"Speaking Life"

14 February 1999

Text: Matthew 22:23-40

When we are born again, something wonderful takes place. We become new creatures in the experience of being born again. . .we become spiritually alive, responsive and responsible. But what does that new life practically mean? It means that we become capable of speaking spiritual life into another person, of bringing power, vitality, into another existence which has become powerless, hopeless, frightened and lifeless. We move from being spiritually dead and needy to a place of life and spiritual productivityófrom taking to giving, from being broken to being mended. We move from being a vortex sucking in attention, ministry and resources to being a fountain which effuses attentiveness, ministry and the sharing of resources. We are not merely restored to our original purpose, significance and dignity BUT, at that very moment, we find ourselves supernaturally and integrally melded into Godís ongoing strategy of redemption. Godís rescue mission, which began at the Fall, has developed through various stages, all recorded in scripture: the call of Abraham, the deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt, the gift of judges and the land, then kings and prophets and the whole national experience of Israel inside and outside of exile, which worked together leading up to the coming of God in the flesh, in Jesus Christ. . .that whole mission effort becomes our rescue mission. We are powerful to effect the work of God, we accomplish greater things because our God is an awesome God and we are His.

Our involvement in the rescue mission takes two chief forms: one is outreach to the lost, those who do not know Godís love, mercy and truth. The other is in-reach, a in house effort at edifying each other, building each other up in faith, hope and love.

Now the latter work is enhanced by a clear focus on who we are in Christ Jesus as well as a commitment to a program of connecting, yes, connecting others to God, to ourselves and to one another. Knowing who we are in Christ Jesus is critical because by that self-knowledge we know that we are power, that we are love incarnate and that we are hope itself. . .itís not something we possess, itís something that we became when we took on our Christian identity. Oh, if only we knew our purpose, if only we saw how our purpose and identity are one, the very breath of God being exhaled into the world to bring life in place of death, hope in place of despair, love in place of hatred and courage in place of fear. John 20:21-23:

Again, Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am

sending you." And with that He breathed on them as said, "Receive the Holy

Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive

them, they are not forgiven."

Over such spirit-filled persons, circumstances hold no authority whatsoever! It is absolutely essential that we proclaim our liberation: we are not subject to history, or our social background, or our genetic code, or our physical limitations . . . we are above economics, politics, ideology, psychological laws, language, kinship and culture! We are even above Washington, D. C. big government, and the global ambitions of left-wing internationalists.

What does it mean that we are above them? Not that we are somehow superior. Rather it means that we are not determined, or mastered by any of them because he who is set free in Christ is free indeed. . .as it has been said, if you fear God, you will fear no man; but if you fear not God, you would do well to fear every man. We are not superior to our circumstances, but we are not determined by them. . .they do not have the final word on what we do because our obedience is elsewhere. Let these be words of encouragement for us in the dark hour in which we find ourselves: though the lord of mis-rule has risen up in Washington, the obscenity of our elite has triumphed . . . we should learn that our confidence in senators is misplaced, our hope for political salvation totally misconceived. We have the Lord, who is better than horses and chariots, in whom to put our trust. . and now we have no choice but to put our trust there. February 12th, 1999 will go down as a national day of infamy because on that day America ceased to be a republic. . .on that day the two-party system failed and joined cause in overthrowing this nationís rule of law. It is sad that not even a 2/3rds vote could be mustered to uphold the rule of law and we are saddled with a subsequent lack of resolutionóthe President acquitted, but forever beyond hope of being proved innocent. The Senate unable to rise above the political blackmail of the minority. Is it possible that hopes of genuine bi-partisanship died on February 12th because of the intransigence of that minority? There will be a terrible price extracted for setting the President above the rule of law even if temporarily. America is a different country now, sullied and compromised.

Let us not, however, succumb to self-pity. The elite in Jesusí day was just as sold out, just as compromised. . .money, power and position talked in Jerusalem. The Sadducees and the Pharisees were influential types. They knew how to frame a man, how to buy witnesses and to peddle influence. . .the office of the high priest was up for the highest bidder and no one doubted who had bought it! Pilate listened to the polls; he was a consummate crowd pleaser! It should sound so very familiar. The partying was pronounced and debauched, sexual sin was prevalent, truth was a beggar and justice a stranger. And what did Jesus do in the face of all this dark yuckiness? He remembered who He was. He remembered why He was here. And He committed Himself to the continuing work of calling people out of their darkness and out of their lostness. This brings us to the outreach side of our rescue mission. . .we reach out even to those who do not know they are even lost!

The Sadducees came with a man-made puzzle, framed as a question, an intelligent manís demonstration of the folly of believing in the after-life. There is in their question a kind of Clarence Darrow attempt to make those who believe in the bible look like idiots. Darrow was a lawyer in the infamous Scopeís Monkey Trial which was made into an evolutionist propaganda piece film, "Inherit the Wind." In history, Darrow was quite unlike his silver screen counterpart and, furthermore, those who opposed the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the Tennessee schools as fact, won the case. It is the film, however, that has had the greatest impact on our culture. . .giving fictional drama the force of reality in spite of its never happening. But our purpose here is to compare the Sadducees with those who consider themselves too intelligent today to believe in eternal life, or resurrection. The Sadducees rejected resurrection, angels and even the existence of the transcendent. So their question was informed by vicious curiosity; they knew that their question wasnít a real question, it was a trap for Jesus to fall into. If they were honest, they would admit that the woman was wife to the husband who was living at the time and after that she was no manís wife. At the resurrection, having been widowed, she would probably be married to no one. Their treachery and their viciousness both lead to disconnection, to death and not to life. Contempt destroys life.

Jesusí life-giving response is a truthful rebuke: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." (v.29) If they had known the Scriptures, they might have surmised that at the resurrection, marriage would cease to be the modality in which people relate to each other. As Jesus says, they might relate more as the angels do. They would have known that the existence to which we are to be raised would probably differ greatly from the existence which we now take for granted, such differences are recorded as pertaining to pre-flood and post-flood mankind. The resurrected will have a personal, direct relationship with God and with one another. Everyone will be part of the great family of God and the importance of gender will be reduced to that of a shaping force which happened to prevail during our sojourn here in this existence. Jill Briscoe touches on this sweetly when she refers to a pastorís wife as "a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised in a womanís body." Scripture refers to us all, male and female, as "sons of God" by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So the woman married to seven husbands will love them all equally, and without preference relating to order of marriage in the age to come!

Jesus continued to seek connection between the Sadducees and God by speaking truth. He declares resurrection to be a present and continuing reality, an understanding sustained by the very meaning of the Name of God, "I AM." The great, living God, I AM is the God of the living, not of the dead. . .the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Exodus 3:6) The hope of Jesusí rebuke was that some of them might turn to the truth. The impact of His words is recorded two ways in Scripture: first, the reaction of the crowd which was "they were astonished at His teaching." Surely, they would not have been astonished if the plain teaching of Scripture had been delivered to them week by week. But the Sadducees, like some of todayís evolutionists, were sold out to a naturalistic world view (only the facts of sensory perception countedóno angels, no transcendent, resurrection life now, this being the only reality etc.) edited Scripture to fit, and to confirm their world view. They were not astonished, they were silenced. Apparently, they preferred the death of their doctrine to life of the truth. (v.34) Luke records that some of the Pharisees praised Jesus for refuting the Sadducees at this time. (Luke 20:39)

You might think that the Pharisees would have rejoiced that the truth had been spoken, but their praise did not extend so far. Why? Perhaps they were too concerned over their own turf so they appear to have been vexed that Jesus triumphed. Their own traditions and their power seem to have perceived a threat from Jesus, causing them to subordinate public good (open truth) to private prejudice. They too were possessed by a vicious curiosity, one fueled by religious ambition. So they conspired to test Him. . . even though they knew that all things relating to Godís law are weighty (Hosea 8:12), they commonly spoke of some things as being weightier: some emphasized circumcision, others Sabbath-keeping and still others, the sacrifices. What they tried to create was a no-win option for Jesus because if He took sides on one emphasis, He could be accused on the basis of another. Very clever. . .wicked. . .and vicious. Again, they held up the merest pretense of wanting to learn from Jesus in order to set Him up for accusation.

Jesusí response continues to be astounding, wonderful, life giving. . .and it is completely relational. He utters the two, great inclusive laws of God: love of God and love of neighbor. These laws are not exclusive of any other laws, rather all other laws fall within their purview. And if they, and their performance do not spring from love, they are useless and vain. "Love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10b) And, it will not surprise you to hear this, what has been conspicuous by its absence in the approach of both the Sadducees and the Pharisees to Jesus is love. They approach Him out of, or laden with the affections of disconnection: betrayal, suspicion, envy, fear, hatred and anger. All these passions of disaffection produce persons of dislocation. . .they have their root in the flesh and feed on the wisdom from below. Not only are these Jews out of sorts with Jesus, they are effectively cut off from their true selves, their created purpose, their sacred destiny and their God. And, no doubt, they feel defiantly justified in their positionówe always do when we are in the throes of disconnection. If we are out of sorts with each other, it would appear that we began by being out of sorts with God. We cannot love each other, if we are not loving God. . .nor do we love God if we fail to love each other.

Something powerful in Jesus, the truth of truth, the love of God, was reaching out and hoping to connect with something good in those who heard Him speak. He was, shall we say, redemptively poised towards them in that moment. If they would love God as entirely as they ought, everything would change for them. . .if not, they would stay locked in their condition of disconnection: powerless in themselves, unplugged and useless. Or, failing that, if they would love Jesus, the same release would occur for them. They would come into the promised land of relationship through Jesus to the Father.

Letís make application. We, like Jesus, will always be confronting circumstances that threaten to overwhelm us, or to dominate us. We must remember then who we are and how that identity in Christ positions us. We are to bless those who curse us, and raise those who hate us from spiritual death to life! We are to subordinate our responses to the cardinal affections of connection: faith, hope and love. We are to take our cue from Jesus and answer betrayal with loyalty, suspicion with trust, envy with rejoicing at their good fortune, fear with courage, hatred with compassionate concern and anger with interested concern. And we, you and I, we can do this because of who we are and what we are here for!

Amen.

"Speaking Life"

14 February 1999

Text: Matthew 22:23-40

 

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It is a little scary to consider how quickly we can become strangers in a strange land but the outcome of the impeachment trial of President Clinton brought the culture wars into stark relief. As Christians we are facing, yet again, a hostile environment. The partisan poison spewed out in the defense of this president has had the effect of disenfranchising Republicans in general and that "vast right wing conspiracy"--Christians and anyone else who doesnít share the globalist, government based redemptive values of this administration. There is an intolerance for debate in our new circumstance. There is a willingness to blame others, the arresting officer and the investigating parties for the problem of wrongdoing. In view of this change of circumstance, we no longer live under a rule of law but in a society driven by appearance, polls and politics . . . by blackmail, exposure and the buying and selling of influence. However, circumstances are merely circumstances and we are called to be as faithful in our new and disconcerting circumstances as we were in the more comfortable circumstances which disappeared when a 2/3rd Ďs majority to convict could not be mustered. We are to live above our circumstances, completely reliant on God for our safety and situation.

What does it mean that we are above them? Not that we are somehow superior to others caught up in them as are we. Rather it means that we are not determined, or mastered by any circumstance because he who is set free in Christ is free indeed. . .as it has been said, if you fear God, you will fear no man; but if you fear not God, you would do well to fear every man. We are not superior to our circumstances because we are not determined by them. . .they do not have the final word on what we do because our obedience is elsewhere. It is obedience by faith. Let these be words of encouragement for us in the dark hour in which we find ourselves: though the lord of mis-rule has risen up in Washington, the obscenity of our elite has temporarily triumphed . . . we should learn that our confidence in senators is misplaced, and our silly hope for political salvation is totally misconceived and baseless. We have the Lord, who is better than horses and chariots, in whom to put our trust. . and now we have no choice but to put our trust there. February 12th, 1999 will go down as a national day of infamy because on that day, in certain ways, America ceased to be a republic. . .on that day the two-party system failed and joined cause in overthrowing this nationís rule of law. It is sad that not even a 2/3rds vote could be mustered to uphold the rule of law and we are saddled with a subsequent lack of resolutionóthe President acquitted, but forever beyond hope of being proved innocent. The Senate unable to rise above the political blackmail of the minority. Is it possible that hopes of genuine bi-partisanship died on February 12th because of the stubbornness, the party intransigence of that minority? There will be a terrible price extracted for setting the President above the rule of law even if temporarily. America is a different country now, sullied and compromised, hopelessly mired in political deception.

Let us not, however, succumb to self-pity. Rather letís get busy winning the lost and especially the lost who think theyíve found their way! The elite in Jesusí day was just as sold out, just as compromised. . .money, power and position talked in Jerusalem. The Sadducees and the Pharisees were influential types. They knew how to frame a man, how to buy witnesses and to peddle influence. . .the office of the high priest was up for the highest bidder and no one doubted who had bought it! Pilate listened to the polls; he was a consummate crowd pleaser! It should sound so very familiar. The partying was pronounced and debauched, sexual sin was prevalent, truth was a beggar and justice a stranger. And what did Jesus do in the face of all this dark yuckiness? He remembered who He was. He remembered why He was here. And He committed Himself to the continuing work of calling people out of their darkness and out of their lostness. Now pay attention here, because we are going to see that we have the liberty to respond, at times like this, out of one of two sets of affection. The first set, let us call the affections of disconnection. The affections of disconnection are affections like fear, anger, envy, vindictivenessóthey lead to separation, to division and death. The affections of connection, which are the Christians weapons of choice in our spiritual battle, are made up of courage, mercy, joy, forgiveness and love. These affections lead to union, to community and to life. This brings us to the outreach side of our rescue mission. . .we reach out, with the affections of connection, even to those who do not know they are even lost!

The Sadducees came with a man-made puzzle, framed as a question, an intelligent manís demonstration of the folly of believing in the after-life. There is in their question a kind of Clarence Darrow attempt to make those who believe in the bible look like idiots. Darrow was a lawyer in the infamous Scopeís Monkey Trial which was made into an evolutionist propaganda piece film, "Inherit the Wind." In history, Darrow was quite unlike his silver screen counterpart and, furthermore, those who opposed the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the Tennessee schools as fact, won the case. It is the film, however, that has had the greatest impact on our culture. . .giving fictional drama the force of reality in spite of its never happening. But our purpose here is to compare the Sadducees with those who consider themselves too intelligent today to believe in eternal life, or resurrection. The Sadducees rejected resurrection, angels and even the existence of the transcendent. So their question was informed by vicious curiosity; they knew that their question wasnít a real question, it was a trap for Jesus to fall into. If they were honest, they would admit that the woman was wife to the husband who was living at the time and after that she was no manís wife. At the resurrection, having been widowed, she would probably be married to no one. Their treachery and their viciousness both lead to disconnection, to death and not to life. Contempt destroys life.

Jesusí life-giving and loving response is a truthful rebuke: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." (v.29) If they had known the Scriptures, they might have surmised that at the resurrection, marriage would cease to be the modality in which people relate to each other. As Jesus says, they might relate more as the angels do. They would have known that the existence to which we are to be raised would probably differ greatly from the existence which we now take for granted, such differences are recorded as pertaining to pre-flood and post-flood mankind. The resurrected will have a personal, direct relationship with God and with one another. Everyone will be part of the great family of God and the importance of gender will be reduced to that of a shaping force which happened to prevail during our sojourn here in this existence. Jill Briscoe touches on this sweetly when she refers to a pastorís wife as "a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised in a womanís body." Scripture refers to us all, male and female, as "sons of God" by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So the woman married to seven husbands will love them all equally, and without preference relating to order of marriage in the age to come!

Jesus continued to seek connection between the Sadducees and God by speaking truth. He declares resurrection to be a present and continuing reality, an understanding sustained by the very meaning of the Name of God, "I AM." The great, living God, I AM is the God of the living, not of the dead. . .the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Exodus 3:6) The hope of Jesusí rebuke was that some of them might turn to the truth. He spoke as if seekers might be in the crowd, that it might be possible to win someone out of the godlessness of Sadducean intellectualism. They were practical atheists, just as our leadership in Washington. The impact of His words is recorded two ways in Scripture: first, the reaction of the crowd which was "they were astonished at His teaching." Surely, they would not have been astonished if the plain teaching of Scripture had been delivered to them week by week. But the Sadducees, like some of todayís evolutionists, were sold out to a naturalistic world view (only the facts of sensory perception countedóno angels, no transcendent, resurrection life now, this being the only reality etc.) edited Scripture to fit, and to confirm their world view. They were not astonished, they were silenced. Apparently, they preferred the death of their doctrine to life of the truth. (v.34) Some things have not changed! Luke records that some of the Pharisees praised Jesus for refuting the Sadducees at this time. (Luke 20:39)

You might think that the other party, the Pharisees would have rejoiced that the truth had been spoken, but their praise did not extend so far. Why? Perhaps they were too concerned over their own turf so they appear to have been vexed that Jesus triumphed. Their own traditions and their power seem to have perceived a threat from Jesus, causing them to subordinate public good (open truth) to private prejudice. They too were possessed by a vicious curiosity, one fueled by religious ambition. So they conspired to test Him. . . even though they knew that all things relating to Godís law are weighty (Hosea 8:12), they commonly spoke of some things as being weightier: some emphasized circumcision, others Sabbath-keeping and still others, the sacrifices. What they tried to create was a no-win option for Jesus because if He took sides on one emphasis, He could be accused on the basis of another. Very clever. . .wicked. . .and vicious. Again, they held up the merest pretense of wanting to learn from Jesus in order to set Him up for accusation.

Jesusí response continues to be astounding, wonderful, life giving. . .and it is completely relational. He utters the two, great inclusive laws of God: love of God and love of neighbor. These laws are not exclusive of any other laws, rather all other laws fall within their purview. And if they, and their performance do not spring from love, they are useless and vain. "Love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10b) And, it will not surprise you to hear this, what has been conspicuous by its absence in the approach of both the Sadducees and the Pharisees to Jesus is love. They approach Him out of, or laden with the affections of disconnection: betrayal, suspicion, envy, fear, hatred and anger. All these passions of disaffection produce persons of dislocation. . .they have their root in the flesh and feed on the wisdom from below. Not only are these Jews out of sorts with Jesus, they are effectively cut off from their true selves, their created purpose, their sacred destiny and their God. And, no doubt, they feel defiantly justified in their positionówe always do when we are in the throes of disconnection. If we are out of sorts with each other, it would appear that we began by being out of sorts with God. We cannot love each other, if we are not loving God. . .nor do we love God if we fail to love each other.

Now the latter work is enhanced by a clear focus on who we are in Christ Jesus as well as a commitment to a program of connecting, yes, connecting others to God, to ourselves and to one another. Knowing who we are in Christ Jesus is critical because by that self-knowledge we know that we are power, that we are love incarnate and that we are hope itself. . .itís not something we possess, itís something that we became when we took on our Christian identity. Oh, if only we knew our purpose, if only we saw how our purpose and identity are one, the very breath of God being exhaled into the world to bring life in place of death, hope in place of despair, love in place of hatred and courage in place of fear. John 20:21-23:

Again, Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am

sending you." And with that He breathed on them as said, "Receive the Holy

Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive

them, they are not forgiven."

Over such spirit-filled persons, circumstances hold no authority whatsoever! It is absolutely essential that we proclaim our liberation: we are not subject to history, or our social background, or our genetic code, or our physical limitations . . . we are above economics, politics, ideology, psychological laws, language, kinship and culture! We are certainly above Washington, D. C. big government, and the global ambitions of left-wing internationalists.

Our involvement in the rescue mission takes two chief forms: one is outreach to the lost, those who do not know Godís love, mercy and truth. The other is in-reach, a in house effort at edifying each other, building each other up in faith, hope and love.

When we are born again, something wonderful takes place. We become new creatures in the experience of being born again. . .we become spiritually alive, responsive and responsible. But what does that new life practically mean? It means that we become capable of speaking spiritual life into another person, of bringing power, vitality, into another existence which has become powerless, hopeless, frightened and lifeless. We move from being spiritually dead and needy to a place of life and spiritual productivityófrom taking to giving, from being broken to being mended. We move from being a vortex sucking in attention, ministry and resources to being a fountain which effuses attentiveness, ministry and the sharing of resources. We are not merely restored to our original purpose, significance and dignity BUT, at that very moment, we find ourselves supernaturally and integrally melded into Godís ongoing strategy of redemption. Godís rescue mission, which began at the Fall, has developed through various stages, all recorded in scripture: the call of Abraham, the deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt, the gift of judges and the land, then kings and prophets and the whole national experience of Israel inside and outside of exile, which worked together leading up to the coming of God in the flesh, in Jesus Christ. . .that whole mission effort becomes our rescue mission. We are powerful to effect the work of God, we accomplish greater things because our God is an awesome God and we are His.

Something powerful in Jesus, the truth of truth, the love of God, was reaching out and hoping to connect with something good in those who heard Him speak. He was, shall we say, redemptively poised towards them in that moment. If they would love God as entirely as they ought, everything would change for them. . .if not, they would stay locked in their condition of disconnection: powerless in themselves, unplugged and useless. Or, failing that, if they would love Jesus, the same release would occur for them. They would come into the promised land of relationship through Jesus to the Father.

Letís make application. We, like Jesus, will always be confronting circumstances that threaten to overwhelm us, or to dominate us. We must remember then who we are and how that identity in Christ positions us. We are to bless those who curse us, and raise those who hate us from spiritual death to life! We are to subordinate our responses to the cardinal affections of connection: faith, hope and love. We are to take our cue from Jesus and answer betrayal with loyalty, suspicion with trust, envy with rejoicing at their good fortune, fear with courage, hatred with compassionate concern and anger with interested concern. And we, you and I, we can do this because of who we are and what we are here for!

Amen.