Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

Sermon - 05/31/15 - I AM, not was

“I AM, not was”

Mark 12:1-27

 

Today’s Scripture tells us that Jesus begins to speak to them in parables. If you recall, we are on the third day of Jesus and his disciples entering Jerusalem during Passover week. Jesus and his disciples have been staying outside of Jerusalem in the town of Bethany. They have returned to the temple, the same place where the day before Jesus made a spectacle of himself by turning over money changers’ tables and the tables of those selling doves and refusing to let people carry merchandise into the temple.

 

Well Jesus’ disgust for what was happening in the Temple did not go unnoticed. As soon as Jesus and his disciples arrive at the Temple, the inquisitions began. This third day began with Jesus having a discussion with the chief priests and elders, in which the teachers of the law questioned Jesus on whose authority he was doing the things he was doing.

The chief priests, in fact, all of the leaders of the Jewish faith wanted to discredit Jesus. Jesus was questioning their actions and prosperity and if Jesus hadn’t been so well liked by all the common people, the leaders would have squelched Jesus long before this.

 

They knew they couldn’t arrest Jesus without a cause,

 

and get away with it,

 

so they attempted to intellectually and theologically set Jesus up so he would incriminate himself.

 

This clearly demonstrates either they don’t have a clue who they are dealing with – or they are so narcissistic they can’t see.

 

Jesus uses reasoning to twist their question around and since the chief priests and elders are forced not to answer Jesus’ question,

lest they get themselves into trouble,

 

so Jesus,

in turn,

chooses not to answer their question.

 

Now for those of us sitting here today in the 21st Century we have the luxury of having read all the chapters in this book, so we know how Jesus’ story ends. Today, rather than looking at the Scripture from the perspective of what it was like for those who were there at the time, I would like us to keep looking at this part of Scripture from today’s point of view.

 

What do you think?

 

This final week of Jesus’ is almost half through and up to this point, he has done some things that have been slightly, if not definitely, out of character.

 

Let’s see,

 

he has managed to enter the city of Jerusalem by parade,

although riding a donkey,

but a parade all the same.

 

Proclaiming his kingship or messiahship.

 

Certainly out of character

 

because up to this point he had been telling anyone who wanted to talk to others about his abilities and miracles,

to keep quiet.

 

The second day,

 

Jesus not only gets angry and starts damaging others belongings,

he curses an innocent fig tree,

and as they are walking into Jerusalem on the day of today’s Scripture,

the disciples notice the tree he cursed the day before was dead.

 

Definitely out of character!

 

Why up to this point,

the disciples have only seen Jesus raise people

FROM the dead,

not kill things.

 

And then we have the parable of the tenants.

 

The theme of this parable is not hidden and doesn’t hold anything back. In fact, it punches the Pharisees and Sadducees right between the eyes. No need to guess or need to figure it out.

 

Again, out of character.

 

Up to this point, the parables Jesus has been sharing have been only understandable for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. This parable is as clear as a bell and reveals the Jewish leaders as downright scoundrels.

 

I don’t know about you, but the last week of Jesus’ life has definitely put some spunk or edginess in his actions and words. I am not sure if this reflects his Godly side or his human side. It sounds pretty human to me.

 

But what would you do if you knew you were going to die at the end of the week? Would you be concerned about what those around you thought of you as much as you are now? Would you take an extra look at your “Bucket List” and see if there was any way you could complete at least one or two of the items you have written there?

 

 

If we look at the events that occur for Jesus during this last week, I can’t help but think, Jesus knows what is about to happen to him, and this is how he chooses to act and respond to those around him.

 

Take this parable for instance.

 

This is a parable of judgement and is primarily addressed to the religious leaders of Israel. The vineyard has long been a metaphor for Israel. The idea of an absentee landlord having representatives and those representatives having disputes with the tenants was common in everyday life in Israel at this time. The son of the landlord being the beloved son who was rejected as the messianic stone was also known from the Psalms.

This killing of the messianic stone is the subject for the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders. The religious leaders knew exactly where Jesus was coming from and yet they didn’t take the words of Jesus to heart. Instead, we read they looked for a new way to arrest Jesus.

 

This allegory says a great deal about the character of God.

 

Do you recognize no matter how many times the tenants reject God’s messengers, God doesn’t give up, he keeps trying?

 

This should give us hope.

 

Not just for ourselves, but for those people in our lives that don’t want to have anything to do with God. God doesn’t give up on them, so neither should we.

 

But isn’t it our human side that says, enough already?

 

How many prophets is enough?

 

As it turns out, even sending God’s only begotten son isn’t enough.  I am not sure how the tenants thought that killing the landlord’s son would ensure that they would receive the land,

 

because the landlord was still alive.

 

But they did, and lo and behold, it didn’t work.   Again, this is not quite different from us today. Do humans think that because they state that God is dead, that that makes it true? And that by erasing God from their lives than humans have control over their earthly and eternal destinies? The fact remains, we are only servants here on earth, we are not its lords or owners.

 

Jesus wins this battle with the religious leaders, because the leaders are afraid of the crowd because at this point too many people like Jesus. So they leave.

 

But it’s not long before the Pharisees and Herodians arrive to try and catch Jesus up with what he was saying. The Herodians and Pharisees have previously worked together to try and trip up Jesus, if you recall, we read about them back in Mark 3:6 when the Pharisee were mad at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath so they collaborated with the Herodians to plot against Jesus and in Mark 8:15, Jesus recognized there was an alliance between the Pharisees and the Herodians and they were becoming a danger to him.

 

It is interesting to note that in their attempt to entrap Jesus, the Herodians end up being amazed by him.

 

Okay, this day was becoming rather redundant, don’t you think?

Jesus first has the chief priests and the teachers of the law and the elders coming to him and questioning his authority. To which he responded with a parable that quieted them fairly quickly. Then we have the Pharisees and Herodians trying to trip him up. Which ended up with the Pharisees becoming more indignant and the Herodians becoming impressed.

 

Now, we can’t leave anyone out, so next on the list of groups who were out to discredit Jesus were the Sadducees. This is the one and only time in the book of Mark we see the Sadducees appear. Let me share just a bit of background here. At the time of Jesus there were three main Jewish political and religious movements, the Saducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. There were some distinct differences between the three. The Pharisees were made up of common people and they centered their Jewish faith on the Oral Law that God gave Moses.

The Torah or Written Law was seen more like we see our Constitution, in the sense that they set down a set of laws that were open to interpretation.

 

Not so with the Sadducees. They were made up of the aristocrats and the priestly caste. They rejected the Oral Law and insisted on the literal interpretation of the Written Law, thus they did not believe in the afterlife, since it was not mentioned in the Torah. The main focus of the Sadducees was the rituals associated with the Temple. Remember I told you of how the system worked in the Temple when Jesus revolted against the making of God’s Holy place become a den of robbers. Well, the Sadducees were the wealthy ones living off the marketable system they had set up within the Temple.

 

The third group we won’t meet at all in the book of Mark, because they emerged out of disgust for the other two.

The believed the Temple had been made corrupt by the Pharisees and Sadducees and so they moved out of Jerusalem all together and lived a monastic life in the desert. They were the ones who lived in caves and in 1947 a Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon some manuscripts of theirs in some caves and among those were pieces of the original Old Testament. The authenticity of those pieces of manuscript and the similarity they have with our Old Testament we read today has confirmed the authenticity of our Bible.

 

So we have the Sadducees questioning Jesus this time. They are not a large Jewish party, remember they consist of only the high priest and priests in the Temple. They were particularly fond of being rich and living in luxury so they were quite willing to join the Pharisees in the quest to discredit Jesus, if it meant he would go away and leave them alone.

 

However, they were definitely better at cheating people out of their money then debating,

 

because Jesus not only wins this argument He uses their own belief system to do so.

 

Now remember, the Sadducees based everything they believed on the written word of the Torah. They used the fact that there was no evidence for immortality in the first five books of the Bible as their basis for believing there was no after life. So to come to Jesus and argue a scenario about the afterlife was a bit foolish and they soon found out. Jesus immediately responded with asking them if they truly knew their Scriptures or the power of God?

 

Now remember Jesus was having a conversation with the head priests of his day. It would be like us having a theological discussion with the Pope and his Bishops today.

Jesus used the book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush and how God said to Moses, “I am the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” By God stating that “I am” instead of “I was” the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, God was categorically stating that Isaac and Jacob were alive. Because if they were dead, God would have said, “I was the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Therefore God was not the God of the dead, but of the living.

 

So there you have it. Although we may not have the Sadducees questioning us about the afterlife and what is going to happen, we still have many around us,

 

if not ourselves,

 

wondering what life will be like after we die.

 

 

In Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, we discover that the dead will rise and when they do, they will neither marry or be given in marriage. When you think about it that makes sense.

 

Marriage is our earthly representation of God’s relationship with God’s beloved,

the church,

in other words, believers in Jesus Christ.

 

When we get to heaven, we will not need an earthly representation of this relationship with God, because we will be in relationship with God, eternally. The sacrament of marriage was given to us to be symbolic and point us to God’s presence and power. When in heaven we will need nothing to point us to God’s presence and power, we will be in it.

 

I’d like us to go back to the beginning of the book of Mark and remember the central theme.

In Mark 1:15 Jesus said, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

 

Amen.

 

The kingdom of God being near means, God’s presence and power is available. And until we get to heaven, and live completely in God’s presence and power, we are going to need symbolic actions to keep us in check and focused.

 

That is because we are easily distracted.

 

But in the afterlife, it is quite different.

 

There are two distinct places: the place where the presence of God exists, namely Heaven, and the place where the presence of God does NOT exist, namely Hell.

In the meantime, while we are here on earth, we need to be rest assured, that God’s not Dead,

He is surely alive,

and He is not the God of the dead but of the living.

 

So our faith in God keeps us living here and now,

as well as after we die.

 

Thought provoking.

 

Does knowing that God is NOT DEAD make a difference in how you live out Monday through Saturday?

 

For those of us who have acknowledged Christ as LORD of our life, what does our life really look like?

 

Are we living like the Pharisees and Sadducees?

 

Do we have religion in our life, but our relationship with God is on our terms and has to “fit into” the way we want to live our life.

 

Or, do we recognize that Christ is living in us,

walking with us,

when we succeed and lifting us up when we fail,

which gives us hope.

The choice is ours.

May we chose Christ.

 

Let’s pray.