Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty: Blasphemy, Treason, Truth

Jesus was not crucified because he was nice! The religious leaders were challenged, exasperated and angered by Jesus. The gospels clearly present their growing anger and desire to get rid of the “Jesus” problem.

·         The religious leaders were jealous of Jesus because “he taught as one who had authority and not as the teachers of the law!” (Matthew 7:29).

·         The Pharisees were angry because Jesus refused to honor their rules of clean and unclean. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)

·         Unable to deny his miracles, the religious leaders claimed Jesus wielded Satan’s power! “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” (Matthew 9:32)

·         Jesus valued people over rituals to the point of making the Pharisees plot to kill him. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12:14)

·         The religious leaders understood that many of Jesus’ parables were attacks against their abuse of authority! When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. (Matthew 21:45-46)

·         The religious leaders decided to kill Jesus, but they were afraid of the people. Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26:3-5)

Most of us have a tendency to dismiss people who make us uncomfortable, push us to painful growth, or threaten our perceived best interest. Jesus was a serious threat to those who thought they had it all figured out!

Since Jesus did not submit to their authority or give in to their bullying, the religious leaders dismissed Jesus with the charge of blasphemy. It is ironic that they ignored the words and the signs of Jesus which were clearly powered by God, choosing instead to reject Jesus in the name of defending God! There was some blasphemy happening at the trial of Jesus, it was just the opposite of their legal verdict!    

Pilate knew the religious leaders handed Jesus over to him out of their own self-interest. He decided to dismiss Jesus and crucify him, despite pronouncing him not guilty, despite knowing the jealousy of the Jewish leaders, simply because it was the easiest way to solve his problem that Friday morning. Truth is often a victim of expediency.

Jesus warned his disciples that it was a constant tension to be more interested in the things of men rather than the things of God. Charging your opponents with blasphemy does not change the truth. Washing your hands and claiming your innocence is never enough to destroy the truth! The problem with truth is, while you can easily and efficiently dismiss it, it does not cease to be true because of your refusal to believe it.

Truth is made for acceptance and obedience. Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, is calling us all to follow him! Are you walking?

- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty: Conquering Hero or Suffering Servant?

          As you read the gospels you sense that a showdown in Jerusalem is approaching when Jesus and the religious leaders will engage in conflict that will allow the tension that has been building between them to find relief. Jesus warned his disciples repeatedly that there was trouble on the horizon in Jerusalem:  Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:17-19 NIV)

Jesus could not have used words that were more clear concerning these events, yet apparently the disciples either did not listen or did not comprehend the plain meaning of Jesus’ words! So it is rather surprising to find out that this is what happens after Jesus warns them of the trouble in Jerusalem: Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Mathew 20:20-23 NIV)

                Rather than taking to heart the grief and approaching suffering of Jesus, James and John wanted to establish positions of honor for themselves in the coming kingdom of the Messiah. Jesus warned them that they did not know what they were asking – then he asked them if they could drink the cup that he was close to drinking. Their response was a curt “We can!” which is proof positive that they were not talking about the same cup as Jesus. They imagined drinking from the golden goblet of power and glory, the ones kings used for their wine. Jesus was speaking of the cup of sorrow and suffering, the one that contained the wrath of God.

                When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28 NIV)

Jesus pointed out their misunderstanding by challenging their desire for power and the ability to command people to serve them with the true role of the disciple, which is service to others. He then offered himself as the example of one who was not seeking to be served but who was serving others and even offering himself as a ransom for them. It was hard for the disciples to believe that the Messiah would be a servant who offered his life for others instead of a powerful king who demanded the lives of his enemies! That is still hard to believe and it is even harder to emulate! The tension that Jesus pointed out as active in the heart of Peter – “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” – was alive and well in the hearts of James and John, and most disciples since then.

What would it look like for someone to actually obey the direct commands of Jesus to stop looking to be served and start serving others? What does the commitment to offer yourself for the benefit of those around you look like? Keep watching Jesus, because he is going to show exactly what that looks like in seven days in Jerusalem that forever changed the world!

- Kenny Payne

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty: An Unusual King

            Jesus asked his disciples the most important question in all of life: “Who do you say that I am?” This is the most important question, not because our answer changes anything for Jesus, but because it changes everything for us.

Not surprisingly it was Peter who answered for the group: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” I imagine that the disciples were all thrilled to be the inner circle of the Messiah - they had stars in their eyes.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21) “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Truer words were never spoken, yet there is a shocking difference between saying the right words and understanding their meaning. The word Messiah immediately brought to mind expectations in the hearts of the Jewish people: deliverance, vengeance, restoration of Israel, humiliation of their enemies. These expectation were why Israel eagerly awaited the Messiah! Yet when Jesus defined his role as Messiah, he did not reference any of these ideas. In fact, he spoke only of suffering, rejection by the religious leaders and death. To the disciples this was scandalous and very un-messianic!

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”  Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”(Matthew 16:22-23) Since Peter gave the correct answer regarding Jesus’ identity, he decided that he should be the one to instruct Jesus about what it meant to be the Messiah. Peter rebuked Jesus and informed him that these bad events would never happen to him. It was preposterous to Peter that Jesus could be Messiah and also be killed. Of course, Jesus did not want to die either, but he knew that his death was intimately connected to his role as Messiah. Jesus acknowledge the tension he faced by calling Peter Satan and telling him that he had in mind the things of men and not of God. Peter should have been paying close attention at that moment because Jesus shared with him the central struggle of all disciples, keeping our focus and energy on God’s concerns and not human concerns.  

It is hard to imagine a more difficult conversation between Jesus and his disciples because Jesus overturned their entire worldview concerning the identity and role of the Messiah! And then without pause he overturned their understanding of what they could expect as disciples. Far from the positions of authority they imagined for themselves, Jesus spoke of laying down their lives, taking up a cross and following Jesus down the road of rejection, suffering and death. This was hardly an appealing offer.

            But then, on the other side of all that suffering, pain and death – GLORY! The glory of the Son of Man coming to reward people for what they have done; the glory of the Son of Man coming in his kingdom; the glory of having made a wise choice to follow an unusual king!

   - Kenny Payne