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Sermons – Community Evangelical Free Church Wed, 17 Apr 2019 18:42:39 -0400 en-US hourly 1 Jesus Drank the Cup Sun, 14 Apr 2019 22:29:23 +0000
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

If you have a Bible, please turn with me to Luke 22. We’ll be picking up right where Pastor Jason left off last week. As you’re turning there, let me mention that Easter is next weekend. We’d love for you to invite people to church. Easter is one of those times when people who typically might not attend church seem more open to attending. Jason will be preaching the resurrection story from Luke 24. Also, we have a Good Friday service. Our Good Friday service begins at 7 pm and will last less than an hour. At the service we’ll have various readers read Luke’s account of the crucifixion, and we’ll sing songs the magnify the cross of Christ.  

As we pick up this morning’s passage in Luke 22 beginning in verse 39, you’ll hear about a certain cup. A few weeks ago as Jason preached through the Lord’s Supper passage, he discussed a certain cup—the cup of the Passover meal, which Jesus said should now be understood as his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. This morning, we are going to talk about a different but very related cup.  

Scripture Reading 

Follow along with me as I read from Luke 22:39–46, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.  

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 


Two years ago in June my wife and I were in Harrisburg hospital as she delivered our last child, Salem Robert Vrbicek. All of our children were born via Cesarean section or c-section. Not to be too graphic, but in a c-section, a mother’s abdomen is surgically opened to deliver the baby.  

During one or two of my wife’s previous c-sections, and there were five of them, there had been a moment here and there that was sobering, moments when we realized surgery is a delicate, sometimes dangerous thing. But with Salem, our last child, we had several of those reminders. With Salem, my wife didn’t deliver in the regular delivery rooms. They moved her to one of the OR rooms so they could have access to more equipment, they told us, “You know, just in case we need it,” they said. And at one point before the surgery began, we started to notice that there were a lot of people in the room. My wife asked me about this, so I counted, and there were 15 people in the room. There was a sign on the wall that said only eight people were ordinarily allowed in the room.  

I wouldn’t say we had a lackadaisical approach to Salem’s c-section delivery. In the days leading up to his birth, my wife was understandably anxious, just as anyone would be about any surgery. But there was a whole new level of sobriety when we realized that the medical professionals—the people who knew the most about performing a women’s sixth c-section—had double or perhaps even tripled their precautions. 

Thankfully, all went well. But that is something like what we see happening in Luke 22. I couldn’t go so far as to say that the disciples were lackadaisical. But it certainly seems they are unaware of all that is going on around them. I think that was because of their self-reliance. They had previously just argued about who was the greatest, and Peter had confidently asserted his loyalty to Jesus. So, yeah, they knew things were about to get difficult, but the temptations seemed to them to be the kind of temptations that they, you know, could handle on their own. “Lord,” says Peter, “I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (v. 33). And this, our self-reliance, that can make us spiritually drowsy when we should be most alert. As we get into this more, we’ll see the one who was most aware of what was going on, was also the most troubled.  

1. The singular focus on Jesus as the only hero of the story 

As this passage opens up, we should note a continuation of a theme that’s been happening for several passages. In a sense, it’s a great theme across the whole of the biblical story, but we see it especially on display in the last few chapters and the last few passages in each of the Gospel accounts. Luke 22 has a singular focus on Jesus as the only hero of the story.  

Last week Jason very helpfully pointed something out, but I want to bring it up again to draw even more attention to it. As Jason said, one of the reasons we can believe the Bible is an accurate account of the story of God is because the men and women who we think should be the most heroic, are actually very un-heroic and sometimes even worse than un-heroic. Let me say it another way. We are helped to believe the Bible is a divinely inspired book because, if humans were ultimately behind what got included and what didn’t get included in the Bible, then they would not have made the closest followers look so bad. Let me say it another way. The disciples often look dumb and cowardly. And if we were creating a religion, we’d want to make us look a lot less dependent and dumb and cowardly than we are.  

That’s helpful to note. But this more than an incidental thing. It feels intentional emphasized. During the last passages of each Gospel account, each author puts a singular focus on Jesus as the only hero of the story. The hero of the story is certainly not the religious leaders. In passage, after passage their duplicity is exposed. The only thing consistent about the religious leaders is that they are consistently hypocrites, speaking of the love of God out one side of their mouth and denying it with their actions. The religious leaders are not the heroes of the story.  

But neither are the disciples. One disciple, we’re told, will betray Jesus. Another disciple will deny him three times. And all of the disciples argue about who is the greatest. And when Jesus gives them his last instructions about how to prepare for the difficult days ahead, none of them seem to grasp what Jesus is actually saying such that, in the end, Jesus apparently exasperated just says, “It is enough,” and then gets up to leave the room, which is where our passage begins in v. 39.  

If this were a play on a stage, all the lights would dim, and a single spotlight would focus on Jesus. He’s the only hero of the story.  

2. Jesus is troubled hero 

But we also see that Jesus is a troubled hero. Look again at verses 41–44.  

41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 

Many times throughout the Gospels we see Jesus making prayer a priority. Prayer was such an important part of his life that Luke even describes prayer as “his custom” (v. 39). Way back in Luke 5, during a hectic season of ministry, we’re told that Jesus often withdrew to pray. But this time, here on the Mount of Olives, things feel different. The passage says he is in agony, that he prays “more earnestly,” and that he is sweating so profusely that it’s like he has an open wound pouring on the ground. And the plain reading of this passage is that the suffering is real. This is not pantomime or lip-synching. He really is in agony.  

This should strike us as odd. If we were alive at the time of Christ, we’d have been well aware of stories where martyrs went boldly to their death. For example, in the Jewish books of 1 & 2 Maccabees, which tell the Hanukkah story that took place almost 200 years before Jesus, many brave men and women give up their lives with extreme courage. And now Jesus seems, shall we say, reluctant? This is odd.  

Many of us have heard the agony of this scene preached before and many have even read through the Gospels a few dozen times. But if we were reading Luke’s Gospel for the first time, as some of you might be, we would be caught off guard.  

In Luke 2, we are told that when Jesus was a young man, he asked questions of the religious leaders that were way beyond his years. There’s no indication that Jesus was intimidated by their great learning, as most children would have been. In fact, they are impressed with his learning. When Jesus begins his public ministry in Luke 4, we see Jesus do battle with Satan. “You’re hungry, Jesus, skip all this suffering. Just make these stones into bread. And let me give you a kingdom,” Satan tempts him. “No, no, and no,” Jesus says. Later in that same chapter, Jesus preaches to a hostile crowd that tries to throw him off a cliff. Then, again in the same chapter, Jesus casts out demons. Do you get the idea? He’s fearless. He’s bold. He’s powerful.  

And his impending death didn’t catch Jesus by surprise. In Luke 9 we read that Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem where he knew he would die (v. 51 along with vv. 44–45). He predicted his own death many times in veiled ways and a handful of times overtly. There’s no surprise.  

But here on the Mount of Olives in a peaceful park called the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, the only hero of the story, is so troubled that an angel comes to strengthen him as sweat pours off him like drops of blood. That’s odd, isn’t it? Why is Jesus in so much agony? 

3. Jesus is troubled because he knows what’s in the cup 

Jesus is troubled because he knows what’s in the cup. Do you? Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (v. 42). What’s in the cup? 

To answer that question, let me show you just four verses, three from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament that speak of a cup. There’s poetic language in each, but the idea is clear.  

Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering. (Isaiah 51:17) 

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.” (Jeremiah 25:15) 

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8) 

He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (Revelation 14:10) 

And these are only a few of the verses that say something similar about what was in the cup. There are others (Psalm 11:6; 60:3; Jeremiah 25:15–29; 49:12; 51:57; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 23:31–34; Habakkuk 2:16; Zachariah 12:2). What’s in the cup? The cup is the symbolic container of the wrath of God against sin. Again, the cup is the symbolic container of the wrath of God against sin. The wrath of God is his intense hatred of sin. All of the foaming ferocity of the hatred of the Almighty Creator of the Universe directed at sin is stored in a cup that the Messiah was about to drink down to the dregs.  

That’s why Jesus was troubled. 

The idea of the wrath of God tends to trouble us—as it should—but there are better, and there are worse ways to deal with it. A few years ago there was some controversy about a line in the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend. It’s a good song. In fact, I consider it a great song. And so do many others. “In Christ Alone” was in the news because a denomination voted to exclude it from their forthcoming hymnal. The controversy had to do with this line in the second verse: 

Till on that cross as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied 

But the committee tasked with creating the hymnal did not know that was the line. There was an unauthorized version of the song floating around that had a different line: 

Till on that cross as Jesus died / The love of God was magnified  

During the hymnal copyright process, the committee learned that the actual line was the first line, the line we sing when we sing “In Christ Alone.” And there were some on the hymnal’s committee, in fact a majority, who did not like the actual line. And before simply striking the song from the hymnal, the committee reached out to the authors asking if they would allow it to be modified, substituting the “loved of God” for “the wrath of God.” The authors said no. 

So the committee had a debate. When the committee voted, those who said cut it, won. And so the hymn was kept from the hymnal and the 10,000 churches in this denomination (see the article in Christianity Today here from August 2013). 

But when you think about it, you can’t very well have the love of God without the wrath of God. Look at it like this. If you love something, you’ll feel a certain way when what you love is abused and tarnished. If you love a football team, you feel angry if an official makes a bad call, especially if that call changes the outcome of a game. If you love your family, you feel angry when they are abused.  

And God loves his own glory and he loves his creation. And when God’s glory is belittled and his creation abused, God feels a certain way about that: we call it wrath. The wrath of God is a troubling thing. But for the Christian, for the one who has turned from sin and trusted in Jesus for salvation, the wrath of God has been diverted. Praise God for that! If Jesus drinks down the wrath of God on the cross for our sins, then there is nothing left for you and me to drink. Not a drop has gone unabsorbed. On the cross the wrath of God was satisfied, and yes, also the love of God was magnified. 

4. The panoramic focus also widens to include concern for us 

At the beginning of the sermon I made the point that the gospel of Luke, as with the other Gospels, focuses singularly on Jesus as the hero of the story. That’s true. But that is not to say that the disciples and you and I are ignored. Look again in vv. 40, 44–45.  

40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” . . .  45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 

Don’t you find it wonderful that in his hours of greatest sorrow, Jesus is concerned about others. He’s concerned for the disciples. He’s concerned about us. That’s amazing. Wet get a toothache, and we can only thing of ourselves. And the concern of Jesus is that we would be prayerful. This is why we’ve even made one of our goals here at our church to increasingly become a church that values prayer.  

But it’s difficult to value prayer when you are self-reliant. To say it a different way, our self-reliance tends to make us spiritually drowsy when we should be most alert. You can learn all the tricks and acronyms to aid you in prayer, but if you don’t feel your dependence, no trick or acronym will help you become more prayerful.  

Years ago, I helped a church lead a financial class taught by Dave Ramsey. At the beginning of the class, Ramsey says something like, “I’m going to teach you how to give, save, and spend in ways that honor God. I’ll teach you tricks and programs to help you achieve financial peace, which isn’t simply having a lot of money.” But he then mentions that none of the tips and programs will help if you don’t feel the urgency. He uses this analogy: “Let’s suppose that you have a child, and you learn that your child is very sick, and 9 months from now, you’ll need to have $5,000 cash to pay for life-saving treatment.” Ramsey then adds, “If that’s true, you don’t really need me to teach you tricks and programs to help you save and budget. You’ll find a way to figure it out. You’ll have an urgency and intensity about things.” Then he adds, “Now the tips I teach help, but there is something more fundamental.”  

I think it’s a bit like that with prayer. As long as we see ourselves as self-reliant, we’ll remain spiritually drowsy and prayerless. In Luke 22, Jesus pleads with those disciples, and I think it’s fair to say that he’s pleading with us to wake up to reality—the reality of the gospel and the wrath of God diverted, the reality of our spiritual dependence, the reality of temptations coming that can cause us to flounder as we follow Christ.  

This morning, we’ll close by spending a few minutes in quiet, reflective prayer. I want us to have time to begin to do what Jesus told those disciples to do. Maybe there are areas of your life where you see yourself as spiritually self-reliant. Take this time to confess to God. Perhaps you’ve been coming to church for some time, but you know you are not really a Christian. Take this time to tell God you want to turn from your sins and trust the finished work of Jesus. Others of us are Christians, but we feel particularly tempted in a certain area. Take this time to ask for the Lord’s help.  

If in the moments Jesus was in his greatest agony, he had concern for others, surely now that he has paid for our sins on the cross, risen triumphantly, and sits at his Father’s right hand, how could he now not delight to help us in any struggle we have as we seek to follow him?

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One Last Lesson Sun, 07 Apr 2019 16:44:14 +0000
Preached by Jason Abbott

I used to coach high school soccer. And, I remember times before big games when I’d give my players some final instruction—some final word of preparation. Soccer is a unique sport in many ways. One way is that, once a match has begun, coaches are really limited in making changes to their game plans. Their players are on their own for the most part. You don’t get timeouts. You have a limited number of substitutions. And, other than at halftime, the clock doesn’t stop. Consequently, those final instructions are important. Players need them. 

We’re looking at just four verses today. But, they constitute the final things Jesus shares with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. What does he say? What last lesson does he teach them? 

Let’s find out together. 

Luke 22:35-38 

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”*

 So, we’re at the tail-end of the last meal that Jesus shares with his disciples. They are still in the upper-room; they are probably picking at the last few morsels of the supper they’ve just shared together. And, as Benjamin explained last week, Jesus has just given the twelve disciples a corrective on the nature of true greatness in the kingdom of God—not exercising power, but exercising service and sacrifice for the most lowly and vulnerable people. That, Jesus instructs them, is the measure of heavenly greatness. 

But here, Luke records a last lesson that Jesus teaches, and it has three parts: (1st) There’s a point about what’s past. (2nd) There’s a point about what’s future. And, (3rd) there’s a point about the plan of God. 

1. A point about the past (v. 35)

My best friend’s mom endured a lot during sleepovers and birthday parties. Her son and I were a smidge subversive and stumbled into our fair share of trouble while growing up. She, consequently, has a hefty catalog of dirt on the two of us. So, I’ll likely never list her as a reference for anything. 

Nowadays, whenever I’m in Missouri and see her, I know I’m in for trouble when she suddenly decides to reminisce—especially when my children are present. Maybe I’m telling one of my kids to use an inside-voice or that it’s time for bed, when abruptly she’ll say those five terrible words: Jason, do you remember when… Jason, do you remember when you and Shannon were so loud together at school that they stopped putting you in the same class? Jason, do you remember when you and Shannon snuck out all night and never went to bed? (Yep. I do remember now. In fact, everybody does. Thanks.) 

You see—in those instances, in those remembrances—she points backwards to teach me something (she thinks) I need to know right now. She points to my past as a child in order (she believes) to prepare me for my future as a parent. 

Now, that’s a negative example of what Jesus does positively in today’s text. He uses his disciples’ past experiences in order to prepare them for what’s ahead—for their future as his followers. He doesn’t shame them by bringing up the past. Instead, Jesus encourages them to be prepared and to be realistic about their future. It will not be easy, Jesus explains. (We’ll get to that in a minute.) 

I want to stop here, though, and think for a moment how important the past is to our future. I want us to consider how important it is as Christians to remember what God has done for us in the past, so that we can follow Christ with confidence in the future. And, this isn’t something I’m making up but the very thing the Lord commands his people to do over and over again in the Bible. 

Consider just a few examples—times when God commands us to remember what he’s accomplished for us in order to strengthen our faith moving forward. 

  • Jesus and his disciples are observing the Passover feast in today’s passage. This very meal was a memorial meal—enshrined in Israel’s annual rhythms so they’d recall God’s past saving work and anticipate his future work. 
  • The book of Deuteronomy is a remembrance book—a remembrance sermon. After 40 years wandering about in the wilderness, because of their rebellion against God, the people are about to go into the Promised land. And, Moses prepares them for it by preaching his farewell sermon. How does he do that? By reminding them of their past! By recounting what kept them wandering in the wilderness for 40 years—their sin, their breaking of God’s commands, their faithlessness. It’s a warning from their past to set them up for success in their future. 
  • And finally, consider the book we’re studying right now—the book of Luke. It’s an orderly historical, investigative account of Jesus’ life and ministry. Why did Luke write it? Well, Luke tells us: “…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). God gave us Luke, so we’d remember the past and, thus, live with gospel certainty in the future. (And, in a sense, that’s true of the entire Bible—This is what God has done, the Bible tells us. So, live now accordingly.) 

Before we move along, ask yourself this—How are you reminding yourself of Christ’s provision and grace for you in the past in order to strengthen your faith in his provision and grace for you in the future? 

I know a couple of people in this congregation who record answered prayers so that they can—in times of trouble or doubt—return to that list to be encouraged that God cares and that he’s active. Their faith in Jesus is reinforced into the future when they’re reminded of how the Lord provided for them in the past. 

I know a graduate school professor who delights to pick pennies off the floor because it reminds him of how God sustained him financially during grad-school and will continue to provide for his needs in the future. (When I was in seminary, some of the other students and I got such a kick at seeing his joy at finding pennies that we began dropping them outside his office door just for fun.) 

In what ways are you remembering God’s past love to encourage your faith concerning his future love?

Well after reminding the twelve about their past success, Jesus makes… 

2. A point about their future (v. 36, 38)

Let’s reread the first two verses together to see the connection. 

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one (vv. 35-36). 

This seems like a strange logic here. What is Jesus teaching these disciples? What’s the connection between God’s past miraculous provision and, an apparent, lack of future provision? What’s Jesus’ point? 

Well, as is so often the case, Jesus’ meaning is revealed if we keep this text in its context. Remember—A text without its context is a pretext to misunderstand. We should always allow the meaning, of a particular passage, to blossom naturally out of its contextual soil. So, let’s reexamine this seemingly strange little teaching from Jesus keeping its context in mind. Three things are important here. 

(1st) Jesus is the rabbi and the twelve disciples are Jesus’ students. So what? What does that matter? Well, the end goal of the rabbi-student relationship wasn’t, in the ancient Near East, to foster or promote a unique individuality in the student. Rather, it was designed to craft the student or disciple in the image of the teacher. Think back to Jesus’ earlier teaching in Luke: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Okay, we need to keep that in mind here. 

(2nd) Jesus has just taught them, through his recrafting of the Passover meal, that his body must be broken and that his blood must be poured out for their sins. Jesus just taught them that he’s the ultimate Passover sacrifice. He just taught them that, in order to be like their rabbi, they must sacrifice for the least and most lowly among them—that greatness is service like his service! Keep that in mind too. 

(3rd) The disciples have just had an argument concerning who is the greatest, and they’re not thinking of service and sacrifice. They’re thinking about glory—their own glory! They don’t look much like their rabbi. 

So, keeping those three things in mind, consider again what Jesus says here. He points them back to the overwhelming success they had previously experienced through the grace and provision of God. And, of course, they remember that well. They think—We were unstoppable! We healed peoplePeople invited us to dinner! People put us up for the night! Whenever we needed something, it was provided! We were rock stars! That was the life! That’s their current mindset. 

But, then Jesus says—Yeah guys, it’s not going to be like that in the future. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to need to be ready for adversity and danger. You’re going to need to be prepared for betrayal and heartache. So, make ready. The world is not going to think youre rock stars. Or, as Christ Jesus teaches them in the book of John: “Remember the word…I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Friends, this is a call from Jesus to his followers to be prepared for trouble. 

Some have wondered why exactly Jesus tells the twelve to arm themselves. Is he promoting violence? But, the last verse of today’s text answers that question with a resounding—No. If Jesus was advocating for the use of force then he was, without question, the worst military strategist of all time. No leader, worth his salt, would ever set out to conquer the world with two swords (v. 38). That’d be crazy. Rather, Jesus is using this list of equipment to teach the disciples about the nature of their future mission—namely, that it will be difficult and dangerous. *I wonder if you think about following Jesus in those terms. If you don’t—you should. When you really follow Jesus, you’ll be called to sacrifice your time; you’ll be called to laydown your desires for him. You’ll be asked to spend money in ways that are sacrificial. You’ll be asked to have hard conversations with those who will possibly mock and revile you. Do you think about following Christ Jesus in those terms? Again, if you don’t, you should. Jesus says, Be prepared! 

*Before we move to our last point, let me direct your attention to something that encourages me that the Bible is real history and not a book of made up stories. To see it, just think about the disciples here. Think about how often they are shown as weak and confused. Whod make their future leaders look like that? 

Look, friends, all kinds of Christian legends developed in the early Church, stories of superhuman saints. Take Saint Denis for example—in the 3rd century, Denis was the Bishop of Paris and was apparently an extremely talented preacher of the gospel. When beheaded for his preaching, Denis pulled an Energizer Bunny and kept on going—picking up his head and preaching eloquently for six full miles before finally dying. People like Denis are the stuff of myth—no fear or weakness! And, therefore, no identifiable humanity! He is the kind of leader people make up or invent for themselves. 

Friends, that’s not what we see in the Bible. The disciples are fallible, weak, and real people. They aren’t superhuman heroes. They’re like us—not inventions or creative fictions. 

Well, let’s move finally to the last part of Jesus’ lesson.

3. A point about the plan of God (v. 37)

Jesus makes another eye-opening statement about himself. He says this: 

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment (v. 37). 

I’ve been arguing in my last few sermons that Jesus makes a bunch of claims and does a bunch of things which only God should claim and do. And, I’ve argued this demonstrates that Jesus clearly understood himself to be God in human flesh. Now, while the statement Jesus makes here doesn’t constitute a claim to divinity—it comes awfully close because he goes back to the Old Testament book of Isaiah and says it’s about him. It’s fulfilled in him! 

Normal people shouldn’t say such things; but, then again, Jesus isn’t normal. He’s the central figure in the history of the world. It’s all about him. 

Here’s the point about the plan of God. Its total fulfillment is in the person and the work of Jesus Christ. And, Jesus’ work was hard work—work that only he could accomplish. Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin. Jesus put death to death on our behalf. He did this at the cross. “He was numbered with the transgressors.” You and me! Jesus “was numbered with the transgressors” so that we wouldn’t be. This is the good news. This is the plan of God. 

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A Dispute Arose Among Them Sun, 31 Mar 2019 20:03:02 +0000
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

If you have a Bible, please turn with me to Luke 22. We’ll be picking up right where Pastor Jason left off last week. As you’re turning there, let me mention the context. Jesus is in an upper room of a home with his disciples. He’s washed the feet of his disciples, and they’ve just shared the Passover meal together. Jesus indicated the Passover meal was now to be understood as a pointer to his own death as the ultimate Passover Lamb. Just as God rescued his people in Egypt from the oppression of Pharaoh, so now Jesus, through his costly death, rescues God’s people from the oppression of sin. After the meal, Jesus mentions that one of the disciples would betray him. And it’s this statement about who is the worst disciple that sparks an argument about who is the greatest disciple.

Luke 22: 24-34

Follow along with me as I read from Luke 22:24–34, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.

2A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”


Most weeks the pastor who is preaching checks in with the person leading worship to discuss the Sunday service. The worship leader and the preaching pastor often talk about the passage, themes that might come up in the sermon, songs that might be sung throughout the service, and additional passages that might be read.

This week, I did something I’ve never before done during that quick check-in. We talked about all that other stuff, but I also mentioned two songs that we probably shouldn’t sing this morning. I don’t think in five years here I’ve ever said let’s not sing a certain song on a certain Sunday, especially when the two songs I was thinking of are good songs that we already sing here from time to time. Both songs are about following Jesus, which is a good thing, right?

The chorus from one song goes like this: “Where you go, I’ll go / where you stay, I’ll stay / where you move, I’ll move / I will follow.” Two of the verses in the other song go like this: “When the sea is calm and all is right / When I feel Your favor flood my life / Even in the good, I’ll follow You… / When the boat is tossed upon the waves / When I wonder if You’ll keep me safe / Even in the storms, I’ll follow You…”

These are good songs with good lyrics that call us onward and upward as we follow Jesus. Where Jesus says go, let’s go. But it didn’t feel right to sing those this morning. In the passage, Peter says he’ll follow Jesus through the storm of imprisonment and death. And Jesus says, “No you won’t.”

So this isn’t a passage we should use to preach a new mission-vision statement. It’s not a Sunday to say, “We’re going to take this hill and storm that castle.” But it is a passage to delight in all that Jesus is for us in the gospel.

1. The bad news of our depravity

The first thing we’re confronted with in the passage is the bad news of human depravity. Look again at v. 24.

24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 

Notice the words “to be regard as the greatest.” The New International Version of the Bible translates it as “be considered the greatest.” Both translations get at the idea of perception. That’s the thing about depravity, isn’t it? We tend to be less concerned with being great and more concerned with being regarded as great. We don’t want to be rich; we want to be more rich than the next guy. We don’t want to be handsome or beautiful, just more handsome or beautiful than others. Into this context, Jesus puts forward his vision of servant leadership.

Servant leadership means that there shouldn’t be any act of service that you are above. You might generally do one thing or another in church or at work or at home, but having a general role or job description shouldn’t be taken to mean that doing some tasks is beneath you. You might not ordinarily be the one who picks up trash, but that’s not because the job is beneath you.

This vision of servant leadership is certainly “countercultural.” But to just call servant leadership countercultural is misleading. Jesus’s vision of servant leadership isn’t merely countercultural, as though the problem is only out there somewhere in culture. The reality is that wanting to appear great is counter to our heart.

Though in this passage wanting to be considered great isn’t necessarily the deepest problem. The deeper problem with our depravity is that we don’t know what makes for true greatness. The disciples are in the presence of Jesus, and they want to argue about which of them is the most awesome. When the contrast is so significant between the greatness of Jesus and the greatness of the disciples, they really ought not to be having this dispute.

When I was in high school, I did the triple jump on our school’s track and field team. I was okay at it. I even made it to the state track and field meet in the event. But I also remember my greatest triple jump, was not all that great. During one meet our coach had filmed some of our jumps, and a few days later he gave us the tapes to take home and watch. This process was a little more involved in the days before smartphones. So I took the VHS tape home, put it in the VCR, and watched. I even called my mom over to look at the film. Also on the tape, Coach had included some footage of Jonathan Edwards, the greatest triple jumper ever. Look at this video.

After we watched Edward’s world record jumps, my mom and I watched my triple jump. Just for comparison, where Edwards landed after two jumps is about the length of my three jumps. I distinctively remember my own mother not being so impressed with her son’s jumping abilities when compared to true greatness.

One of the ways human depravity shows up is that when humility is most required, we boast of our self-sufficiency and our own greatness. We want to walk a Smithsonian gallery of sculptures while also showing off what we made with Play-doh. We want to help Einstein out with some long division. We worry about our own greatness in the presence of Jesus.

This dispute the disciples had about who was the greatest, actually shows up several times in the gospels. In Mark’s gospel we read,  

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:33–34)

Given the context, this argument by the disciples is quite possibly the dumbest argument ever. If we had been living Mark 9 in context, we’d have seen these things: Jesus revealed his glory on the mountain, showing he’s not weak and feeble but strong and glorious. We call this passage his transfiguration. And Jesus then received the stamp of approval from God the Father and was highlighted as far greater than Moses and Elijah, two great Old Testament prophets. Then we come down the mountain, and Jesus battled a demon victoriously, a demon who had previously defeated us when we tried to cast it out. Then we heard Jesus promised to rise from the dead, invoking imagery of himself as the exalted “Son of Man” figure prophesied about in Daniel 7:9–14.

And that’s just the near context of Mark 9, which does not consider prior miracles like calming the storm, feeding of the five thousand, and many others. In the moments when humility and trust in the Lord are most appropriate, disciples often drift toward pride and self-sufficiency.

In the next chapter in Mark’s gospel we read of two disciples asking to sit on thrones to the right and left of Jesus when he comes in his glory. Just before their request, Jesus told them that he was going to Jerusalem to serve us by suffering and dying. And then they ask to sit on his left and right. They are so caught up in visions of glory it’s like they don’t even hear the suffering part. And my impression of their request to sit at the Messiah’s right and left had little to do with being close to Jesus and more to do with being seen or regarded as being close to Jesus.

Let’s come back to our passage in Luke. At the beginning of the passage we see them arguing in pride. We see this same pride show up at the end of the passage. Jesus mentions to Peter that Satan has desired to sift them as wheat. I’ll talk more about that later. Jesus mentions to Peter that everything will be okay, not because Peter is a rock, but because Jesus, who is the rock that Peter is standing on, has prayed for him. To this Peter says, “No, no, no. Don’t worry about me. I’ll go the distance. I’ll be there with you through thick and thin, even through imprisonment and death. . . Where you go, I’ll go. Even in the storm I’ll follow you.” To which Jesus says, before the alarm clock rings, three times you’ll deny even knowing me.

It’s one thing for Peter to assert his self-sufficiency among friends over a meal. It’s another thing, Jesus says, to stay loyal to him when it might mean making enemies with trained Roman soldiers. And it’s the relative soon-ness of Peter’s denials after his confident assertion that is so crushing. It’s a terrible thing in a marriage when one spouse has an affair, but if a groom starts flirting with bridesmaids at the wedding reception, it feels doubly wrong.

This is the bad news of our depravity. When humility and trust are most required, we often boast of our self-sufficiency and argue about our own greatness.

2. The good news of Christianity

But this passage isn’t all bad news. In fact, I’d say is there is far more good news here than bad. Let’s consider Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

The good news of Christianity is that Jesus is not above the lowest act of service. This is amazing to me. Look at vv. 26b–27.

Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Think about that. Walking on water; turning water to wine; giving living water to those who thirst; healing the blind; healing the deaf; healing the paralyzed; battling the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms; speaking truth that penetrates to the souls of the most hardened of sinners; turning over the tables of the money changers unswayed by the supposed greatness of the religious leaders, this one—the greatest one, the Messiah, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the one who was and is and is to come—this one not only endures with great patience the arrogance of his followers, but the second person of the Trinity puts on a servants towel to wash the dirt between their toes. Church, behold your savior among us as one who serves. Our savior is not above the lowest of tasks, including taking our sins to himself like a sponge to absorb the wrath of God against us. And that’s not all…

The good news of Christianity is that Jesus shares his leadership with those who do not deserve it. Look again at v. 29.

I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.

Think about it. That Jesus even has disciples and co-rulers should be amazing. There’s only one thing Jesus can do something better with us. Don’t get prideful about that. Let me tell you what. Through his disciples, Jesus shows the world that one of the reasons he’s so great is because he allows people to take part in his kingdom when they don’t deserve it.

Did you ever think about your role in ministry like that? We want to be great, and we want to do all sorts of things to show the world how awesome Jesus is, when it’s very much the case that Peter and the other disciples—and you and I—do make Jesus look great, but the way we make him look great is by not being all that great ourselves and yet he continues to love us. Jesus is a patient and gracious savior. Jesus shares his leadership with those who do not deserve it. And that’s not all…

The good news of Christianity is that Jesus not only makes us workers and disciples, but he makes us his friends. In v. 30 we read that we sit with him at his table and in his kingdom. We have a Sunday school class right now about hospitality, and one of the things that jumped out to me is how often we see God welcoming us into a relationship with him. The gospel is about divine hospitality. God is holy and powerful and sovereign and just. But he’s also tender and a friend of sinners. He really cares about you. He wants you at his table. He wants to share with you his best food. He wants to share with you his best drink. And that’s not all…

The good news of Christianity is that Jesus is stronger than our worst enemy, Satan. Look again at vv. 31–32,

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Think about that. We’ll slow down on this one for a minute. Jesus says that Satan demanded. That’s a forceful request. Satan wants to sift Peter and the disciples in the same way he wanted to sift Job in the Old Testament.

Let me explain the phrase sifted as wheat. To sift wheat is to break up wheat to separate the edible parts of the wheat from the non-edible parts. It’s like Satan has this square, wooden frame. And stretched between the edges of the frame are strands of wire that make a wire mesh. What falls through the mesh are unbelievers. Satan wants to take the disciples and sift them.[1] He wants to toss us about, rough us up, and see if he can shake our faith lose from us. Some of you have been through seasons where you have felt these kinds of trials, this kind of shaking. It seemed like everything conspired against you. Some of you are in that kind of season right now. Be encouraged, church: Jesus prays for your faith. He intercedes for your faith. And the prayers of Jesus are stronger than then the demands of Satan.

One pastor pointed out that while Satan wants to sift Peter, in the end, he only sifts his pride.

Church, if you have placed your trust in Jesus, then the world, the flesh, and the devil, will conspire against you and your faith. But take heart, Jesus has overcome them all. In one of the letters to a church in the New Testament, Paul writes that not only did Jesus cancel the debt of our sin, but through his death and resurrection Jesus has also disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities putting them to open shame (Colossians 2:13–15). As well, in John 10, we read that Jesus is the great shepherd who protects all his sheep, and no one can ever snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28). Be encouraged that if you are in Jesus’s hands, you are unsiftable. But that’s not all. Let me close with one more…

The good news of Christianity is that Jesus calls us to a greatness that is not exhausting. This one might not be as obvious at first, but I think it’s certainly there.Think about the beginning of the passage. We read that a “dispute also arose among them.” Do you wonder exactly how that dispute begin? Here’s what I think. I think they fell into this dispute here at the first Lord’s Supper (and right after the Transfiguration, and a few other times in the Gospels) because longing to be regarded as great was never too far from their minds. They were constantly busy with the exhausting task of their own image management.

You’ve probably all heard of the game musical chairs, and likely most of us have played it. Let’s say there are 12 of us playing. Well, then there are only 11 chairs. The music begins and so does our march around the chairs. As we march, we have one eye on the chairs and another eye on our competition. We’re looking to see who is the weakest, who is the slowest, who could we most easily push out of the way to get a chair. Then the music stops. We throw our bottoms in the direction of the closest chair. And someone was too slow. Now there are 11 people with 10 chairs. And on it goes until you find out who is the greatest.

It’s a fine game, I suppose. It’s fun. People laugh and play. Maybe if you played with all high school boys it’s possible one person will get pushed too hard and a scuffle will break out. But it’s a game. It has a beginning and an ending.

But when you live life like one giant game of musical chairs, it’s not a game. And it never ends. And it’s exhausting. At work you keep one eye on your project, and you keep one eye on your co-workers to see who will get the promotion. At school you keep one eye on your studies, and you keep one eye on your classmates. At the gym you keep one eye on the weights, and you keep another on everyone else. You look at your bathroom scale, but you also look at the other ladies you hang out with. You come to church, but you also have to gossip. You have children, but you also need them to be perfect children. The apostle Paul says in one of his letters that when we measure ourselves by ourselves, we are not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12, NIV). And not only is it not wise, but it’s also exhausting. And it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

The good news of Christianity is that Jesus has the solution to our heart problem, the solution for our depravity, the solution for our exhausting lust to be regarded as great. Luke 22 might not have been a passage to preach about how great we are at following Jesus. But it is a passage to delight in all that Jesus is for us in the gospel. And now, may we, the followers of Jesus, be like him in our service. May he free us from the exhausting task of image management. And may he free us to be servants.

[1] I was helped to see this in John Piper’s sermon, “The Sifting of Simon Peter,” Desiring God, April 26, 1981,

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The Sovereign Sacrifice Sun, 24 Mar 2019 17:48:36 +0000
Preached by Jason Abbott

Since Jesus, in Luke chapter 9, set his face towards Jerusalem and the cross, it’s been about a year’s time. But, today friends, we find Jesus less than 24 hours from his crucifixion. This passage records the events of Thursday evening for us—the Passover supper Jesus shared with his disciples. The action in Luke’s narrative begins to accelerate at this point but not against Jesus’ will. He’s the one in control. He’s in charge here. And in the midst of all that seems like tragedy and chaos to us, this is what Luke wants us to see—our steady and sovereign Sacrifice.

Let’s read today’s text together, then we’ll pray.

Luke 22:7-23

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”

“Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.

10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”

13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

           We’re going to ask three questions in order to open up these verses for us. (1st) Why would Jesus eagerly desire to eat this Passover meal with the disciples? His longing should stick out as strange to us. (2nd) Who’s this Passover supper for? Jesus refashions it here; we need to identify how. And, (3rd) how is Jesus in control of these seemingly tragic and chaotic coming events? I’ve said that he’s sovereign, so we’ll want to recognize how he’s sovereign. Let’s jump in.

1. Why would Jesus eagerly look forward to this meal (v. 15)?

           Jesus isn’t talking about any Passover meal. Jesus is talking about this one—his last one with his disciples. Jesus knows exactly what’s ahead. Jesus knows he’s on death row, so to speak. Why would he eagerly look forward to this meal?

           I’ve often wondered about death-row inmates picking and eating a last meal. Can you imagine? It would be such a contradiction. Thinking about whatever food you love the very most; getting to pick exactly the combination of foods you want; but, remembering always that that feast foreshadows your impending execution. What a paradox! The pleasure and the pain mingled together!

           I read an article about this strange and uniquely American penal tradition. And, what I found interesting is that the vast majority of those death-row inmates who chose a meal never ate that meal. They didn’t want it in the end.

           Carroll Pickett was the Texas State death-row chaplain from 1982 to 1995. Here’s what he recalled about those final meals. He explained:

I was there for 95 who ate their last meal…. A lot of them would decline. They would just say… “I’m getting nervous, I’m getting scared”. Very few—I’d say less than 10%—ate all that we brought to them.[1]

           In stark contrast to this, Jesus says I eagerly desire to celebrate this last meal with you. Why? Why would he say this? Why would he feel this way?

           Folks, Jesus said it because his death wasn’t simply a death like other deaths. Jesus said it because this supper wasn’t a Passover meal like other Passover meals. He said this because his death would be the defining death and this Passover meal would be the defining Passover meal. You see, his death brings hope and meaning to us all. It is infinitely powerful. His is the death that breaks the power of death. And, this Passover meal—that we’re looking at—is the meal by which he outlines for his disciples this glorious truth. He shows and tells them his death’s purpose!

For Jesus’ disciples, that Passover meal pointed forward to his crucifixion and helped them to grasp its meaning—helped them to grasp the gospel of God. And, for each of us today, the Lord’s table points backwards to Christ’s crucifixion and helps us to grasp its good news meaning. Our Lord is eager to share that meal with us because it communicates his love for us—his sacrifice for us.

I wonder if you believe that God is eager to share his love—share himself—with you. I wonder if you think of the Lord as a God who relishes communicating and connecting with his creatures—with you! He does you know. Just think:

He’s created a world brimming with his majesty, a world that sings of him. As poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes—“The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed.”[2] God wants us to hear this song and awaken to him and awaken to his love. He’s communicating to us in and through his creation.

He’s spoken a more specific word about himself—the 66 books of Scripture. Your Bible is God-breathed. It’s the Lord calling out in detail about you and to you and for you. Scripture is God inviting us to know him personally—even intimately. The Bible is God sharing himself with us and speaking to us.

He encourages you to run to him in prayer and promises that he’ll hear you when you do. As John tells us, “…this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14). I delight when my kids honestly seek my ear. Even more so, God delights when you do.

Here’s a big one. The Lord communicates to us and shares himself with us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God counsels and convicts and gifts us by his Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus Christ to us and enables us to defeat sin and embrace holiness. This is the Lord stamping his family resemblance upon us—sharing his divine glory with us. This is the most intimate communication.

And, as if all that wasn’t enough, our God is pleased to communicate with us through membership in his family—the Church. He uses relationships in the body of Christ to reveal his ways and purposes to us. Friends, don’t take your fellowship in a local church for granted. If you found a beating heart hidden away in a house, you’d find it startling, disturbing, and strange. We should have the same reaction when we find a Christian trying to live in unity with God apart from his fellowship, apart from his body. To live as a believer in isolation is to cutoff one of the ways God is pleased to share himself with you and to speak into your life.

So, you see, Jesus eagerly longed to eat that Passover meal with his disciples because, through it, he would share more of his mission, more of the plans of God, more of himself with them. And, he wants to do the same with us. Remember that when you come to Christ’s table at the end of this service.

           What about our second question?

2. Who is this Passover supper for (vv. 19-20)?

Well, Jesus makes it pretty clear as he’s infusing new and ultimate meaning into this ancient, traditional meal. Look again at what he says.

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (vv. 19-20).

Who’s it for? His body broken for…? His blood poured out for…? It’s you. It’s me. It’s all those who would trust that Jesus is the ultimate, saving sacrifice from God—“the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The only one who can take away your sins.

This is the realization I had to come to when I finally entered into salvation, that I could not take away my own sins. I had to trust Jesus to do that for me.

In the early part of the 20th century, an English newspaper sent out a request to a number of rather well-known authors asking them to respond to the question—“What’s wrong with the world?” Likely, the shortest answer it received back was from Christian author G. K. Chesterton. He responded succinctly: “Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G. K. Chesterton.”[3] So true!

I wonder if you see yourself as the right place to start when assigning blame in this fallen world. It is the right place for the Christian to begin. Jesus is telling us that it’s our sins he must die for. And he has! He loves you enough to die for you. That’s what we remember when we come to the table. That’s what we remember when we celebrate the Lord’s supper. It should humble us and exalt us.

Before we move on to our last question, I want to highlight something here. Two weeks ago, I pointed out how Jesus is consistently claiming and doing things which only God can claim and do. And, there’s another big-one in this text.

The Passover celebration was one of the biggest festivals, if not the biggest, in Israel. And, at the point Jesus and his disciples are eating it here in this passage, it had been celebrated for over a millennium—celebrating Yahweh’s saving rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt, celebrating how he’d brought their oppressors to their knees.

And, the Lord had given the Israelites, through Moses, specific commands about how they must celebrate that festival. (You can read his detailed instructions in Exodus 12.) God’s commands outline not only how they should do the Passover but, also, why they’re to do it—as a “memorial day” to recall in future generations how God passed over those who were marked by the blood of the sacrificial lamb while pouring out his judgment on those who were not.

Over a thousand years and very exact commands from God for his people—yet, nevertheless, Jesus says: All that…it’s about me; it’s pointing to my mission. Here’s what it really means. Friends, Jesus does what only God has the authority to do! He presumes to define history and the laws of God. A claim to divinity!

           Well, now let’s ask our last question.

3. How is Jesus in control (vv. 21-23)?

How can a man who’s about to be betrayed be in control? How can a man who’s less than 24 hours away from a death-sentence be in control of the situation? How can a sacrifice be sovereign?

We get a hint at the end of our text when Jesus says:

But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this (vv. 21-23).

The disciples are not in control. They haven’t got a clue who the betrayer is. Sometimes we imagine that Judas was an obvious choice. But, they weren’t like—Yeah, it’s probably Judas. They are not sovereign here.

And, though Judas is the betrayer, he isn’t in control either. He’s found out. Jesus knows it’s him. And, if that’s not enough to prove that Judas isn’t sovereign then just think back to last week’s sermon. Who holds sway over him at this point? Luke tells us that Satan does (22:3). Judas isn’t sovereign either.

But, Jesus affirms the outcome here. Doesn’t he? “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed” (v. 22). In short, Jesus is saying, I’ll surely go to the cross because that’s what’s been decreed—determined, pronounced, commanded, ruled, or decided. But, by whom? Who decided? That’s the question.

Open your imaginations for a moment. Let them wander back to the advent of creation, the dawn of time. Imagine the perfect unity and fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Think about their perfect counsel. They, in total knowledge, plan creation—knowing well that Adam and Eve would rebel and sin against them; knowing well that the second member of the Trinity (the everlasting Son of God) would have to become man, live a perfect human life, be betrayed and be tortured and be crucified to atone for our sin and rebellion; knowing full and well the costs of creating and loving us; knowing all this, nevertheless, our three-in-one Lord decreed that it should be. (Jesus, the Son, has always been in complete control.)

[1] You can read the entire BBC article here.

[2] You can read “God’s Grandeur” in full here.

[3] You can read more in this article in The Christian Mind.

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The Peril and Promise of Proximity Sun, 17 Mar 2019 17:27:34 +0000
The Peril and Promise of Proximity

Preached by Ben Bechtel

Over the Christmas season my wife and I made our usual trip down to Georgia to visit my in-laws. And as often happens on these 12-hour trips, we get a little bored. As we were looking for podcasts that we could binge in order to pass the time we found one that sounded incredibly interesting. The premise of the podcast went something like this: scientists conducted a real-life survey on what it would look like for a small group of people to live in an enclosed environment on Mars. They recruited 6 participants to live in a space dwelling, similar to what astronauts would use on Mars in a remote, volcanic part of Hawaii. The 6 participants could not leave the habitat at any time unless they had a spacesuit for a whole year. It was fascinating to see the evolution of the group from day 1 to day 365. They entered the habitat optimistic about their relationships with one another, one man even saying he thought they’d all be best friends by the end. However, to no one’s surprise they each left with one close friend, a few people they didn’t care for, and a few people they hated.

This experiment teaches us one thing: as far as sinful human beings are concerned, proximity to other people means that problems will arise. In this passage, we are presented with three groups of people, the chief priests, the scribes, and Judas who all lived in close proximity to Jesus. Their close interactions with Jesus throughout his ministry, and particularly over the past week that Jesus has been in Jerusalem, due to no one’s fault but their own, result in their desire to put Jesus to death. And this is where we are going to pick up this morning.

Luke 22:1-6

22 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

1. The Plans of the Enemies

As we have been studying the gospel of Luke together, we have noted many times since we preached the passage, that Jesus, since Luke 9:52, has been journeying toward Jerusalem to his death. It has seemed to take forever for him to get there. I don’t know how many of you enjoy hiking or backpacking but one of the most disheartening things while hiking is a false summit. You think you are almost to the top and you crest what looks like the final hill only to find out there’s still another mile left. As Luke tells the story he builds tension and brings events to what seems like a climax only to have the story continue building towards the summit. This narrative tension has continued to build since chapter 20 when Jesus entered into Jerusalem. The beginning of Luke 22 is where we begin to see the ominous, dark clouds of Jesus’ death coming into view. We are just a few steps from the summit.

In verse 1 we read that the Feast of Unleavened Bread is drawing near. This feast is equated with Passover. The day of Passover, with the Passover meal, began the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread. Now, Passover was one of the major Jewish festivals and it was a pilgrim festival, meaning that Jewish people scattered all across the known world would come to Jerusalem for this celebration. The Passover was a celebration that both looked back in remembrance and looked forward with expectancy.[1] The Passover looked back to God’s mighty salvation of his people Israel from slavery to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. But the Passover also looked forward in hope to the future day when Israel’s Messiah would come on behalf of God, destroy the enemies of Israel, and rescue her once again, bringing God’s justice and new creation. It looked back to the original Exodus from Egypt and looked forward to a new Exodus when God would set his people free.

This setting of Passover has enormous implications for what Luke tells us in verse 2:

And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

These religious leaders are desperate to get Jesus off of their hands. This is the third time since chapter 19 that Luke mentions that the religious leaders are trying to find a way in which they could kill Jesus. They were actively seeking for a way that they could dispose of him like you might actively search for your car keys in the morning when you’re running late for work. Their action is urgent, frantic, hurried, and desperate. And the text says this is all because they were afraid of the people. Why were they so afraid of the people? They are the most powerful men in Israel! What do they have to be afraid of?

Well, again, let’s return to the setting of Passover. The hopes of the Jewish people evoked by Passover were for deliverance from an empire to whom they were subject and the establishment of God’s kingdom by a Savior/Messiah. Now think about this hope during this particular Passover season, with the Jewish people under the thumb of the Roman empire and a person saying and doing Messiah-like things. This is why Luke records just before our passage in 21:37-38:

37And every day [Jesus] was teaching in the temple…38And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.

Crowds are beginning to gather around Jesus. The people are beginning to whisper to one another, “Could this be the one? Could he be the one to bring in God’s kingdom?” And it is for precisely this reason that the religious leaders have their guards up and are actively seeking a time when they can remove Jesus without the crowd present. They want to remove Jesus because he is a direct threat to their power but they want to make sure their action doesn’t ignite the powder keg of Messianic fervor gathering around him.

            Luke continues in verses 3-6 to discuss the other parties present in this plot:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

This is where you cue the sinister music. When Judas shows up on the page, we all shudder. We think of Brutus, either from history opf Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Or, for the less literary and historical minds out there like myself, we think of Lando Calrissian delivering Han Solo over to Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke portrays Judas in his gospel like this; he is one dimensional character. We are to view him as the betrayer. In fact the only other time Luke has mentioned Judas up to this point in his gospel is in 6:16 where, in listing the disciples of Jesus, he records that Judas “became a traitor.” This is why he has to remind the reader here that Judas was one of the twelve. One of Jesus’ closest ministry partners and followers is selling him out.

            While Luke doesn’t tell us much about Judas, the other gospels help us to fill out the portrait. We know from John’s gospel that Judas was in charge of handling the money for Jesus and his disciples (12:4-6). We also learn here that Judas, while he claims to care about the poor, is enamored with money, stealing for himself out of the disciples’ treasury. Matthew highlights this same trait of Judas in his telling of the betrayal (Matt. 26:14-15):

14Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.

Notice the detail that Matthew adds: Judas doesn’t just come to betray Jesus, he comes bargaining for a price! His motivation for betrayal is as simple as cold, hard cash.

            While Judas is responsible for his desires and actions against Jesus, there is an even more menacing actor involved here. Satan, the accuser, the enemy of God and his purposes of love and blessing from the beginning, sees an opportunity. This is his best chance to take out Jesus and derail the plan of God for salvation. As he is prowling around, he sees in the actions of the religious leaders of Israel and Judas his chance to crush Jesus, God’s anointed.

            Now, let’s stop and think about this for a second. Those who are most aligned with the plan of Satan, who most conform to his desires to destroy God’s plan of salvation, are members of God’s very own people! They are the ones who have seen Jesus up close and personal! If there are any people who should have heeded the message and miracles of Jesus it should have been these guys! The leaders of God’s chosen people are aligned with Satan in a plot to oppose the very God who made them his people!

Not only that, but notice in verse 5 it says, “they were glad” when Judas offered to betray Jesus. That word communicates an even stronger feeling of gladness. It could be translated “they rejoiced” or “they exclaimed.” Without being too provocative I hope, the leaders of God’s people here are involved in a Satanic worship service, praising him for his wise plan to oppose the God of Israel. This is why in the opening to his gospel, the apostle John writes “[Jesus] came to his own, but his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Not only did they not receive him, they are plotting with the enemy of God to kill their Savior and only hope.

For Judas and the religious leaders their proximity to Jesus hardened them towards God. Judas would have been viewed by the watching world as one of Jesus’ closest followers. He lived and travelled with Jesus for 3 years. And yet his love of money choked out his love for Jesus. The religious leaders would have been perceived as the closest people to God in all of the Jewish faith. They have had the extensive exposure to both the Hebrew Bible and the Christ who was fulfilling that Bible right before their eyes! However, their love for power caused them to seek to kill the Giver of Life. You see, both Judas and the religious leaders, despite being close to Jesus, did not love Jesus. Their nearness to Christ only caused them to become hardened to him and his message and to cling to their money and power.

Friends, proximity to the things of God does not mean that we are actually close to God. This passage shows us that you can be as close to God as religiously possible and yet be under the sway of Satan. (FCF) In fact, we often let our proximity to the things of God to push us away from rather than draw us to Jesus. Some who appear the most religious on the outside, who hold the highest positions in church, who know Christian teaching backwards and forwards, who have good Christian friends, who homeschool or have their kids in Christian school, who post the most pictures of them reading their Bibles on Instagram, can actually be the farthest from God if they are not careful, if we are not careful. All of this exposure to God can cause us to become overly familiarized with and as a result hardened to Jesus. It can cause us to be puffed up with pride. It can cause us to cling to our idols more fiercely, ourselves becoming as hard to Jesus in our hearts as idols themselves (Is. 6:1-9).

2. The Plan of God

So, how do we protect ourselves from this? How do we not allow our proximity to Jesus to harden us but rather, to soften us to him? To answer this question, we are going to turn over to an account in the gospel of John from the night before Jesus’ death, right before the Last Supper. In John 13:1-5 we read:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus…rose from supper…he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…

Jesus here, exhibits an act of selfless service that it is hard for us to grasp. Foot washing was a dirty job in the ancient world, reserved exclusively for servants in a house. And yet Jesus, God in the flesh, chooses to get down and serve his disciples.

            Now, there are two crucial details we need to grasp here. First, Judas is at this meal! And not just Judas. John makes it a point to emphasize before the foot washing that Judas is present and that he is currently under the influence of Satan! While he is doing the bidding of Satan, Jesus pours out his love on Judas. This would be like Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy having dinner with their assassin the night before they were to be assassinated, knowing full well the plot. And not just dinner, a four-course meal. And they would personally serve their assassin and wash the dishes. That is what Jesus is doing here. Even though Jesus knew how Judas would respond, he drew near to him in love anyway.

            What Jesus does for Judas illustrates the reality of what he does for all of us. Verse 1 makes this clear when it says that Jesus, having loved his own through his life, determined to finish his mission of love. You see, amidst Satan’s plan of deception and death God is working an even greater plan. In the death of Jesus, this horrible event orchestrated by Satan, God’s plan of love and salvation was realized. What man and the devil intended for evil, God intended for good (Gen. 50:20). While Satan frantically sought an opportunity to kill Jesus and snuff out God’s plan, Jesus marched calmly to the cross, like a lamb is led to the slaughter. He knew God’s plan was for him to demonstrate the immeasurable love of the triune God to humanity in dying for his betrayers, like Judas and like you and me. As he hung on the cross, Satan thought he had won all the while God’s love pierced through the darkness of betrayal, sin, and death. God drew near to us in Jesus to show forth and pour out his love.

            The next portion of the story in John 13 brings this home for us when you observe Peter in contrast to Judas (vv. 8-9):

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 

Peter’s response to Jesus comes in two waves. The first is denial. Peter understands that Jesus is his Lord and teacher. Picture yourself with a leader you greatly respect getting down and offering to wash your feet. We all would do what Peter does! But then Jesus tells Peter that if he doesn’t allow him to wash his feet, he can’t have any part of him. Peter then blurts out, “Lord dunk me!” While his understanding is immature and his responses are impulsive, they tell us something crucial about what being in close proximity to Jesus should do to us.

Both disciples lived with Jesus for three years: one ended up committing suicide because of the guilt involved with betraying Jesus and the other died a martyr proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ love. What is the difference? Faith. Peter saw Jesus bodily for three years, and while his life is marked with failure, including his own denial of Jesus in the hour of his death, his life was also marked with a growing faith and trust in Jesus. And in this moment, when Jesus offers himself to Peter, he responds in joy and says, “Jesus I want all of you!” That is faith.

For those of us with the eyes of faith, when we see the way in which Jesus has drawn near to those of us who have turned our backs on God in betrayal and denial from the beginning and how he died to rescue us from that betrayal and denial we ought to exclaim with Peter, “give me Jesus!” I can’t not have him! You see, faith doesn’t value other things, like money or power higher than Jesus. Faith says like the apostle Paul in Phil. 3:8, “I count it all as loss for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.” You see, unbelief and idolatry rejoices when Satan promises to fulfill all of our desires but faith rejoices in Christ! Faith rejoices in knowing him, in loving him, and in enjoying him, the one who committed himself to you in love to the very end, to the point of his own death, forever.

Before us this morning are two trajectories. One life is characterized by a turning from God, resulting in hardening and destruction. The other is characterized by a turning to God as he has drawn near in Christ to die for us, resulting in blessing and life. May the love of God humble us not harden us. I pray that God would grant you the gift of faith this morning to see our beautiful Savior and his plan of love. If you have never believed in him, if your life is characterized by betrayal and turning your back on God, know that he is near to you. See him this morning and believe! And for those of you who do know him, place faith in him anew today. Maybe you have been hardened by being close to religious things but haven’t had a real, vibrant relationship of love with Jesus. This morning, may you cry out again for the Lord to dunk you in his love and grace and may this morning mark one more step of faith in a life that is bound to behold the beauty of Jesus forever.

[1] See David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 380.

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What’s to Come Sun, 10 Mar 2019 21:03:56 +0000
What’s to Come

Preached by Jason Abbott

Last Sunday, Benjamin unpacked Jesus’ teaching concerning the destruction of the temple. That’s in the passage just before this one. Jesus was clear about it—Jerusalem would fall, and it did fall in AD 70. The Romans came and destroyed it. That magnificent temple building did not last. (News Flash: Jesus was right.)

           In a similar way, he predicts—in today’s text—the end of this secular age. He predicts his second coming to usher in, forever and fully, the kingdom of God. While his first coming proffers mercy and forgiveness, his second coming will be in power and in judgment…as well as in glorious reward for all who trust in him.

Luke 21:25-38

2“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.

           So, full disclosure, I totally lifted my outline for today’s sermon from Jesus. I totally plagiarized the outline Jesus used for his little sermon here in my sermon, which—as a preacher—is exactly, pretty much what you’re always supposed to do. Theology 101: As much as possible, say exactly what Jesus said as he said it.

           So, that’s what I’ve done here. Jesus teaches (1st) a lesson about his return. Then, he shares (2nd) an illustration to illuminate that lesson. Finally, he provides (3rd) an application so that all those listening know how to live.

1. A lesson (vv. 25-28)

Can you control the sun, moon, or stars? Can you tame the sea or its waves? Are you able to shake the heavens?

When I was in college, I roomed with this clown down here on the first row. Two college guys in our physical prime! As strong and as capable as we’d ever be! (Which to be honest wasn’t all that impressive, but whatever.)

One evening, we were in our basement apartment, and the lights flashed-off. And it got totally quiet for about 10 seconds. Then, we began to hear a distant howl from somewhere outside, which quickly grew louder and louder. Next deep thuds, like baritone machinegun fire, began sputtering against the walls of the building. We were in the middle of a tornado.

So, what did we do? What did two burly young men—as strong and capable as we’d ever be—do at that moment in that tornado? We screamed, It’s a tornado! in rather panicked, high-pitched—not very strong or capable sounding—shrieks, while we simultaneously threw ourselves facedown upon the floor in absolute fear. That’s the sad but true story. That’s what the two of us had to offer at that moment. That was the pinnacle of our courage and power.

In our first few verses, that’s what Jesus says you’ll be like when he returns unless you’ve given him your life—unless you trust him as your Savior and King. Jesus teaches us that even the most powerful people on earth will tremble in fear, will be facedown upon the floor when they “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (v. 27).  On that day, Christ will come like a tornado of righteous judgment against the unrighteous—against all who throughout history opposed him as their Savior and their God.

That, by the way, is precisely what Jesus is claiming with all this imagery—that he is indeed God. Many times we get caught up with whether Jesus will return on a cloud literally, or whether this imagery is to be understood more figuratively. And, I think that’s an open question. I think Christians can differ on their readings of this text, on that issue, and still be thoroughly orthodox believers.

Whether, however, Jesus returns riding literally or figuratively on a cloud, the main point he’s making with this phrase is that he’s not just a man. He’s God! And, anyone who was in the least bit familiar with their Old Testament scriptures would’ve understood the implications of this riding on a cloud image immediately. You see, in the Bible, only God comes riding on a cloud.

Just consider these verses.

There is no one like…God… / who rides across the heavens to help you / and on the clouds in his majesty (Deuteronomy 33:26, NIV).

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, / extol him who rides on the clouds; / rejoice before him—his name is the Lord (Psalm 68:4, NIV).

See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud / and is coming to Egypt. / The idols of Egypt tremble… / and the…Egyptians melt with fear (Isaiah 19:1, NIV).

Here’s the lesson. Jesus is God. The glory and the majesty of God, the power of God—the control over sun, moon, or stars, over the sea and its raging waves—belongs to Jesus. He can shake the heavens. He is God. And, one day he will return as the Judge of us all. For those who oppose him, there will be distress, perplexity, and fainting with fear. There will be destruction.

But, not for the faithful. Not for the Christian. If you have placed your faith in Jesus, then he encourages you “when these things begin…[to] raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). These things signal good news for you. This is the day you’ve been waiting for. This is the blessed hope we have as believers…which will not disappoint us!

If you’re a Christian, look forward to this. Pray for this day to come quickly. If you’re not a Christian, then know that this day is not yet. Mercy is still on offer. Forgiveness is still on offer. Jesus warns and welcomes you here. Turn to him!

Well, after this lesson about his return, Jesus gives us…

2. An illustration (vv. 29-33)

Here’s what he says:

Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know…the summer is…near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know…the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not…(vv. 29-33).

           Let me say two things about the illustration and, then, hopefully bring clarity to a potentially confusing statement that’s found here.

           First, the illustration’s point is super clear. Just as you know summer is near when trees begin to bud and show their leaves so too you’ll know that Jesus’ return is near when all these natural phenomena or signs—with the sun, moon, and stars or with the raging of the sea—begin to happen. The point Jesus makes is obvious. We should learn to read spiritual seasons as we’ve learned to read earthly seasons. We shouldn’t be “distressed” or “fainting with fear”—when these things begin—but ready and waiting with eager anticipation. That’s the illustration’s point.

           Second, there is no question that the things Jesus predicts here will happen. His words, he says, are far more sturdy than heaven and earth. That’s a huge claim. That’s another claim to divinity. (Look, just think about making such a statement. If you seriously said this, people would think you needed to be institutionalized. From a completely secular point of view, you might hope your thoughts and words would last as long as civilization survived. You might hope that they’d be included among the Harvard Classics or the Great Books. But, you wouldn’t have any hope of them surviving the extinction of the universe…unless you were absolutely crazy or the One who spoke heaven and earth into existence.) Are you beginning to see what I’m talking about? Jesus claims what only God can claim.

           Now, let’s discuss what has caused a good deal of confusion in these verses. What about the timing of all these events? What about the timing of Jesus’ return? It’s been about two-thousand years, and we’re still waiting. And, more to the point, Jesus seems to indicate that it would happen rather quickly. He says:

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place (v. 32).

           Certainly, those who listened to Jesus that day in the temple are long gone. That generation has surely passed away, and all the things Jesus was talking about haven’t taken place. Jesus hasn’t returned yet. What’s going on? Was Jesus wrong? Some have certainly concluded precisely that. I, however, believe they’re the ones who are wrong. Here’s why.

           Jesus is talking about future events and to the generation who will see them. He’s talking about the beginning of the end; he wants all who’ll see the beginning of these things to be ready and not surprised. Moreover, and this is the main point, he wants those who see the beginning of the end to know that they will see the end of the end too. In other words, Jesus is saying, once these things begin to happen, they will happen quickly. The generation who sees the beginning of them will see, also, the end of them—his return in glory and with power.[1]

           I hope that brings clarity for those who may’ve been confused by this verse. And, if my explanation has caused you confusion, then please see me after service. I’d love to help you understand and be encouraged by these words of Jesus.

           Let’s move briefly to the final point in this little prophetic sermon by Jesus. He gets very practical. Let’s look at…

3. An application (vv. 34-38)

Jesus wants us to know how we should live in light of what he just shared with us about his return. Here’s what he says:

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (vv. 34-36).

In a nutshell, Jesus encourages us to be ready, to be about the things of God, to not be distracted by the fleeting pleasures or the temporary cares of this lifetime. He instructs us to use what we have, in the here and now, for his glorious purposes. He tells us to not give up hope but to persevere until our death or until his return. Look, for the most part, we don’t have a problem grasping Jesus’ application here; we know how he’s calling us to live. Instead, our trouble is trusting him in all this. We have trouble really believing that he’s on the move—that he’s truly returning. And, we have trouble believing that that day will be better than this day.

We like our pleasures too much. We imagine they’re greater than they are. We imagine that they’ll satisfy us. We’re shortsighted in this. Like Adam and Eve, we want and take the fruit now, rather than waiting and trusting the Lord.

I have a good friend who took each of his sons out to dinner at McDonald’s when they turned thirteen. He told them they could get whatever they wanted to eat on the menu. But, if they trusted him and waited, that he’d have something better for them to eat later on. He then proceeded to order a Big Mac and fries and Coke off the menu and eat it as his teenage son—hungry as only a teenage son can be!—watched him take and chew every bite. Yet, after he had finished eating the meal, (which likely only took 15 minutes and, yet, felt like 15 years to his starving son) he crumpled up his trash, threw it away, and told his child he’d take him anywhere he wanted to go—no restaurant was off limits, no item on the menu was off limits, no price was too much! His two sons, because they trusted him and waited on him, were given unbelievable feasts.

Friends, that father is like our Lord, and we are like his hungry teenage sons. Jesus says that he has something better in store for us if we will trust him and wait on his return. He promises us redeemed life—holy, eternal life in God’s presence. He compares it to a great wedding feast, an unimaginable celebration for eternity! But, we lose sight of this coming reality and go in for fast-food types of pleasures. We aren’t readying ourselves; we aren’t waiting for our Lord.

Is that what you want? Are the pleasures of this life really worth all of this? Do they really satisfy you?

Jesus urges you to trust him. Jesus urges you to ready yourself for his return, so that he might welcome you into his presence and pleasure forever. Amen.


[1] See Darrell L. Bock’s arguments in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1691-1692

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Our Only Comfort in Life and Death Sun, 03 Mar 2019 20:02:35 +0000
Our Only Comfort in Life and Death

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

We often say around here that we begin the sermon right where we left off the week before. This morning that’s not exactly the case. One commentator called the location of the chapter break between Luke 20 and 21 “unfortunate,” meaning that because of the close linking of themes they should be kept together. So rather than beginning in v. 1 of chapter 21, I’m actually going to read the last handful of verses in chapter 20 and then go all the way through 21:24.

In this passage Jesus talks about future events. Some of the events Jesus describes are both future to the first audience and still in the future to us. And some of the events were future to the audience who first heard Jesus say them, but they are now in our past. In other words, some things have already happened, and others have not.

But since Jesus is here talking about events in the future, I’d love to just take a moment to mention a few events happening at our church. Then we’ll read the passage and pray.

First, there is the men’s retreat, which is coming up in early April. It looks possible that all of the men in my small group are going to attend and room together. If you’re in a small group, I encourage to consider doing that too.

Second, for the last two years our pastor-elders have been slowly working to give our church Constitution and Bylaws a long-overdue update. We are almost done with that, and we hope to share the new document with you in late March, and our members will be voting on the proposed changes late April. We don’t anticipate it being controversial. It’s simply a better version of what was already there.

Third, we have typically only done baptisms at our church in September, when we attend Graybill Pond and make a picnic out of it. We still hope to do that. But we are also going to do baptisms at our church during the worship services on May 19. If you are a Christian, and you have not been baptized as a sign showing your identification with Jesus, we’d love to talk with you about that.

Fourth, a few years ago, in an effort to bless the full-time teaching pastors and invest in the longevity of our ministry here, our church graciously added a sabbatical policy. This summer Jason has reached seven years of ministry here, and I guess you’ll be stuck with a little more of me. I feel like Jason is going to come back, and it’s going to be like what Buzz says to Kevin McCallister in Home Alone: “It’s pretty cool you didn’t burn the place down.”

Fifth, I’ll mention we are still hoping to plant a church in the city of Harrisburg, not next year but, Lord willing, in the spring of 2021. That’s a project that is getting a lot of attention and prayer and our pastor-elder meetings, and over time it will be a project that gets more and more attention and prayer among all of us on Sunday mornings.

Now, sixth and finally, let me mention that someday in the future Jesus is coming back. And that’s part of what Luke chapter 21 is about. So let’s get to the passage.

Scripture Reading

Follow along with me as I read from Luke 20:45–21:24, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

21 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.


This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”


I mention now and then that I enjoy cycling. My current road bike has 15,484 miles on it, which is not that many miles on a car, but on a bike that you pedal, that’s a few miles. But somewhere around 20 years ago as I was just getting into cycling and Lance Armstrong was winning races in France, I didn’t really know anything about anything, and that included my knowledge of cycling gear.

While on vacation with my family I distinctively remember seeing a mountain bike of a certain brand. It was chained up near the side of the lake. The bike was yellow with the brand name written in red. Now, this brand made very hi-end bicycles but also very low-end bicycles. So, you could buy one bike at Walmart and another at a fancy bike store—same brand but different models. I didn’t know that. But over the course of the week, I remember being fascinated that someone would just chain a bike that cost a few thousand dollars to a tree. I later learned, no one had chained a bike of a few thousand dollars to a tree. The book wasn’t even worth a few hundred. But again, I didn’t know anything about anything. I had to be taught the true value of things.

There’s this line in the first part of the passage where Luke writes, “And in the hearing of all the people [Jesus] said to his disciples . . .” (20:45). In the midst of all that is going on, the love Jesus has for his disciples—the love that he has for us—compels him to teach.

This passage, along with the parallel passages in the gospel of Matthew 24 and Mark 13, are notoriously difficult, which means I won’t be able to answer every question. I won’t be able to answer every question partly because there is not the time to do so and partly because, not only do I not know every answer to every question, but I don’t think I even know all of the questions.

But I do know with certainty is that Jesus is warning us not to put our trust in what seems so shiny and sturdy in the eyes of the world. That’s a real temptation for all of us, to put our hope and trust and reliance in what seems shiny and sturdy and what seems worth thousands of dollars but is not. Instead, Jesus wants us to put our trust in what really is sturdy; he wants us to put our trust in God.

1. What’s going on?

Let’s start by taking a few moments to see what is going on in these verses by looking at each group of verses, even if only from a 30,000 ft. level. First, as I said before, in the hearing of all the people Jesus speaks to his disciples. He warns them. Look again at what he tells them:

46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

A few things to notice. The religious leaders love receiving favor. They love it. They crave it. They pray long and loud prayers, not to be heard by God, but by men. And look what it says about widows: They “devour widows’ houses” (v. 47). We don’t know exactly what is meant by that, but in some way—or perhaps several ways—they took advantage of a widow’s weakness. I won’t go back and read it, but in last week’s passage one religious group asked Jesus what seem like a hypothetical question that was certainly designed to trip him up. The question is about a widow who loses not one husband, but loses seven husbands to death, and then they ask Jesus whose wife will she be in heaven? I think this was hypothetical, but you can see how cruel they are so lightly tossing around death and grief. A woman who has lost one husband has gone through no small amount of grief, let alone a woman who has lost seven.

This is then contrasted with the widow who does exist, the one Jesus sees. The rich are putting their large offerings in the offering box. In our context, imagine as we pass the offering plate someone in a fancy suit clearing his throat loudly, then turning over a gallon Ziplock bag full of silver dollars. As he passes the plate to the next person coins slide off the edges. Then a poor woman puts in a few quarters. Famously, Jesus exalts that woman’s offering.

And since money is already being discussed, we read in v. 6 that some people comment on the beauty of the temple, which had been undergoing a massive renovation project. Some of the marble stones were huge—three times larger than our largest SUVs.

Here’s a picture of the temple in Jesus’s day (From the ESV Study Bible; see this blog post by Justin Taylor for several other pictures.) It was almost a mile all the way around the outer courts of the temple, and the temple itself was 10 stories tall. It’s said that from a distance the temple looked like a golden mountain because so much of the temple was covered in gold. Perhaps some of the rich who Jesus saw giving had contributed toward the renovation project, perhaps having their pictures taken while they held up one of those giant checks with lots of zeros on them.


And Jesus says that which looks so impressive, is all going to be destroyed. Let me read vv. 5–6  

5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

It would be something else to have Jesus at your party. “Hey, Jesus, the renovations at the epicenter of our faith are going pretty well, aren’t they?” “Those? Yeah, it’s all gonna burn.”

So they ask a natural follow-up: “Jesus, when will this happen?” I won’t re-read his answer in detail; I’ll only summarize. Jesus doesn’t answer them with an exact timeline. Instead, he describes the types of things they should watch for: wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, persecution by religious people and government people, and even one’s own family. Jesus also speaks of great signs in the heavens. These are fairly general things. But he’s also very specific about a few things. He speaks of Jerusalem being surrounded, and when it is, it’s a sign that Christians should get out of the city, and if when all of this starts to go down they are not in the city, then they should not return to the city.

2. What’s the main point?

If that’s what’s going on in the individual parts of this longer passage, what might we say is the main point of all of this? Let me say the main point, and then show you how I get there.

Here’s the main point: Jesus sees sinful reliance upon what looks shiny and sturdy, things such as clothes, money, favor with certain people we deem to be important, and the beauty of the temple and even the protection of the city of Jerusalem. And Jesus sees that lust in the eyes of his religious opponents, and he warns his disciples not to be tempted to trust these same things.

That’s the main point: don’t put the weight of your soul upon things that look only sturdy but in reality are not sturdy enough for that kind of weight. It’s like building a bridge out of Legos, it can hold a Lego car as it drives over the bridge, but you can’t drive a real car over a bridge made of Legos.

The way Jesus brings this main point home is through the use of contrasts. It is contrasts that often help us see things best. I suppose in some sense I could consider myself a good runner, but if you put me in a race with someone who runs the 10k at the professional level, you’ll see pretty quickly—like in the first 50 meters, or maybe even the first 5 meters—that there is a great difference between us.

Jesus uses a series of contrasts to show us that we are not to hope in what looks shiny and sturdy in the eyes of the world, but rather, place our hope in God, which often seems to the eyes of the world like a silly thing to do.

What are some of these contrasts?

  • The rich are “putting their gifts into the offering box” while the widow “puts” her two coins in the offering box. They are putting, which takes time. She puts, which took almost no time. They give out of their abundance, while she out of her poverty. And yet, in the accounting of God, it was she who gave the most. That’s a contrast.
  • Here’s another contrast… We would think that the religious leaders would be the heroes we should emulate, but it’s the religious leaders who used widows as stepping stones. Jesus instead exalts a widow’s trust in God as what we should emulate. That’s a contrast.
  • Here’s another contrast… The temple is glorious and large and seemingly indestructible. But in d. 70 the then Roman general Titus (who later became emperor) left not one stone upon another. It looks like it was sturdy, but it wasn’t. That’s a contrast.
  • Here’s another contrast… There are great dangers coming upon the world (wars, famine, persecution). And in that kind of dangerous environment, it would be very natural to trust a walled city for protection. But Jesus said don’t do that; get away from the temple and Jerusalem, which would have seemed silly in the eyes of the world. That’s a contrast.
  • Here’s another contrast… When Christians experience fierce persecution, it would be very natural, even wise, to plan out everything that could possibly be said in our defense and in defense of God, but Jesus says don’t do that. Instead, trust that in the right moment God will give you the right words to say. That’s a contrast.
  • Here’s another contrast… It would seem that these moments of persecution are the least likely time when a Christian could make a difference for God, but Jesus says, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (v. 13). We think when all the stars align perfectly and a celebrity becomes a Christian, then the testimony of Christians will be strong. Jesus says that when you are considered as sheep to be slaughtered, and you continue to cling to your faith, then God is glorified. That’s a contrast.
  • Here’s another contrast… It could seem like all of this destruction was random and certainly outside of God’s control, but yet we read that it is to “fulfill [of] all that is written” (v. 22) and that all this is happening “until times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (v. 24). In other words, it would be natural to conclude there is no plan, but Jesus tells us to trust the plan of God, which can’t be seen. That’s a contrast.
  • Here’s another contrast… When the persecution seems to come in every direction—e.g., all will hate you; religious persecution (synagogues) and governmental persecution (prisons and governors) and by your family—know that God is for you. When all are against you, God is for you. That’s a contrast.
  • Here’s another contrast… It could seem like when Christians are handed over to rulers, even some handed over unto death, that this will be the end of our story. But we’re told not a hair of our heads will perish. Jesus promises that though you experience trials here not the smallest fraction of our eternal wellbeing can be harmed. That’s a contrast.
  • One final contrast… When it might have seemed like the followers of God wouldn’t be able to function without the centerpieces of their religious life, centerpieces like the temple and the city of Jerusalem, Jesus says, you can. You will. Jesus is giving us a new centerpiece—his death and his resurrection; his cross and his empty tomb and his Second Coming that will split the sky open the way the temple curtain was torn in two.

I mentioned at the start that this passage is notoriously difficult, which means I won’t be able to answer every question. But I do know that all of these contrasts show the main point. Jesus sees sinful reliance upon what looks shiny and sturdy. And Jesus sees that lust in the eyes of his religious opponents, and he warns us not to be tempted to trust these same things in our contexts.

3. What does that mean for us?

So what might this mean for us? Perhaps there are things you are trusting in, things that the world has no problem with, but you’re asking them to bear more weight than they can hold? Career, body image, relationship status, a new job or a new city or a new spouse, or more kids or less kids or better kids. Jesus is saying, don’t do that. Whatever you’d put on that side of the contrast, don’t. That’s one thing this passage says to us.

This application is underscored by one historical detail: the timing of the destruction of the temple given its recent renovations. I mentioned it quickly but let it sink in. Around 20 bc Herod the Great began renovations on the temple. Those renovations continued, as best as I can tell, until about ad 63 or 64, so over 80 years of work. They overlaid it with gold. They expanded the perimeter of the various courts. They added decorative sculptures. They installed marble stones, some almost as big as a tractor trailer. And then in ad 70 it was crushed. It’s like they had the 52 cards in the deck all arranged into a beautiful, giant structure, and they stand back to admire their handiwork just a moment, and all of a sudden, a draft blows across the room and does what wind tends to do to houses of cards. Church, don’t build your life on sinking sand.

As I reflect on the widow in this passage, other things come to mind. It’s possible for us to feel like everyone else out there is making a difference in big and extravagate ways, just like the rich. But you know what seems insignificant and piddly, is investment in the local church, doing things like watching children in the nursery and changing poopy diapers. You don’t get awards for that. You don’t get applause for discipling a new Christian or inviting a new person over to your house for dinner. No one sees that in the world and says, “Oh boy, that’s some significant stuff.” But I think there are many things, that were we to have the perspective of Jesus and to understand the accounting of God, we would see them for the beauty they have.



If we only hear from this passage what idols we are to avoid and what places we must serve, we haven’t heard all that Jesus is saying. Not only are we instructed about what idols to avoid, but we are told what hope we are to believe in and to know what great love God has for us. He doesn’t want us to hope in what seems shiny and sturdy but in reality is not. He doesn’t want us to spend our lives building houses of cards, because he knows there is a better, more sure foundation—his love and protection for us.

Earlier in the worship service, we read from the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question. I’d like to read it again as we close.

  1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
  2. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

The temple, the centerpiece of their religion, might soon be crushed. But a new centerpiece is in its place—the death and resurrection of Christ, the cross and the empty tomb. It’s not flashy. It’s seemingly ignoble. But it’s not. Jesus isn’t just giving us idols to avoid but a hope to embrace.


Pray with me as the music team comes back up to lead us in a final song. Let’s pray . . .

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Two Questions Sun, 24 Feb 2019 19:54:20 +0000
Two Questions

Preached by Jason Abbott

I was once invited—by a couple people from a different theological tradition than mine—to “hangout and talk.” One of them was a theologian and the other one was an apologist from that tradition. There was much our theologies agreed upon, but there were a number of other things which had caused a real divide between us, important ideas about the gospel which were in total opposition.

           Well, within a few minutes of my arrival, I realized I’d walked into ambush. They had come to ask me questions which would reveal that my theology was bad and that their theology was good—mine wrong and theirs right. And, friends, that’s what Jesus encountered throughout his ministry, and it’s what he encounters here, a theological ambush. (By the way, that’s precisely where any kind of comparison, between our situations, ends. Both of us walked directly into a theological ambush. And, while I struggled for answers, Jesus left his foes speechless.)

           Let’s read this encounter together.

Luke 20:27-47

27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

           We have twenty-one verses here. And, they are governed by two questions. (1st) There is a question for Jesus. The Sadducees decide it’s their turn to test Jesus. They want their shot at the heavyweight belt in theology. (2nd) There is a question from Jesus. After answering them, Jesus throws a haymaker of a question at them and quickly ends the bout.

           Let’s look at the first question.

1. A question for Jesus (vv. 27-40)

We need to begin by establishing a bit about the Sadducees. Who were they? Who were these contenders? We don’t know much. And, most of what we know, we learn from their enemies, from those who opposed them.[1] They didn’t get along with the Pharisees; one of their chief disagreements concerned whether there was or wasn’t a resurrection. The Pharisees maintained there was, while the Sadducees maintained there wasn’t.

That very debate comes into play here, as they proffer an absurdist question to Jesus. (Maybe the Sadducees think they can win two heavyweight bouts at once, besting both Jesus and the Pharisees in one theological prizefight.) Thus, they ask about marriage after death. They are mocking the idea of a resurrection.

Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife (vv. 28-33).

This isn’t a sincere question. The Sadducees don’t believe in a resurrection. This is bait. They want Jesus to take the bait. They want him to begin working-out whose wife she’ll be in eternity, because the very process of ordering relationships in eternity will entangle Jesus in minutia and make him look foolish.

You may have encountered something like this. Maybe you want to witness to your friend at work—share the gospel with him or her. But, as soon as you do, your coworker suddenly changes the topic of conversation to the supposed conflict between Christianity and science. They’re hoping to get you tangled in the minutia of that conversation to justify their unbelief. It’s bait. (It’s certainly a conversation you can and should have with your friend at some point, but it mustn’t be allowed to derail the central conversation about the gospel.)

That’s exactly the kind of thing that the Sadducees are attempting to do here. But, Jesus doesn’t take their bait. Rather, Jesus exposes their lack of knowledge when it comes to the central conversation concerning resurrection. To their horror, Jesus stays on topic. He won’t be distracted.

Now, at first, Jesus appears to take the bait. He begins to talk about marriage and resurrection life. And, we must admit, he shares some rather interesting things about these future realities.

  • “…those who…attain to…the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (v. 35).
  • “…they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels” (v. 36).

We could easily get off on a tangent here. But, the point Jesus is making—by sharing these prophetic truths—is simply that the Sadducees have completely misunderstood the nature of resurrection life. Their thinking is pedestrian.

In the slightly modified words of one of my favorite authors:

…it would seem that [Jesus] finds [their conceptions of resurrection life] not too strong, but too weak. [They] are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with [thoughts of] drink and sex and ambition [and marriage after death] when infinite joy is [being] offered [to them], like…ignorant [children] who [can only imagine] making mud pies in a slum because [they] cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.[2]

           In short, friends, Jesus is telling them that they haven’t got a clue about this. The reality of resurrection life will be utterly different and infinitely more glorious than anything they now experience. You see, they’ve “failed to realize that the life to come will be essentially different than this life.”[3] The Sadducees can’t think past what they experience now; their imaginations are small. And, this kind of thinking, I believe, leads these men to reject the possibility of a resurrection.

           We tend to do the very same thing. It looks a bit different. But it’s the same. Let me share a story to show how we think myopically about the things of God—about the coming realities which are ours in Christ.

           When I was young, I would hear my Sunday school teachers and my pastors talk about eternity as an eternal worship service with millions singing and praising and dancing before the throne of God. And, all I could think about were a handful of the Christian concerts my parents had dragged me off to—Amy Grant or Petra or Michael W. Smith. To those of you who delight in these musicians, no offense. But, this vision of resurrection life didn’t excite me. I mean even the best concerts get old after a few hours. Needless to say, such an earthly conception of eternity was enough to make resurrection life seem dull to me.

           And, we all do this in various ways by importing our ideas about vacations and retirement or the dullness of work and our family relationships into our visions of our glorified physical life with God. Such things are only helpful as small signs which point to something altogether different and infinitely more glorious to come. Friends, a mere glimpse of what’s really ahead should cause us to thirst constantly for it—to even pray for it: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

           (If you’d like help expanding your imagination, when it comes to the future, I can recommend nothing better to you than The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis. Read it over and over and over again.)

           Well, in sharp contrast to the Sadducees’ hypothetical, problematic question about these seven brothers and their one wife, Jesus quickly gives a concrete proof from Scripture in support of the resurrection. Look at his answer.

…that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (vv. 37-38).

Following this answer, Luke tells us that some toady-scribes started cheering for Jesus—Good answer! I imagine that some of the Pharisees were simply happy that somebody, besides them, was getting theologically smacked-around by Jesus. (It’s like rooting for the team that beat your team to beat the next team even worse, so that everyone forgets how badly your team was beaten.)

Now, as far as his answer is concerned, he highlights that God is (not was!) the God of Israel’s patriarchs—even though they’d died long before the Lord God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus’ logic is this—“If God speaks of himself as” Abraham’s God, “then Abraham still exists. If he is the God of Isaac and Jacob, then they still exist.”[4] In short, to experience the promises of the Lord, which he made to them, they must and will be resurrected one day.

This is mic-drop Bible interpretation. It’s exactly the kind of answer I dream of making but fail to make when I’m ambushed. You may not see Jesus as amazing in this moment, but you’re supposed to. He’s worship worthy.

Well, let’s move briefly to the second question.

2. A question from Jesus (vv. 41-47)

While the Sadducees’ question deals with the nature of the resurrection, Jesus’ question deals with the nature of the Christ. He’s challenging the Sadducees to rethink their vision of the Messiah. Jesus quotes David in the Psalms.

“‘The Lord said to my Lord, / “Sit at my right hand, / until I make your enemies your footstool”’ (vv. 42-43).

This is a messianic passage. David was speaking of the Lord God speaking to the Messiah, but David calls the Messiah “my Lord.” Jesus wants to know why. More to the point, Jesus wants these religious teachers to consider the implications of this inspired word from David. Why would David—the greatest king of Israel—refer to one of his descendants—even his greatest messianic descendent—as Lord? Now that’s a question!

This would even be strange for our culture and time. My kids could achieve at the highest levels. They could become heroes and presidents—win Nobel prizes in every single field. My children could form an elite Seal team (Seal Team Five!) and save the world from certain destruction. But, they would still simply be sons and daughters to me. I’ll never call them Lord.

Friends, Jesus is asking these religious teachers to expand both their thinking and their vision when it comes to the Messiah. He’s not just a king like David was. He’s not simply the greatest human conqueror. He is Lord; he is God in the flesh! That’s the implication of this verse, and that’s who Jesus claims to be.

           Then, Jesus does something that seems strange to us. He rebukes the scribes, the religious leaders, in earshot of all the people.

Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (vv. 46-47).

Why does Jesus do this? Why does Jesus seemingly shift gears so quickly? Well, I don’t believe he does. I think Jesus stays on topic. If you want to see how, simply ask: What’s the nature of true greatness?

Is it having the best clothes, long robes here? Is it being popular and honored in public or at parties? Is it having lots of things or being a showman? No! It’s not! Such selfish greatness will be harshly judged, says Jesus. But, recall the context. Jesus just asked them that provocative question about the nature of the Messiah—the greatest of the greats. What’s the nature of his greatness?

…[he] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (1 Corinthians 8:9).

…though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself…taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:6-8).

There are countless verses in Scripture which outline the greatness of Jesus. None of those verses are selfish in nature. None of them smacks of greed or of ego. This is the character of divine greatness! What a contrast!


[1] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke, 290.

[2] Adapted from C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory. You can read his entire sermon here.

[3] Morris, ibid., 291.

[4] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1625.

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Oh How Marvelous Sun, 17 Feb 2019 17:41:37 +0000
Oh How Marvelous

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek


A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the way we are going to cover the last few chapters of the gospel of Luke, is a little bit like watching a season of the show 24. It’s not on television anymore, so if you watch it now, you probably can watch as quickly as you like. Initially, though, only one episode was released each week, with each show covering one hour of Jack Bauer’s epic day—hence the name 24.

What we are doing each until Easter is a little like that. We’re looking at the epic last week of Jesus’s life one slice at a time. Jesus dies on a Friday, but on the Sunday before that Friday he rode into Jerusalem hailed as king. On Monday he cleansed the temple of money changers. On Tuesday Jesus had a series of confrontations with the religious leaders. The first was about authority, the next about a parable Jesus told, and now the third conflict on that Tuesday so long ago is about taxes.

If your paystub is anything like mine, you have lines like FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which pays toward Social Security and Medicare) and FIT (Federal Income Tax) and Susquehanna Township EIT (Earned Income Tax). You and I pay taxes before we even get a chance to buy a soda or pay our mortgage or tithe to our church. How much income tax we pay and how much is appropriated to schools and roads and the military and some aspects of so-called reproductive health care, are lightning rods. Once upon a time, a war was fought, at least in part, over taxation without representation. But however controversial taxes are in America today, taxes were exponentially more controversial among the tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers who were in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover the week Jesus died. Jerusalem, as I hope to explain why, was like a house filled with gas; one spark could set it off.

Scripture Reading

Follow along with me as I read from Luke 20:19–26, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.


This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”


This passage is about many things, but I want to organize our study around a line at the very end of the passage, which says, “marveling at his answer they became silent” (v. 26). Wonder. Awe. Amazement. Marvel. So marveled, in fact, that in moment they could not speak.

Have you ever been like that—so overwhelmed with surprise and wonder that you couldn’t hardly believe what happened? A few years ago, my wife and I were recipients of someone’s extraordinary generosity. We’ve received amazing gifts from family before, but this was from someone who had only known us a few years. We really weren’t sure what to do or what to say.

As we look closer at this passage, I want to ask two questions. First, why did the religious leaders marvel, and then why, when I look at this passage and consider Jesus, do I marvel too.

1. Why did the religious leaders marvel?

To understand why the religious leaders marveled, we need to have a better grasp of what’s happening in this passage and the surrounding context. I don’t want to presume that everyone here this morning has been here for the last few weeks. Jesus is clashing with religious leaders, all in the vicinity of the temple. In every conflict the intensity increases, like turning up the heat on a stove. Last week Jason walked us through the previous passage in which Jesus told a parable that was a scathing critique of the religious leaders and their hard-heartedness. They knew the parable was against them. There was no ambiguity. Verse 17 tells us Jesus looked directly at them when he gave the punchline, and then in v. 19 we read,

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people.

With no ambiguity, the heat on the stove moves from a 5 to a 7, we’ll say. Rather than repenting, which the parable invited them to do, they double down. They send spies to “catch [Jesus] in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor” (v. 20).

That’s an important line to understand. Israel was occupied by Rome and had been for some 75 years. The religious leaders had latitude to conduct business, but Rome kept them on a short leash, and executions were not theirs to conduct. To conduct an execution, one had to be handed over to Rome, and you needed a reason to do that. The religious leaders look to give Rome a reason to execute Jesus. Let me re-read vv. 21–22 to see the question they ask.

21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

The question of lawfulness was not a question of whether taxes were lawful to Rome. Rome made the law; it was lawful to them. The question asked about lawfulness in the eyes of God. The thinking went like this: Rome is evil and pagan, and we are good and followers of God, so we shouldn’t give our money to them. It was a little more sophisticated than that, but that’s basically it. By the way, as best as I can tell, taxes at the time were somewhere around 30–40 percent.

So, on the surface, the question is about taxes. But beneath the surface, their question was about something else. Their question had the agenda of tripping Jesus up, either with Rome or the crowds, the people who “were hanging on his words” (19:48).

A few years ago GQ magazine interviewed one of the Duck Dynasty guys about his view of homosexuality and gay marriage (here). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an entire episode of the show or read an entire GQ, and I’m not sure I would be a huge fan of either if I did. But I’d submit to you that the question had little to do with GQ’s sincere inquiry as to the historic position of the Christian church about such things. Their inquiry had more to do with creating controversy and selling magazines. Here’s a loose cannon. Let’s ask him a delicate question.

That’s what’s going on with Jesus. It’s about taxes, but not really. If he answered no—saying, “Forget Rome! Never pay your taxes to those Gentile pigs!”—then he was in trouble with Rome. If he answered yes—saying, “Come on, guys, Rome is not so bad, are they? Just pay those taxes”—then he was in trouble with the people.

And it was big trouble. Remember the context. Think of the pressure the governor Pontius Pilate was under. There were an extra 200,000 people in town. And not just any people in any town for any celebration. They were Jews. In Jerusalem. For Passover. These pilgrims were returning to their holy capital city of Jerusalem to commemorate the time when God decimated Egypt, which was the largest superpower in the world, all because Egypt had their heavy yoke of slavery upon God’s people. And many of these Jews in Jerusalem for Passover were wondering if God would do it again.

Look at it like this. You might quibble with aspects of the Federal Income Tax, but imagine how much you would detest paying the FIT of another country if America was occupied by someone else. There’s a popular television show that explores what life might have been like had Germany and Japan won World War II. Imagine half of America belonging to Germany and half to Japan. Imagine the heat if a million Americans marched to Washington DC to protest, and they did it on July Fourth, Independence Day. Now, what happens when at the base of the Washington Monument when the topic of the German Federal Income Tax comes up? That’s a house filled with gas.

But Jesus can’t be trapped. You can’t put him in some mental version of a Brazilian jujitsu armbar or another intellectual chokehold. Let me re-read vv. 23–25.

23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

That word likeness is a loaded allusion. In the Genesis creation account we read that God made us in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26–27).

In other words, “If Caesar wants a few piddly coins. Give them to him. Fine. But you make sure that you give all of you over to God. You are in his image; you are in his likeness; you belong to him. Serve him. Love him. Surrender all to him.”

I’ll pause. Is that how you’d describe your relationship with God? When we had our church baptisms here in last fall, one of the men who was baptized mentioned how the Lord had changed him. He said Jesus used to be “an accessory to his life.” In this passage, Jesus asks you whether God is an accessory to your life or Lord of your life?

The religious leaders marvel at his answer. They stood amazed. They brought their A-game but just got schooled. They thought they trapped Jesus, but he escaped. And not only did he escape, but he reframed the conflict in such a way as to show they were in the wrong. That’s why they marvel.

2. Why do I marvel?

I want to spend the rest of our time talking about why do I marvel at Jesus in this passage, and why do I think you should marvel too. I have five things to point out.

I marvel at the hardness of our hearts. First, I marvel at the hardness of our hearts. I’m amazed that the marveling of these leaders does not translate into joyful, obedient worship. Rather than repent, we so often instead try trickery to wiggle from of the conviction Jesus brings.

Listen to the way the religious leaders are described: they sought to lay hands on him; they perceived that he had told this parable against them; they feared the people; they watched him; they sent spies; they pretended to be sincere; they tried to catch him in something he said; they wanted to deliver him up; and they were crafty. That’s an ugly look in the mirror. But they don’t look. They look away. Again, rather than repent, we so often instead try trickery to wiggle from of the conviction Jesus brings.

Last week, a newspaper broke a story about certain churches in a certain denomination who had mishandled not a few cases of sexual abuse. There will be many who will look at the report and discredit it, rather than seeing it is a wakeup call to repentance and reformation. There will be those who are more concerned with the optics, that is, more concerned with how it makes them look than how we should change.

This week, another pastor of a large, multi-site church was fired for abuse of his authority, which apparently then led him to a host of other lousy things. That’s the second firing of a megachurch pastor in Chicago this year. Some leaders will listen to those stories, and rather than seeing the stories as invitations to repentance and reformation in our own hearts, instead many will look at them and say, “Yeah, they’re not like me; and I’m not at all like them.”

As Ben and Jason and I talked about last week’s passage, Jason brought up Revelation 16. In that passage, after God pours out his wrath by the bowlful, we read,

The fourth angel poured out his bowl . . . . and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

 10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl . . . . People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl . . . . and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. (Revelation 16: 8–9, 10–11, 17, 21)

The point, we should notice, was that the bowls of wrath were penultimate, not ultimate. They were opportunities to repent. And the clashing of Jesus and the religious leaders was their opportunity and our opportunity to let the God’s light shine over all of our hearts, and wherever God’s light finds places in our hearts not fully committed to him, to repent. I marvel that this didn’t happen for them.

I marvel that Jesus can’t be manipulated. This leads me to the rest of the things I marvel at—and they are all about Jesus. Jesus stands in stark contrast to us. One way that I marvel at him is how he cannot be manipulated. We can be manipulated; he can’t.

One commentator mentioned something interesting about flattery, which is one way they try to manipulate Jesus. The commentator said gossip is saying behind someone’s back what you would never say to his face, and flattery is saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his back (Kent Hughes, Luke, Preaching the Word, 698). And oh, do they try to flatter him with words they most certainly would not say behind his back. But the subject matter of their flattery is humorous. O, Jesus, what we love about you is that you are never moved by flattery. You, Jesus, are so good at shooting straight. You’re not moved by what other people think. We love that about you, Jesus. Thanks for being great, Jesus.

The literal translation of what they say about Jesus not showing partiality is that Jesus “does not receive face.” I probably wouldn’t make much of that detail, except that during Advent at our church we looked at passages about the Messiah in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. And one thing we marveled at in Isaiah 11, was the prophecy that the Messiah would be unmoved by people’s faces. He’d judge with equity. He’d judge with righteousness, not by what he will see in people’s faces (Isaiah 11:3–4). Here, the leaders look at the very Messiah long ago promised, they praise him for being what the people of God had hoped for, and they don’t believe a word of their own praise. But we should. We should marvel that Jesus can’t be manipulated. What a Messiah, what a savior!

In seminary I remember being told something that I’ve heard repeated a few other times. The saying goes that when being hired by a church to careful of who picks you up from the airport because in just a year they might not be your friend anymore. They might have only been there trying to butter you up. I don’t think the saying is meant in a literal way; it’s only meant as a nudge to be aware of a certain danger. And I don’t mention this to make any of you feel guilty. Not at all. I simply bring it up to say how different Jesus is than pastors, even good pastors. We have to be warned not to led astray. We need to be warned not to receive faces. My pastoring can become uneven as I’m swayed by flattery. But not Jesus.

I marvel at the wisdom of Jesus. I also marvel at the wisdom of Jesus. You can’t trick or trap him. The question of the religious leaders is admittedly a brilliant question. You can’t answer it without getting in big trouble. It’s an impossible question. Impossible, unless you are Jesus, which makes his answer more brilliant than their question.

And it’s not just the answer that’s brilliant. The rhetorical device of asking for a coin, rather than just referring to a coin, was also brilliant.

Think about it. Why not just say, “Whose likeness and inscription is on a denarius?” You and I know that whose face is on a dollar bill. It’s Washington’s. And they knew the answer was Caesar’s likeness without looking at a coin. There were money changers in the temple because they knew that Caesar’s picture was on the coin and inscription stated, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” They did not like that, so they changed the money. They knew who’s likeness was on the coin, so why ask for someone to hold one up?

Jesus asked for the coin to make a point that they were already using the Roman coins, and therefore this whole business about trapping him to see which side he is on was bogus. Jesus is saying, “What’s that in your pocket, guys? Oh, you have a coin. Hmmm. Interesting. You say you hate Rome, but you have their money. And you would love more of it. You are not giving all of yourselves to God,” said Jesus. The Pharisees wanted to present themselves as free from all of this, but they were not. The wisdom of Jesus knew it. And as it’s said earlier in the gospel of Luke: in Jesus, behold, something greater than Solomon is here (11:31).

I marvel at the willingness of Jesus to respect the authorities. Two more to go. This one could be long, but I’ll make it quick. I marvel at the willingness of Jesus to respect the authorities. When Jesus interacts with the religious leaders, he is often firm, but he’s never disrespectful. Remember, before he rebukes them on Tuesday, he spent a night weeping for them outside the city. And when Jesus says pay that tax and give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, Jesus is telling them to give money to the very government who, in a few days, would kill him with their soldiers. He’s bankrolling, in a small way, his own crucifixion. That’s an amazing respect for authorities and an amazing trust in the sovereignty of God.

We might have gripes about our government, but as Christians, is your griping infused with respect and covered in tears?

I marvel at the sacrificial love of Jesus. Finally, I marvel at the sacrificial love of Jesus. The gospel of Luke focuses in on Jesus. We might say, there were many actors on the stage (the crowd and the disciples and so on), but now the floodlights dim, and the spotlight is trained on Jesus for us to marvel. The religious leaders are still in view, but their part seems mainly to show the contrast. Jesus is marvelous because his heart is not hard like our hearts; he can’t be manipulated like us; his wisdom exceeds our own; his relationship to authorities is beyond token respect; and his sacrificial love for his enemies costs him his life. I’m amazed at that.

Everyone around Jesus—the religious establishment, the crowds, the secular bystanders, even the closest followers—were all halfhearted. And still, Jesus was all in. If anyone is in God’s likeness, it’s Jesus (cf. Heb. 1:3). He holds back nothing from God the Father. And he goes to the cross for sinners like me. That’s amazing. I marvel at that. I’ve never surrendered to God all that he deserves, and neither have you.

The Bible says this in Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I look at this passage and I’m amazed by the gospel, and I want you to be amazed by it as well. If you’re not moved by this, pray for it. Pray that God would give you fresh wonder and awe. For the religious leaders, their marveling did not lead to joyful, obedient, fullhearted service of God. But that’s what Luke wants for us. Marveling at God’s mercy, live your life as a living sacrifice. For this, the apostle Paul writes, is our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1–2). Worshipful marveling that leads to worshipful obedience.


Pray with me as the music team comes back up to lead us in a final song. Let’s pray . . .

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A Warning Story Sun, 10 Feb 2019 18:11:52 +0000
A Warning Story

Preached by Jason Abbott

There is nothing safe about Jesus. If you trust in him, you’ll find him always meddling with your life—constantly needling areas of pride and sin and autonomy in you. He’s not warm and fuzzy in that way. He’ll break you down piece by piece so as to remake or recreate you. The result is good. But, he’s not safe.

           On the other hand, if you oppose him, you will find yourself more and more enslaved to that opposition. You’ll find his teaching harder and harder to listen to. You’ll find his very name annoying. You’ll find your heart is progressively lifeless and cold to the idea of a savior. In this way, interacting with him can be dangerous. It can harden your heart to God’s mercy.

           And, this is the picture Jesus paints for us in the story he tells in today’s text. Just listen to his warning parable.

Luke 20:9-18

And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
           has become the cornerstone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

This parable is about two main things: (1st) It’s about the hardness of hearts. Jesus warns about the dangers of hardening our hearts. (2nd) It’s about the patience of God, for now. This story depicts the long-suffering character of God the Father, while simultaneously warning us that his patience will not last forever.

Let’s look at each of these.

1. The hardness of hearts.

What’s clear is that Jesus tells this story as a warning to the religious leaders who are opposing him. The context indicates it. In the 1st verse of next week’s text, Luke makes this clear by recording how those very leaders understood this parable. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Luke writes:

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on [Jesus] at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them (v. 19).

Now, remember this is just one interaction among many, many interactions Jesus had with the religious leaders. His ministry had consistently challenged them. He taught as one with authority; they didn’t like that. He critiqued their traditions; they didn’t like that. He outwitted them and made them look foolish during debates over theology; they really didn’t like that. He performed miracles and hobnobbed with sinful, common people; they didn’t like that.

I think, consequently, it’s fair to say that the religious elites didn’t instantly accelerate into violence. They didn’t, in a moment, decide to “lay hands on” Jesus in order to have him crucified. Rather, theirs was a progressive hardening of heart towards him. One negative interaction with Jesus prejudiced their next interaction with him, until they eventually hated him—certain that he performed his miracles by the power of Satan (Luke 11:15), certain that he needed to die.

This is how it works. I’m sure many of you know precisely how it happens. You have an ugly interaction with somebody—some kind of a misunderstanding that heads south. You go away thinking about what they said to you, and what you wish you had said to them. You find that you can’t let it go—you can’t move on. Pretty soon, you’re talking to friends about that person; you’re poisoning the well when it comes to them. And, before too long, you’ve totally demonized him or her. Your heart is ice cold when you think about them.

And, there’s a danger in this. When we allow our hearts to become calloused over time, we also allow our ability to see and know the truth to become calloused and hard—the truth about the other person and the truth about ourselves. A person, who’s created in the image of God, becomes a demon to us. And we, though feeble and sinful, become certain of our viewpoint and totally righteous in our own sight. A hard heart preaches these kinds of lies.

This is where the religious leaders find themselves when it comes to Jesus. And, it’s dangerous. They have chafed at his authority in this passage of Scripture. Do you recall Benjamin’s sermon from last week? Do you remember the question they brought before Jesus? “Who gave you this authority?” they asked (Luke 20:2). His authority—in clearing the temple, in receiving praise as he entered Jerusalem, in assessing and teaching God’s laws—offended the leaders. And, at this point, they’ve had enough. Their hearts are now completely hardened towards this Rabbi. They want him out of the way. They cannot, and will not, see the truth about Jesus, and they’re blind to the truth about themselves.

Hardening your heart to Jesus is a dangerous thing! And, you’re not immune to it. In fact, you’re prone to do it. Just think about the following questions.

  • How do you use what you’ve been given—money, power, talent, etc.?
  • Are those things under your authority or the Lord’s authority?
  • If you’re confronted by Jesus’ claim to authority in an area of your life, would you be willing to give him control over it?

Or, consider how you would answer these questions; they’ll tell you a lot about authority and who has it in your life.

  • Who do you believe sex is for? Is it intended primarily for you?
  • Who is food for? Does it exist foremost to make you happy?
  • Who is fashion for? Who is family for? Who reigns over these areas?

The world will tell you they’re yours, that you reign. But, that’s not the view of the Bible. That’s not what Scripture says they’re for. God’s word says they’re for God’s glory. God’s word says they’re under God’s authority.

So, inspired by the Spirit, Paul and Peter urge you to submit to the authority of Christ in all things and in every area of life. Listen to what they say in unity.

…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:27).

If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11).

These texts, and many others in the Bible, tell you who really has authority over all things and who those things are really for. Our hard hearts will surely rebel against this truth, and the world around us will preach a different gospel than this; but, make no mistake—all things, including you, were created by and for the Lord. As Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[1]

Watching the Super Bowl commercials last Sunday evening, it was apparent to me how restless secular hearts are. Product after product vying for our loyalties! Yet, you don’t need to zoom-in on a specific commercial to unveil the restlessness; rather, just pan-out on our culture as a whole. Just think about what keeps it going or what makes it tick.

Bechtel and I were thinking about this phenomenon last Tuesday afternoon. And, he pointed to Time Square as an indicator or symptom of our restless hearts, how we long for something to satisfy us. You see, all of the neon blinking-lights and jumbo movie-screens in Time Square don’t create a longing and restless heart in us. Rather, the longing and restless heart in us created the signs. In other words, things like Time Square and Super Bowl commercials exist because of our desires, because we are looking for something to make us whole—something to fill us up. What is that something for you?

The Bible tells us it must be relationship with God through faith in Christ. Nothing else will satisfy that longing. Only Christ’s authority in you can!

Friends, the more the religious leaders came up against the authority claims of Jesus and denied those claims, the harder their hearts became to the good news Jesus personified and accomplished. And, the more we give ourselves over to sin, the more we hold Christ’s reign at arms-length in certain areas, the more we deny that Jesus has full authority over us—the harder our hearts become; it’s dangerous! It’s giving sin and Satan a foothold in your life.

Well, let’s move to the second thing this passage is about.

2. The patience of God, for now.

Jesus quotes Psalm 118 in this text and makes other Old Testament allusions as well (cf. the stone imagery in Isaiah 8 and Daniel 2).[2] I won’t get into all of this, but we should recognize that none of the references or allusions would’ve been lost on the religious authorities. They were tracking with the implications of the story and these scriptural references. They understood precisely what Jesus was saying to them and about them here—as well as, what he was saying about himself.

So, what was Jesus saying about them? What was he saying about himself? What’s the bottom line? Here it is in a nutshell.

The “stone” passages that Jesus quotes in his interpretation of the parable of the Vineyard Tenants explain the parable as an accusation and a threat against the Jewish leaders, and at the same time they communicate a veiled claim of Jesus to be God’s authoritative and decisive representative.[3]

In other words, Jesus tells the leaders: You’re the faithless vineyard workers. You’re the rebels stealing the vineyard owner’s property. It’s you who have abused and mistreated and killed the owner’s servants. You’ve done this with the prophets of God to Israel. This is a harsh condemnation of them.

Simultaneously, Jesus is giving them an answer to their previous question: “Who gave you this authority?” He didn’t answer them immediately but does here. He says to them: I’m the heir. I’m the owner’s only son. I have complete authority over this vineyard. And, just as those vineyard workers wanted to murder the heir, you want to kill me. Friends, Jesus says: God is my Father; I am his Son.

These are the kinds of assertions Jesus often makes concerning his identity and his authority. These are the types of stories he regularly tells about who he is and why he’s come. And, it’s a warning. For those who reject God’s beloved Son, judgment will come. It’s a warning. As Jesus says:

What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others (vv. 15-16).

This is about the time you wonder how this point can be about a patient God. This seems to highlight a wrathful God. This seems to highlight a vengeful Father. This seems to highlight his swift, harsh, and final judgment. Yes. That’s precisely what Jesus’ parable highlights for us. But, we have to keep his story in its context. We have to recall where this story is being told and whose lips it’s on.

In actual space-time history, here stands the vineyard owner’s son—the heir. God the Father, knowing full-well that they wouldn’t respect his Son, nevertheless, sent him to make peace. And, God the Son, knowing full-well that the rebel tenants would reject, mock, and kill him, willingly came, nonetheless. Jesus warns them because Jesus loves them. The Father sends the Son because the Father loves them; God is patient with all these rebel tenants, in order that his longsuffering-kindness towards them might lead them to repentance and salvation (Romans 2:4).

I have five children. And, when I warn one of them concerning something, it’s a sign of my love for them and my patience with them. There are many times when I’m not patient with them, and no warnings come before they get punished. That’s not loving. That’s not longsuffering. That’s not like God.

Friends, we are still living in the time of God’s patience. But, it isn’t forever. It will not last forever. That day is approaching when the skies will be rolled-back, and Jesus will return. And all those who have rejected God’s authority—all who’ve rejected God’s Son—will face the Father’s eternal rejection. This is what the Bible calls hell—the Living Stone, Jesus, whom they have rejected will fall upon them and crush them (v. 18). They will be eternally undone.

But, for us, that is not today. Today we can hear this warning Jesus gives us, and we can fall upon (trust upon) the Living Stone and be broken to pieces (v. 18). We can be humbled and broken-down, knowing that our Lord will reconstruct us—burying our dishonor and raising us to glory in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:43).


[1] Augustine, Saint Augustine Confessions, (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5).

[2] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson: editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 362.

[3] Ibid., 365.

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