anointing him with oil from an alabaster jar. Now we know from John 12:1-8 (John’s account of this story) that the woman who anoints Jesus is Mary of Bethany, who is the sister of Lazarus (who Jesus raised from the dead) and Martha. So Mary anoints Jesus head from oil from this alabaster jar. Now there are a few things that we need to look at historically and culturally to make some sense and draw out meaning behind this act.
First, in the culture of the day, when guests arrived for a meal, as an act of hospitality, it was customary to anoint the guests head with a dab of oil. Now the biggest difference in that custom, and what we see in this story is that Mary didn’t just put a dab of oil on his head, she broke the whole thing open and poured the entire contents on the alabaster jar all over his head. An extravagant act of worship that no doubt made others pretty uncomfortable and even a little ticked off.
Secondly, connecting our story of the Triumphal Entry, when a person became King, part of the coronation process, was for his head to be anointed with oil. Anointing the head was in the Biblical tradition the ceremony for the coronation of a King. So here is Mary anointing Jesus as the true King. As the King of all Kings. This was another of his coronation moments on his way to the cross. In fact the word Messiah itself actually means anointed one.
Thirdly, this act of anointing, as Jesus referenced, was connected to his upcoming death on the cross, and his burial in a tomb. We read in verse 8 these words connecting the anointing of Jesus by Mary and his death and burial, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” The type of death that he was expecting, the common criminal death of crucifixion, lended itself to the problem of not preparing the body for burial. The idea being that Jesus was going to be killed in such a way that there may not be a chance for proper anointing of the body at the time. In fact, we will visit this idea again on Easter Sunday, when the women who followed Jesus return to his grave, in order to anoint his body with spices and perfume, as was the traditional custom of what they did to bodies, most of the time before laying them to rest in a tomb. Now Jesus is not implying that Mary somehow knew that what she was doing was for his burial. She was acting upon her love, and gratitude and her worship of Jesus, the King of King and Lord of Lords.
Fourthly, this act was costly (in two very different ways). The first costly way is what we see mentioned in the text. In verse 4 we read these words, “Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.” So we know from other texts that the perfume was called Spikenard and was a very expensive fragrance imported from India. So expensive that it was more than a year’s wages. A denarius, as we talked about last week, was roughly a days wages. And so it the perfume probably cost over 300 denarii. This was no doubt very costly, especially to a family who more than likely wasn’t a wealthy family.
But even more costly, was what the breaking of the alabaster jar, and pouring the perfume on Jesus head, meant for Mary and what it meant culturally at the time. In the days Jesus was on earth, when a young woman reached the age of availability for marriage, her family would purchase an alabaster box for her and fill it with precious ointment. The size of the box and the value of the ointment would parallel her family’s wealth. This alabaster box would be part of her dowry. When a young man came to ask for her in marriage, she would respond by taking the alabaster box and breaking it at his feet. The gesture of anointing his feet showed him honor. So what she was doing was pretty much giving her whole life and whole self to Jesus. Without the alabaster jar and perfume, her future didn’t include marriage. He future was totally wrapped up in Jesus. Without a husband to provide for her, how was she going to live? Without a husband, who was she? But she realized that no man would be better then her Jesus. When she broke that alabaster jar and poured her expensive perfume over Jesus in front of a room of men, she was giving up a portion of her dowry, her reputation, and most importantly her heart.
So on the center panel of this painting we see a beautiful act of love, worship, and devotion. An act that was about coronating Jesus, worshipping him, preparing him for his death and burial. And an act that was super costly not only in the amount of money that the perfume and alabaster jar was worth, but also costly in relation to Mary having a future husband. But an act of worship, giving her life, her self, and her future to Jesus.
If the center panel is all about worship, then the other two panels are about those who should be doing what Mary was doing, but instead were rebuking, scheming, planning, and dreaming about how to arrest Jesus, kill Jesus, or make some money off of Jesus’ arrest.
Their reaction to this beautiful act of worship, devotion, and giving of herself to Jesus was about rebuke and chastisement. People said “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” Now in other accounts of this story we see one of the primary voices speaking these words is Judas, who didn’t care for the poor at all. No he was in it for the money. He was the treasurer if you will of the disciples, the moneybag keeper, and he would help himself to some of the money.
Let’s briefly look at both side panels of this painting. First in verse 1-2 we read, “Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” As we have mentioned before, Passover was the time when Jerusalem swelled in population as many pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem. Also passover was the time every year that the Jewish people were looking for that deliverer, that new Moses, to come and kick the Romans out of their land, take over, and become King of Israel. And the conversation and expectation around Jesus in this Passover season was one filled with Messianic hopes and dreams that finally Rome would be ousted, Israel would have it’s own land back, and they would have their own ruler in charge. So the religious leaders and teachers of the law, who weren’t on Jesus side, were scheming how to get him arrested, but secretly. Because if he was arrested publicly, no doubt those who were hoping for Jesus to be the long awaited Davidic Messiah, Warrior King would revolt and riot.
And that is when Judas comes in. Judas, as a disciple, or an inside guy so to speak, would have inside information on where and when they could arrest Jesus when the public wasn’t around. So Judas would help them find a private time to arrest Jesus. But what was Judas’ motive for being a traitor? Obviously we can only speculate as the text never truly says what his issue or issues were, but here are some thoughts about motive. First, the motive of greed. As I mentioned before Judas loved money, and would help himself to some of the money given to fund the mission of Jesus’ and his disciples. We see that he goes to the Chief Priests and they arrive at an agreed upon price, that we know is 30 silver pieces. So one motivation was most likely money and greed.
And Secondly I believe he also was hoping that Jesus would be that warrior King, that Davidic messiah who would come, kick Roman’s tail, and deliver Israel back to prominence and their own rule and own land. And so maybe their was a level of anger, and disappointment that it wasn’t going to be an violent overthrow of the powers that be that he expected. (Maybe he understood maybe better than other disciples of what Jesus was truly headed for).
So for whatever reason..greed, disappointment, anger, frustration, etc.. Judas agrees to become the traitor and hand Jesus over to the chief priests and teacher of the law to be arrested and eventually killed.
So in our time of discussion let’s two at the two radically different responses to Jesus in this story. Let’s look at what our alabaster jars might be that God is calling us to break and pour out for him. Let’s also look at our own lives and the ways that we have been Judas to Jesus ourselves. These are the two things we are going to unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What alabaster jar is Jesus calling you to break and pour out in worship? What is keeping you from breaking it over his head?
3. In what ways have you and I been Judas? Been a traitor to Jesus and his Kingdom?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
We come now to Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week in our series The Last Week looking at the last week of Jesus’ life while here on earth.
When we kicked off The Last Week two weeks ago we looked at the first day of Holy Week, what we call Palm Sunday or what is called in Mark 11, the Triumphal Entry. We talked about this story and how in it we see two radically visions of Jesus being King. And how anyone from the outside seeing it, especially Rome, would see the connections to a coronation ceremony and get nervous. I mentioned that this was one of the reasons that only a few days later Jesus was executed, because he claimed himself as a King and as royalty.
Last week we talked about Holy Monday, and the cursing of the Fig Tree, and the cleaning of the Temple. We talked about how they were connected and pointed towards judgement of Israel. How the religious leaders got in the way of people actually finding God. How Jesus flipped tables and drove animals out of the temple because the temple was supposed to be a signpost pointing to a deeper reality, that of Jesus and his Kingdom, but instead they thought it was the reality. And how we can also get in the way of people finding Jesus as well as the similar danger of believing that we are the deeper reality, and not the signpost that is supposed to point to Jesus.
Today we are looking at two days, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. These two days could be probably summarized by saying Conflict and More Conflict. Have you ever had one of those days where it seems like everywhere you went you ran into questions, accusations, conflict, etc..? Jesus had many days like that but especially during Holy Week.
If we look at Mark 11:27-13:37, we see almost every section of these two and half chapter starting with one of the religious leaders of the day coming and either asking him to explain himself, have him justify what he was doing, asking him questions, or as in the case of the section that we’ll be looking at, trapping him and basically putting him between a rock and a hard place, or so they thought.
So let’s turn to Mark 12:13-17 and see what this conflict was all about and what we might learn about following Jesus in our 21st century world.
Mark 12:13-17 says, “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”
So in this text we see the Chief Priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders (meaning the religious leaders of Jesus’ day) sending a group of Pharisees and Herodians to trap Jesus with his own words. Now what is really happening here can be best summed up in the saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” You see the Pharisees and Herodians weren’t on the same page with most things, except they both didn’t like Jesus. The Pharisees, which means “separated ones”, were the group of people who were extremely accurate and legalistic about the law of Moses. And importantly in this story, the Pharisees weren’t 100 percent in favor of the Roman rule. In fact, they were divided when it came to the question of Roman rule. On the other end of the spectrum were the Herodians. The Herodians favored submitting to the Herods and therefore Roman rule. Support of the Herods compromised Jewish independence in the minds and eyes of the Pharisees. So as you see these two parties were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to a lot of social, religious and political issues. But what they agreed on was that this Jesus character needed to be dealt with.
So they get together and go to Jesus hoping to trap him. To put him between a rock and a hard place. So the first thing they do is butter him up, they seek to flatter him by what they say. Before they get to the question that they are hoping to trap him with, they flatter him by saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” Now I don’t believe that they even truly believed what they were saying. First they called him Teacher or in their world it would be Rabbi, but he wasn’t either of the groups Rabbi, or in other words they weren’t his disciples. Secondly, their theology if you will didn’t agree with Jesus’ theology. The Pharisees especially didn’t believe that Jesus was teaching the way of God in accordance with the truth. They believed they had the truth and anyone who disagreed with them was not following God, and that included Jesus.
So after they butter him up, they then drop what they believe was the bombshell question. The question that would seal his fate either with the people or with the Romans. The question that would trap Jesus was, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
This was a huge question in Jesus day. Do you pay taxes or not. You see the Peasants (like Jesus’ family) were forced to pay upwards of 50% of their income to various taxes. Various taxes like Ground tax (10% of all grain and 20% of all wine and fruit), Income tax (1% of man’s income), Poll tax (paid by men 12-65 and women 14-65- 1 denarius a year). But they also were forced to pay other taxes like a local tax, a temple tax, and taxes to Herod. But it wasn’t just about the tax, as bad as that was, it was also about what the taxes stood for. It meant that Israel wasn’t free, wasn’t independent. That they were now under the rule and thumb of the Roman empire. And what Rome ruled they taxed and taxed heavily.
The Pharisees and Herodians believed that they were forcing him into an either/or. Either he would say to support the paying of the tax therefore alienating the crowd who hated Roman rule and by nature the taxes that came with it or denounce paying the taxes and then the group would go to the governor and accuse Jesus of treason and revolt. Either way he would lose something. Or so they thought. They thought they had him right where they wanted him. They were wrong. Jesus, the master at always finding a way out of these either/or dilemma’s and finding a third way.
Jesus knowing what they were up to, not being blinded by their flattery, asks them why they are trying to trap him. He then says, “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. It’s interesting to note as an aside that he didn’t have a denarius on him.
So now this isn’t just a political or social question, this was also a religious question. You see there is a lot at play in relation to the coins. Jews were forbidden to make carved images. There were debates whether that included images like plants and flowers, but it definitely meant images of people. In fact, some of the devout Jews wouldn’t even touch or use the coins. And so they began making their own coins with the image of a palm leaf on them. And so Jesus is asking them, many in the Pharisee camp who probably wouldn’t hold or touch one, to go and find one.
They find one and he asks them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” And they reply Caesar’s. You see at the time the coins in use, the denarius, had an image of Tiberius on one side with the words “Augustus Tiberius. son of the divine Augustus.” above the image. And on the other side High priest, son of God, high priest” To a devout Jew this was no doubt totally offensive. I mean if the Romans wanted to be offensive to the Jews, they did a pretty good job of it with their coinage.
Once they have established whose image is imprinted on the coin, Jesus says these brilliant, and possibly misunderstood words, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” There are a number of ways to read his response to their question. First we could see him meaning, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar- pay the taxes but without the sting of submitting to Rome as your master. Or connected with that, since it’s Caesar’s blasphemous image on the coin, then send this filthy stuff back to where it came from. Secondly it could be taken that it echoes a Maccabean slogan from 200 years earlier during a revolt against Syrian rule, which said “pay back the Gentiles what they deserve and obey the commands of the law.” Jesus could be drawing their minds back to that revolt, and saying it as a revolutionary slogan for a different kind of Kingdom. The Kingdom of God where the one true God became King of the world. And lastly, Give to God what belongs to God. If the image stamped on the coin is Caesar, then give back to him what belongs to him. But Human beings bear the stamp, the image of God. Therefore all humans owe themselves, and their very lives to God. Caesar could have his image on coins, crowns, and robes. But life and creation have God’s stamp on them. Caesar could have his coins, but life is God’s. Caesar had no right to take what is God’s. God’s image is stamped on us like Caesar’s stamp and image on coins. God made us all including Caesar and he wants our lives. And I believe that if you give yourself wholly to God you would discover, like his followers then, that using violence to fight violence, and evil to fight evil, simply wouldn’t and won’t do.
But probably one of the most subversive things that Jesus meant when he said Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s , and give to God what is God’s, is in the fact that he refers to them as separate entities. He is saying that God is god and Caesar is not. The question then becomes who is truly King. One of the most subversive, radical, and treasonous things that Christians said in the face of the Roman empire is that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.
So when we boil it all down, the question really that we are wrestling with comes down to loyalty. Where does your loyalty lie? If you believe that everything is God’s, then there really is nothing left for Caesar. Once we have given God what is his, there really isn’t much or anything left for Caesar. Sure, pay taxes, Jesus would say but Jesus is the Lord. Our allegiance needs to be to him. Not to a country, a philosophy, a doctrine, a denomination, etc.. Total allegiance should be pledged to Jesus and to him alone.
So the question for us this morning is what is our Caesar? To whom have we given allegiance to in place of God? Where do our loyalties truly lie? And what is God saying to each of us about what is Caesar’s in our life, and what is truly God’s. That is where we’ll turn right now in our discussion time.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. To whom have we given allegiance to in place of God? Where do our loyalties truly lie? And what is God saying to each of us about what is Caesar’s in our life, and what is truly God’s.
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Over the next few weeks, during this Christian season of Lent, which started last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) and running through Easter/Resurrection Sunday, we’ll be exploring Jesus last week on earth, in our series The Last Week. We’ll exploring Jesus last week through the lens of the gospel of Mark.
Last week we started the series looking at the first day of Jesus last week, the story of Palm Sunday/Triumphal Entry found in Mark 11:1-11.
Today we are looking at the events and encounters that took place on what many call Holy Monday. To explore the events of Holy Monday we’ll look at Mark 11:12-21 together.
Mark 11:12-21 says, “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
So what is going on in these two encounters? What in the world is Jesus doing in cursing a fig tree, and seemingly violently throwing out moneychangers? These two encounters seem so unlike Jesus so just what is actually going on? Well let’s unpack both encounters and see what they mean and what they have to do with each other.
First, let’s look at the beginning of Holy Monday, the cursing of the fig tree. We read, “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.”
So Jesus, the day after the Triumphal Entry leaves Bethany heading for Jerusalem. He is hungry and sees a fig tree in leaf. When he gets to the tree he sees that there are leaves but no fruit. And he seemingly gets mad, even though it wasn’t the season for figs. And then he curses the fig tree. What in the word is going on here? What is Jesus doing in cursing a fig tree when it wasn’t even the season for figs?
First of all, this act of cursing a fig tree is actually a dramatic, acted parable indicating the meaning of what Jesus was going to do in the temple. It was a dramatic acted parable of judgment. To understand more of what is taking place we need to look back at Mark 1, to the purpose that Mark had in writing his gospel. Look at Mark 1:1 which says, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” This enacted parable of the fig tree spells out again Jesus identity and authority. His identity and authority as King of Kings (as seen in Mark 11) and as Lord of Lords. His authority over all of creation. You see in Jesus’ day there were symbolism behind the fig tree, and here Jesus is showing his power, his authority, and his identity through the cursing of the tree. In Jesus day there were 3 things that the fig tree came to represent in Jewish culture and in Greco-Roman culture. The first thing the fig tree was associated with was various deities, primarily the tree god Dionysus. This shows his authority not only over Israel but over the gods of the empire. Also in Greco/Roman culture the sudden withering or blossoming of any tree was considered a powerful omen of coming destruction or blessing. A withering tree outside of Jerusalem would be considered, especially by Mark’s gentile readers as a sign of disaster for that city. And lastly the fig tree in Jewish scriptures was symbolic of the nation of Israel.
Also in relation to the connection between the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple, we see that this tree was pointing to something but not delivering. It was the signpost pointing to a reality. And so if the fig tree represents Israel, then Jesus is not only judging the fig tree for not being a signpost pointing to a reality, but he is using the tree as a symbol of coming judgment on the nation of Israel and the temple. That the nation of Israel and the temple, though they appear to be leafy, are not keeping with the fruit that Jesus is calling them to. And so Jesus was not out to condemn a non-bearing tree; he was pronouncing judgment against the religious barrenness of the nation. The tree is not in trouble, the nation is. The tree has not rejected its Messiah, the nation has. The tree is being used as a symbol, not the object itself, of the judgment.
So after Jesus cursing the fig tree with these words, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” he moves on to Jerusalem where he enters the Temple and begins to cleanse it by driving out the moneychangers, and to turn over the tables of those selling animals. There are a few things that we need to get out of the way when we look at this part of the text. First, those who were the moneychangers and sellers of the animals were there because people needed to buy animals for their sacrifice. People came to Jerusalem and the temple to sacrifice to cover over their sins. Many of these people would bring their own animals to be sacrificed. Animals that they had raised, had cared for, had invested time and money into, all to be brought to the temple to be sacrificed by the priest. But the priests were ripping people off by telling them the animal they bought to sacrifice didn’t meet their purity standards. People were thus forced to purchase a “temple certified” animal. The priests would then confiscate the allegedly substandard animal, only to turn around and sell it to the next worshiper who was told the animal they had bought was substandard. It was a money-making scam.
Secondly, many see this story as Jesus endorsing violence. You’ll notice that in this text no where does Jesus actually attack the people or animals in the temple. He does whip them, or hit them at all. He drives them out, he overturns the tables, he judges the entire temple system. But it is not a violent act towards people. Greg Boyd has this to say about the supposed violence in this story, “while Jesus’ behavior was certainly aggressive, there’s no indication whatsoever that it involved violence. True, Jesus turned tables over. But this was to put an immediate stop to the corrupt commerce that was taking place as well as perhaps to free the caged animals. There’s no mention of any person or animal getting hurt in the process. And yes, Jesus made a whip. But there’s no mention of him using it to strike any animal, let alone human. Cracking a loud whip has always been the most effective means of controlling the movement of large groups of animals. Jesus wanted to create a stampede of animals out of the temple, and there’s no reason to conclude he used the whip for any other purpose than this.”
After Jesus clears out the moneychangers and drives out the animals he quotes from two separate Old Testament passages to claim the temple for what it should be, a signpost pointing to a reality, and not the reality itself. First he quotes from Isaiah 56:6-7 which says, “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” And then he quotes from Jeremiah 7:9-11 which says, “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” Both of these passages and Jesus act in the temple point us to the issue. That the religious leaders and the temple system were actually getting in the way of people experiencing and encountering God. The religious leaders as I mentioned above were ripping people off. The system itself was corrupt. Jesus was bringing judgment upon it. The temple was supposed to be a signpost pointing to the deeper reality of God and his love for humanity. Instead, it became the reality. You see the temple had been intended to symbolize God’s presence among his people for the sake of the world. But the way that it was organized when Jesus came to cleanse it, was not about the inclusion of other nations, but Gods’ seeming exclusion of them. The religious leaders were living out what the prophet Jeremiah had said all those years before, and so Jesus had no other choice than to judge it and cleanse it. It had jumped the tracks and was now running in the track of it’s own making. It had lost its reason for being. Jesus was judging it, and shutting it down. It would still go on for a few more years until Rome destroyed it in 70 AD but it had lost it’s true purpose of being a signpost. NT Wright says it like this, “The sacrificial system was therefore doubly redundant. It was part of the Temple system which had come to stand for the wrong things. It was part of the signpost system set up by God to draw the eye to the climatic achievement of Jesus himself on the cross.”
So the question that all of this raises in my mind is have we as the church gotten off the rails? We are meant to be the signpost pointing to the reality, that of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection and his love for the world. Have we been a signpost pointing to Jesus, a signpost pointing to ourselves, or making the church the reality, when it is about Jesus. Have we gotten in the way of others experiencing the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus? What would Jesus say or do if he came in this morning? What tables would he need to flip in our own lives? What things would he judge in our corporate lives that has gotten in the way of being inclusive and allowing others to experience him? What would he drive out of us to make room for others to find him? Those are the things that I want to unpack together in our corporate discussion time.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What tables would Jesus need to flip in our own lives? What things would he judge in our corporate lives that have gotten in the way of being inclusive and allowing others to experience him? What would he drive out of us to make room for others to find him?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?