Saturday, November 28

First Steps

 December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls” in reference to “summer soldiers” who fought well in Spring and Summer but gave up and went home in the cold. It was a statement read to the Colonial army at Valley Forge before they crossed the Delaware River and attacked the British.

Let me paraphrase this for the Body of Christ. These are still the times that try the human soul. The ‘fair-weather believer’ will, in 2020, shrink from the service of their Lord. Unsettled, uncertain, and unprecedented describe the last year.

This was the second Thanksgiving Phyllis and I had alone. The first being 1980 when we moved to Abilene Texas. I couldn’t sneak pieces of turkey to John as I carved it. There were no kids begging to watch their shows. In some ways it was empty.

There have been other eras in which times seemed empty and without hope. I came across a meme the last week or so.

“It’s important to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas: ghosts terrorizing rich people in the middle of the night until they agree to pay their employees more”

In fact, Charles Dickins wrote A Christmas Carol because he’d read of girls seeing dresses six days a week for 16 hours a day and of “8-year-old children who dragged coal carts through tiny subterranean passages over a standard 11-hour workday (Broich).” We have laws that protect children, but such unprecedented times are still the reality for some in our world.  Remember the controversy of Nike and Adidas and the use of sweatshops and child workers?

I want you to know that God’s people are not free from ‘fair weather’ christians. I’ve known more than a few from pastors to people with a seemingly unshakable faith. Something happens and they fold up their tent and fade away into the mists. We cannot force them to believe. But we can work in our own lives so that we don’t run the risk of becoming just one more ‘church drop out’.

I want to suggest that Mark 1:1 is our starting place.  Let me suggest we return to something that is elementary to us, God’s Son, Jesus.  

The Beginning

Mark 1:1 reads, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." With Mar there is no Mary or Joseph. We don’t hear of Herod or a census nor are there angels, or shepherds. It is as if Jesus just fell into history at a point and Mark started the story. The lack of no nativity doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It just means Mark wasn’t led to tell the stories he’d heard from others.

The beginning may be temporal having to do with the time of Jesus’ coming. Yet the word has other senses. Remember axioms in geometry or algebra? They are rules that ‘just are’ you can’t prove them, but they are believed as a grounded starting place for math.

“Beginning”, as Mark uses it, "can also denote the 'first things,' 'elementary principles or the 'rudimentary elements' (Guelich 8)." In verses, 2-3 Mark reaches back into the lives of Isaiah and Malachi in order to show how Jesus fulfills their prophecy. This “’ beginning’ is not just a moment in time, it is a step-in eternity (McKenna and Ogilvie 24).” This truth doesn’t start in zero AD but before the world was formed. John writes the same thing, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God” Jn. 1:1

Jesus and his calling that starts off Mark. Jesus and His purpose for coming to us are equally ‘set in stone’ facts with which people have to deal each day. Thus, the object of this beginning is the gospel.

The Gospel

It is not a gospel, like one among many, but “the gospel”. And uses it “in the absolute sense (Guelich 8).” The clearest translation for the term Gospel is Good News. It is the “’ reward for good news’… the good tidings of God’s redemptive act in Jesus Christ (Bratcher and Nida 2)." This gospel is the starting place for Advent. Todd Outcalt writes,

"Advent begins—and in fact, the entirety of the Christian journey begins—at the point where we accept Jesus as our Guide and begin to walk with his calm assurances in the midst of our fears (Outcalt)."

Keep this in mind as we continue through the next few months. Science can fail us, but Christ does not. Political wins and losses may elate or discourage us, but Christ is Lord of lords and King of kings.

It can be very tempting to become ‘fair-weather followers’ and walk away when the world is in such turmoil. Such people are not ‘bad’, but they have just not been grasped by the gospel and held captive. God takes the initiative of wrestling with us and holding tight to those who He saves because the good news, takes place only through His son, Jesus.

Jesus Christ

For Mark Jesus is not just a name. He is The Messiah or the Christ. He isn’t the ruler who wanted to ‘Make Israel Great Again’. He was about as far removed from the expected military and political leader as you get. He is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

2He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

    and no beauty that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,

    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

He transforms lives. He raises the dead. He restores withered hands. He touches lepers and lets a woman touch him. He breaks the social rules of His day. He eats with those who are hated. He teaches those who are unlearned. He feeds throngs and blesses children. Jesus is not the hero comes to put things right. This time.

You noticed that, didn’t you? This time… He is coming back and, as Mark 13:32 says about the timing “no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”. We are to remain on guard and stay awake. Why? So, when he does return, we are ready for Him, and not caught unawares.

Is anyone tired of wearing masks and the various closures and lockdowns? What you’re feeling is called “COVID fatigue”. The attitude that says “we've been doing this a long time, I thought it was a short-term situation, it's going on and on and on and I'm getting tired of it, and I'm tired of wearing a mask, and I'm tired of putting my life on hold (Cuomo).” Such fatigue wears on us till we forget about a mask once then twice etc. Then when we can’t breathe, or our child or parent can’t breathe we get back with the program. But it’s too late. The saddest situations are the 30-year-old who went to a COVID party thinking it was a hoax. His nurse reported he told her,

‘You know, I think I made a mistake.' And this young man went to a COVID party,” she said. “He didn’t really believe. He thought the disease was a hoax. He thought he was young and invincible and wouldn’t get affected by the disease (NBC News).”

To remain alert and awake today means masks and social distancing. Spiritually it involves knowing the times in which we live. Is the return of Christ right around the corner? I don’t know. A great many situations and tragedies have given rise to speculation on Jesus’ return.

We, his people who wait for our Lord’s return need to do this Let us pray.

 

 Works Cited

Bratcher, Robert G., and Eugene Albert Nida. A Handbook on the Gospel of Mark. New York: United Bible Societies, 1993. Print. UBS Handbook Series. p2

Guelich, Robert A. Mark 1–8:26. Vol. 34A. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1989. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

McKenna, David L., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Mark. Vol. 25. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

NBC News. "‘I Think I Made a Mistake’: Young Man from Texas Dies After Attending COVID-19 Party." https://www.nbc12.com.2020. Web. 25 Nov. 2020.

Outcalt, Todd. Let Us Go Now to Bethlehem: Daily Devotions for Advent and Christmas. Upper Room Books. Kindle Edition.

Paine, Thomas. "Thomas Paine: American Crisis." Ushistory.org. Web. 26 Nov. 2020.

Saturday, October 10

Choices and Chances

Did you ever miss a get together only to find out that it was the party of the year?   About 47 years ago in an accounting class at Cal State Hayward, Dr. Zambetti told us how much he hated one particular movie. He stayed home to watch it while his roommate went to the party at which the host handed out shares of a stock that had just gone public. I can’t remember the company but missing that party made Zambetti sick every time he saw that movie come on TV.

I can only imagine how much one would miss if they said ‘no’ to a royal wedding because that’s what Jesus describes in this parable. The King’s son was being wed and all the stops were pulled out for this wedding. An obvious first invitation had already gone out. It would be like our ‘save the date’ announcements. Now, it was time to present the second invitation is sent to these previously invited.

The response is unbelievable. It is unthinkable. After all, this was the King whose party they ignored. Matthew says they “paid no attention”, the only use of this Greek word in the Gospels (Hagner). In their place are those on the streets. Not high society but bad and good. Gentiles, others who couldn’t keep the law, normal, every day, people.

The Guests

The first group who had received the servant’s news that the feast was ready, were God’s own people. The Jews, children of Abraham, and the people of the Covenant those to whom God had saved from Egypt and Assyria. Their reaction is “they didn’t care (Blomberg 327).” When they scorned the provision and protection of their God and King another group was invited. They are too interested in business and land. “Their response is just conceivable at the literal level of the story as treason and revolution (ibid.).” Thursday night we were watching Celebrity Family Feud in which two sets of football greats were playing for charity. In the lighting round the question was asked, “’On a level from 1 to 10 how important is the almighty dollar?’ to which the first contestant, with little hesitation, said ‘10’(Celebrity Family Feud).” The number one action from the surveyed audience was, in fact, 10.

Granted it was the result of 100 people but how much does this reality resonate in our reality. The leadership and people of Israel “are preoccupied with their own affairs and are actively rebellious (Wilkins 178).”

Those on the streets were the equivalent of the “tax collectors, and sinners” (Mt 9:10-11) with whom Jesus had eaten and entertained. The bible does not soft-pedal failure. Those coming into the King’s part includes bad and good people. Like the parable of the Wheat and Tares there comes a time to separate them. But that time is in God’s hand, not ours.

God’s Judgment

There are two experiences of judgment in this passage. The first is against those who had been invited and refused. Verse 7 reads, “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Our Lord pronounces what would happen to Jerusalem and the temple in a few short decades. Josephus writes,

“One of the soldiers, neither awaiting orders nor filled with horror of so dread an undertaking, but moved by some supernatural impulse, snatched a brand from the blazing timber and, hoisted up by one of his fellow soldiers, flung the fiery missile through a golden window.… When the flame arose, a scream, as poignant as the tragedy, went up from the Jews … now that the object which before they had guarded so closely was going to ruin” (VI.250–253 quoted in Hendriksen and Kistemaker).”

Why would he do such a thing? It was because such a refusal on the part of those invited shamed and deliberately insulted the host. I was not just a breach of social etiquette, it was “an act of rebellion (Keener).” Couple the concerted refusal with the murder of those whom the King had sent was “explicitly revolutionary act (ibid.).”

The second episode of judgment comes against a man at the wedding feast who had not dressed appropriately. "The wedding garment is symbolic of a totally new mode of existence. This man sat at the wedding banquet, but his heart was not there (Augsburger and Ogilvie)." There is conjecture about how these people would have found or purchased such clothes when invited. But the point Jesus makes is that not everyone who was sitting at the table was meant to be at that table.

A far more feasible scenario would be the servants of the King would offer festal robes to those who respond in obedience to the King’s summons. Apparently, all but this one man accepted the robe.

This one man, however, had looked at his own robe, had perhaps lightly brushed it off with his hand, and had then told the attendant, ‘My own robe is good enough. I don’t need the one you’re offering me.’ Then, in an attitude of self-satisfaction and defiance, he had marched to the table, where he was presently reclining; or from which, when the king entered, he, along with the other guests, had just now arisen (Hendriksen and Kistemaker 797)."

He is summarily grabbed, bound up, and thrown out of the feast into Hell.

Our Salvation

The good news is found in the last phrase in verse 14, “Everyone is invited, not all are chosen” God’s nation—Israel—was among the called, the invited ones. Next come the people on the streets. Some may have come from the destroyed city itself. Most came from the surrounding areas around the town like that we provide people which is calming as well as surprising.

Here redemption and election rear its head. The old question we have before us is that is the man chosen to be a bad example or does he testifies to our reaching for what we need, instead of letting the King's gracious love gives us our true need. Righteousness is our decision, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Remember the passage from Isaiah 25? It is the picture of God’s feast “for all people”. It isn’t just the food that is offered to us who are there but God. “He will swallow up death for eternity.” Tears are wiped away and the blame and finger-pointing by the world, reproach, is taken away as well.

The promise of this passage in Matthew like that in Isaiah is in the future. It is a certainty for those prepared for the wedding feast. But it is also the promise that those who do not belong will not be allowed to remain. Our job is to invite all people to come in for God’s calling is for all people. However, God’s election, or salvation, is reserved for those whom God has chosen. Let’s pray.

 

Works Cited

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

Celebrity Family Feud. Steve Harvey. October: 2020

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

Keener, Craig S. Matthew. Vol. 1. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997. Print. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. 



Works Consulted

AP. "Everett Bride Calls Off Wedding, Throws Party For The Homeless." The Seattle Times 2005. Web. 9 Oct. 2020.

Augsburger, Myron S., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Matthew. Vol. 24. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982. Print. The Preacher’s Commentary Series.

Beehler, John. "A Yugo and a BB Gun." Sermon Central. 2002. Web. 6 Oct. 2020.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

Celebrity Family Feud. Steve Harvey. October: 2020

Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 14–28. Vol. 33B. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995. Print. Word Biblical Commentary.

Hendriksen, William, and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.

Keener, Craig S. Matthew. Vol. 1. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997. Print. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

McLaughlin, Rebecca. Confronting Christianity. Crossway, 2019. Print.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B.

Pink, Daniel. "What Happened To Your Parachute?." Fast Company. 1999. Web. 9 Oct. 2020.

Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004. Print. The NIV Application Commentary. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992. Print. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.