REMEMBERING A TRAGEDY

REMEMBERING A TRAGEDY

Matthew 14:6-14 (NET)

6 But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, 7 so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Instructed by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 Although it grieved the king, because of his oath and the dinner guests he commanded it to be given. 10 So he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 Then John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus. 13 Now when Jesus heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place. But when the crowd heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. We call it Patriot Day. In honor of that holiday, I wanted to share some memorable quotes about that tragedy and its consequences.

Sandy Dahl, wife of flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl said “If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”

President George W. Bush said “Our enemies made the mistake that America’s enemies always make. They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness.”

Deepak Chopra said “September 11 was a reminder that life is fleeting, impermanent and uncertain. Therefore we must make use of every moment and nurture it with affection, tenderness, beauty, creativity, and laughter.”

Senator John Kerry said, “It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.”

Colin Powell said, “You can be sure that the American spirit will prevail over this tragedy.”

Today’s Scripture text recalls a terrible tragedy in the life of Jesus: the death of his relative and forerunner John the Baptist. When we remember a tragedy, we inevitably think of choices that led to it.

Choices. We all make choices, and the choices we make result in consequences. On 9/11, some terrible men made some terrible choices, and it resulted in a tragedy for thousands of people and shocked our nation.

Choices. Someone can call himself pro-choice, but what he really means is that he wants the government to allow him to make a choice without suffering the consequences. The Bible teaches us that some of our choices will have terrible consequences — both in this life and on judgment day. You can call yourself pro-choice all you want, but if the choices you want to make endanger other people’s lives, there will be consequences.

Herod’s choices (6).

King Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee & Perea from 4 BC to 39 AD, so he had the authority to make lots of choices that affected lots of people.

Earlier in this chapter, we learn that Herod Antipas had married Herodias, who had been his brother’s wife. When John the Baptist pointed out that the marriage was unlawful, Herod had him put in prison. He was not the first political leader who thought that he was above the law, and he would not be the last.

Putting John in prison was a compromise for Herod. Also in this chapter, we read…

“Although Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the crowd because they accepted John as a prophet” (Matthew 14:5).

But the events described in today’s text sent Herod over the edge. Herod made the choice to let himself be entertained by his new wife’s daughter. She danced for him and her display pleased him. He was so entranced by her beauty that he disengaged his brain.

He made the choice to promise this young girl to give her whatever she asked for. I would say that the words “What were you thinking” apply here. But I have already said that his lust had disengaged his brain.

That happens a lot with lust. It is not a toy to be played with. The book of Proverbs tells us …

“the commandments are like a lamp, instruction is like a light, and rebukes of discipline are like the road leading to life, by keeping you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the loose woman. Do not lust in your heart for her beauty, and do not let her captivate you with her alluring eyes; for on account of a prostitute one is brought down to a loaf of bread, but the wife of another man preys on your precious life” (Proverbs 6:23-26).

But Herod was not the only one whose choices led to the tragedy that day.

Herodias’ choices (8,11).

Herodias was Herod Antipas’ wife. She had already made the choice to leave her first husband — Herod Philip — and move up the ladder to Herod Antipas. She also agreed to have that troublemaker John the Baptist imprisoned. But when she found out about her husband’s rash promise, she decided to take her sinful life to the next level. She advised her daughter to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Herodias was also pro-choice, and her choice was to eliminate a life that was inconvenient for her. God holds people accountable who make those kinds of choices. That is the case even when the government approves of them. Herodias’ husband was the government. He sanctioned this murder of an innocent. But his government sanction did not make it any less a murder.

Salome’s choices (6,8).

We don’t learn the young woman’s name in the New Testament, but history tells us it was Salome. She chose to entertain her stepfather. She chose to listen to the advice of her mother, conspiring to have an innocent man murdered. John’s “head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus” (11-12).

Salome was not an innocent victim in this tragedy, but she was a victim. The people who should have given her good advice led her down the wrong path. The people she looked up to brought her down. Lots of people in this generation are puppets to a culture that has turned them against righteousness, against the truth, and against God.

But I also want us to notice the choices that Jesus made as a result of this tragedy.

Jesus’ choices (13-14).

The first choice that Jesus made was very natural.

“Now when Jesus heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place” (13a).

When we face a tragedy, we need time to reflect and recover. That is what Jesus and his disciples intended to do. They wanted to get away. The normality of life had been disrupted by a senseless tragedy.

Just before the events of 9/11, I was an intended victim of another terrorist attack, while serving as a missionary in the Philippines. We went away for a ministry trip and came back with a coffin carrying one of our students. I can understand the need to get away, rest and reflect. I needed to do the same thing. My reflection on that tragedy helped me to come back to work with a new sense of purpose. I stopped asking “Lord, why me?” and I started asking “Lord, why did you spare me?”

But Jesus’ plans for a time of quiet recovery were interrupted.

“But when the crowd heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (13b-14).

The tragedies we experience cannot stop us from the ministry we have been called to. In spite of our pain, we are called to heal the pain of others. Regardless of our sorrow at the loss we experience, there are others who have needs, and Christ calls on us to help meet those needs.

These tragedies can turn hate into infectious disease, but they don’t have to. We can triumph over the tragedies in life by responding with acts of love. We can heal the hurts, and comfort those who have lost loved ones. We can follow the example of our Lord and turn tragedy into an opportunity for healing and compassion. That is making the right choice.

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LABOR ON

LABOR ON

I never paid much attention to Labor Day when I was growing up, although I was glad to have a day off from school. The holiday originated in the 19th century in the USA, and celebrates workers and promotes workers’ rights.

We are experiencing a very interesting development in our country right now. There are lots of jobs available, and very few seem to be jumping to get back into the work force. One reason – I imagine – is that people are afraid of exposure to other workers who might have COVID-19. Another reason might be that some are reluctant to reenter the workforce because they are getting along okay on unemployment benefits and don’t need the work.

There are other reasons, but my message today is not an attempt to deal with that problem. I am more interested in a worker problem that Jesus introduces in today’s text.

Matthew 24:45-51 NET

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, 50 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, 51 and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This passage is part of what has been called the Olivet Discourse or the eschatological discourse of Jesus. It is called the Olivet discourse because Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives when he taught it. It is called the eschatological discourse because it has to do with the last days, and eschatos (ἔσχατος) is the Greek word for last.

The best way to understand the eschatological discourse is to bear in mind that the disciples had asked three questions:

“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 NET).

Jesus had just told his disciples that the Jerusalem temple was going to be destroyed. That was the “these things” they were curious about. So part of the eschatological discourse was Jesus explaining what was going to happen really soon – within the next generation, which is about 40 years. Jesus told them that it would be a terrible time of danger and anyone who could would escape Jerusalem. The rest would undergo horrible suffering. The siege of Jerusalem from AD 66-70 fulfills this prediction completely. Jesus’ lament about the pregnant women, or those nursing infants is especially relevant, since the siege cut off supplies to the city, so some of those with small children eventually resorted to cannibalism. Josephus estimated that a million people died in the siege, and the battles with the Roman soldiers that ensued.

But the disciples also asked Jesus what would be the sign of his coming. Jesus knew that he was not going to come back in just 40 years, so he had to answer that question differently. Every generation there is a new teaching cropping up that insists that we are living in the very time the Lord is going to come back. Jesus told his disciples not to believe any of those teachings. There will be NO SIGN before the coming of the Lord. The only signs Jesus mentioned in specific answer to that question were lightning and buzzards. Lightning speaks of the sudden, unexpected nature of the coming. Before you know what is going on, Jesus will break through the clouds. Buzzards show up after the prey is dead. Likewise, the sign of the Jesus coming is the Jesus coming himself. His point is that there will be no getting ready just before the event. We have to be ready now.

The disciples also asked about the end of the age. They thought the destruction of Jerusalem would certainly be the end of the age, but Jesus knew that it would not be. Jesus taught that the age would last a much longer time, with many signs appearing and disappearing throughout the age, like labor pains. Comparing all four synoptic Gospels, those labor pain signs include:

    ◦ False Messiahs
    ◦ Wars, rumors of wars, revolutions
    ◦ International strife
    ◦ Famines, earthquakes, pestilences (like COVID-19)
    ◦ Fearful events, great signs from heaven
    ◦ Apostasy and schism
    ◦ Persecution, false prophets
    ◦ Martyrdom
    ◦ Increased wickedness
    ◦ Love grows cold, family betrayal
    ◦ Gospel preached to all nations

We are living in that age now. The signs do not point to the age’s end, and they will not increase in intensity just before the end. The whole point of the signs is that they come and go throughout the age, just as labor pains throughout labor. They merely show that the labor is happening.

Today’s text, along with all of Matthew 25, contains material from the eschatological discourse that is only included in Matthew’s Gospel. In it, Jesus answers a question that the disciples should have asked, but didn’t. The question is “What kind of people do we need to be if we are going to be ready for Jesus when he returns?”

We are most familiar with the three parables in chapter 25. Those parables answer that question. To summarize what they teach, consider this:

The parable of the ten virgins teaches that we should stay prepared for Jesus’ return and not grow lazy or complacent. In other words, we need to stay committed and labor on.

The parable of the talents teaches that we should be diligent to invest the time, talents and treasure that we have now because we will be held accountable by Jesus when he returns. In other words, we need to use our resources for his kingdom and labor on.

The parable of the sheep and the goats teaches that when Jesus returns, he will make a distinction between those who only pretended to be his disciples, but in actuality were not. In other words, we need to stay real and labor on.

I want us to consider for a few moments these verses of today’s text. They are a parable as well. They help to answer that question as well. Remember, the question is “What kind of people do we need to be if we are going to be ready for Jesus when he returns?”

The parable has three sets of characters. First, there is Jesus. He is the master. Second there are faithful and wise slaves who labor on for the master while he is away. Third, there are evil slaves who do not labor on for the master while he is away.

Jesus commends his faithful and wise slaves who labor on for him (45-47).

He says… “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions.

Jesus is teaching that he has left his slaves with a job to do. We have to take care of each other while he is away. He has put us in charge of managing the affairs of his household. He has made us stewards, responsible for allocating his resources so that his work is done.

He is coming back, and when he does, he expects to find us busy, taking care of one another. Jesus makes the same point in the parable of the sheep and the goats, when he said that if we ignore “the least of these brothers or sisters of mine” it is just like ignoring Jesus himself.

So, my take on today’s passage is this. Taking care of other believers is our work, and we need to stay faithful in carrying out that charge. We need to labor on.

Jesus condemns evil slaves who do not labor on for him (48-49).

He talks about “that evil slave” who says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time’ so “he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards.” The evil slaves are self-centered. They take advantage of the weaker slaves by treating them cruelly, because they can get away with it. They know they’re doing wrong, and they don’t care, because the master’s gone away.

I want you to note that in the eschatological discourse, Jesus was not teaching the Pharisees, the Sadducees or the Herodians. He was teaching his own disciples. He was warning him that there would actually be professing Christians who would be wolves in sheep’s clothing. They would profess and pretend to be his sheep, but they would really be wolves. If you are looking for evidence of these wolves, just look at the sheepfold. If you see sheep who are torn up and scattered, you know the wolf has been there.

Jesus warns us of the ultimate consequences of failing to labor on for him (50-51).

He says “the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

He’s talking about hell there. It is not this imaginary hell that bad people supposedly go to when they die. No, this hell is where the master is going to throw false Christians (and other bad people) when he returns.

He says four things about this hell. First, it is going to be made up of people who thought they could avoid it. But Jesus says he’s coming back on a day when those people do not expect him and an hour that they do not foresee.

The second thing he says about this hell is that it is made for hypocrites. It is made for people who say one thing but do another. It is made for people who only pretend to labor on for the master. They are actors, and they are so good at acting, that many of them even convince themselves that they are real. But they have a reservation. They have been assigned a place with the hypocrites.

Now, it is important that we understand what Jesus had already taught about hell. He had already taught – as recorded in Matthew 10:28 – that hell is where God is able to “destroy both soul and body.” Some teach that God cannot destroy someone in hell. Jesus said the opposite.

The apostle Paul called this fate undergoing “the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). It is destruction that is eternal. It lasts forever. In other words, it is permanent destruction.

The apostle John said that this place is reserved for “the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie” – and he called it the second death (Revelation 21:8). Everyone who dies today only dies temporarily, because we will all be raised at Christ’s return to face judgment. But after judgment, people who die the second death will stay dead for eternity.

The third and fourth things that Jesus says about hell here are the two emotional responses that these evil slaves are going experience once they learn their fate.

The first emotion they are going to experience is the horrible sorrow of loss. They will discover that they have lost out on the opportunity to have permanent life. Consequently, Jesus says there will be weeping.

The second emotion they are going to experience is defiant anger at the master who has chosen to punish and destroy them. This is why Jesus says that there will be “gnashing of teeth.” He is not talking about their punishment here – what they are going to suffer. He’s not talking about the pain they are going to experience in hell. He is talking about their intense hatred of the Lord who will put them there.

In the end, our Lord will be vindicated. He is going to make all things new, and there will be some who will not be part of that new creation. His message for us today is that he expects his slaves to labor on with his work until he comes. He expects us to take care of his household – to love one another, and to invest ourselves in his kingdom.

LORD, strengthen us so that we labor on for you – always ready for your return.

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why I have just dropped Lyft

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why I have just dropped Lyft

Dear Lyft Drive Team,

Logan and John, Lyft Co-founders
Kristin Sverchek, Lyft General Counsel

I had occasion to use the Lyft service this past week. My driver was courteous and helpful, and my experience was such that I had every intention of using Lyft for my transportation needs in the future.

This morning I changed my mind. I have deleted the Lyft app and I am writing this response because I am angry with your company, and I need to share my experience with others. I feel there will be many others who respond in like manner.

This morning I received a marketing email that told me about a terrible Texas law which “threatens to punish drivers for getting people where they need to go.” Your company used its own marketing structure to speak out against this terrible law. I am not a resident of Texas, and I have never seen the text of that law. So, I cannot address whether the law is just or not.

But I can speak the issue that your marketing letter skirted around and didn’t come out and say. One of the action points of your letter was the fact that your company is donating $1 million to Planned Parenthood “to help ensure that transportation is never a barrier to healthcare access.”

This action taken by your company is promoting the murder of innocent children. It is not a healthcare issue and it is not a women’s rights issue. Your company has decided to promote the destruction of innocent human life, and I cannot condone that decision by continuing to utilize your services or recommending them.

I am not one of these people who are constantly boycotting companies for political reasons. I am a political independent. I prefer to utilize companies that do not use their political clout to influence others. On that scale, your company has been weighed and found lacking.

As I said, I am not a Texan. But I can imagine that the Texas law you found so repulsive is an attempt by Texas lawmakers at protecting their citizens from being forced to promote the murder of innocent children. In your letter, you mentioned that potential drivers might cancel their ride if it involved a woman going to “a healthcare appointment.” You said that is “completely unacceptable.”

By saying so, you have already made a moral decision that should be made by your employees themselves. I would not like to work for a company that forced me to participate in the murder of an innocent child. I would not even want to walk into an office of such a company. I believe in God, and I fear his wrath. By your promotion of this terrible holocaust of abortion, I feel your company has incurred it.

Jefferson Vann
Delco North Carolina

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A NEW BIRTH

1 Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, 2 came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

A NEW BIRTH

John 3:1-8 NET

We have been studying what the Bible says about the new birth for some weeks now. Another word for the new birth is regeneration. We also call it being born again. Some translations (like the one we are using this morning) call it being born from above (3,7). The same Greek word (ἄνωθεν) can mean “from above” or “again.” It appears that in John 3, Jesus is talking about being born from above, but Nicodemus is misunderstanding him, and thinks he is talking about another natural birth.

When we Christians talk about our own experience of regeneration, it is okay for us to say that we have been born again. But we need to make it clear that we have done more than just change our habits, or turn over a new leaf. We need to make it clear in our testimony that something has happened in us that cannot be explained by our own choices. God has given us a new birth from above.

What is the evidence that someone has experienced this new birth? Today’s passage reveals some of that evidence.

Someone born from above recognizes who Jesus Christ is (2).

In today’s text, Nicodemus claims to recognize who Jesus is. He says to Jesus “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” He bases that assertion on the fact that “no one could perform the miraculous signs that (Jesus does) unless God is with him.” What Nicodemus is saying is what most of the world is comfortable asserting about Jesus. He was a “Rabbi” – a great man. He performed miracles, and he performed those miracles because God was with him. He was a great teacher, and he came from God.

None of those things that Nicodemus said about Jesus were bad things. But Nicodemus is grossly misrepresenting Jesus by his words here. He’s not going far enough. Someone born from above recognizes who Jesus is. He a Son of man, yes, but he’s also the Son of God. He’s the Christ, the Lord, the Master, The Word, The Son of David, The Lamb of God, The Second Adam, The king of the Jews, but also The Light of the world, The Chosen One, The I Am, The Bread of Life, The Way, The Truth and the Life, The Resurrection & the Life.

When the Jewish leaders came to John the Baptist, John admitted that he himself was not the Christ. But he also told them that there was someone greater than him who was present among them, but they failed to recognize him (1:26). That was what Nicodemus was doing.

Even John the Baptist did not recognize him at first. He said…

“I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining – this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (1:31-33).

The woman at the well in Samaria did not recognize him at first either. Jesus told her “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (4:10).

She later said “”I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” That’s when Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he”” (4:25-26).

She went into her village and told people about when she met the Christ. They went out to see for themselves. After meeting him personally, they said “”No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world”” (4:42).

Someone born from above recognizes who Jesus Christ is. They meet him for themselves and they form a personal relationship with him. They listen to his teaching, and learn to obey him.

Someone born from above is committed to an invisible kingdom (3).

The kingdom I am talking about is not a visible nation with a flag, and visible territory. It is God’s kingdom, and the Bible says that “no one has seen God.” He is invisible and so is his kingdom. The only way we can know about that kingdom is that Jesus – who is “in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known” (1:18). Someone born from above is committed to both God and his invisible kingdom.

Sin keeps people out of that kingdom. But Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). John had been told by God – who had sent him to baptize – to look for a sign. God told him that the Holy Spirit would visibly descend and remain on the Messiah. That was how John recognized Christ (1:33-34). Christ himself was the only visible sign of his kingdom while he walked this earth. You and I can can be part of that kingdom, but it must be by faith.

Someone born from above will inherit a glorious destiny (5).

Jesus said that in order to enter the kingdom, a person had to be born of water and the Spirit. He’s talking about being given birth to from above. The emphasis is not on a person getting himself remade. The emphasis is on the action of another causing a person to be reborn, and that person who acts is identified: the Holy Spirit (verses 5, 6, 8).

Unless the new life begins outside of us, in the miraculous grace of God, it is not genuine. This was what Nicodemus was struggling with. His religion – up to this point – was man-made. He did not yet know how to let God transform him into someone new.

Jesus also made a clear distinction between his kingdom and the kingdoms and nations of this world. I am proud to be an American, but I also freely admit that being an American does not make me a Christian. You cannot enter God’s kingdom by citizenship in another kingdom.

When he was on trial before Pilate, Jesus said…

“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (18:36).

He was talking about the reality that his kingdom is not going to emerge like other kingdoms do. In history, kingdoms emerge by conquering other kingdoms. To conquer other kingdoms you have to fight and destroy other kings and their armies. You also have to fight to protect your chosen king. But Jesus told Pilate that his disciples would not be fighting, because his kingdom was not from here,

I think he was referring to the prophecy in Daniel about a king who would come down from the sky.

“I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Someone born from above will inherit that glorious destiny with Jesus. When our king returns, he will set up his permanent kingdom on this earth, and we will reign with him. The kingdom comes from above, and only those who have been born from above will live in it.

In the meantime, you and I will have a dual citizenship. We will be born into a citizenship of the flesh by natural birth, and born into a citizenship in a kingdom coming from the sky by supernatural birth.

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