Oct 19, 2020
Join us as we explore God’s ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
Today, we are further from the first-century church than was King David. Life for the shepherd king resembled life for Jesus and his followers more than it does for us. We sometimes find it challenging to remember that because of the way the Renaissance portrayed the first century. We see paintings of the Roman Jesus instead of the Jewish Jesus. We see him peacefully meandering through the hillsides and large crowds welcoming him wherever he goes with no interruption or opposition in those paintings.
I don't think that's what life was like for Jesus and the Jews of his day. We forget Israel and Jerusalem, in particular, found itself an occupied nation filled with Roman soldiers. Jerusalem's priests continually worked to quell revolts among the people so they could keep their tenuous line of authority with Herod and Caesar. Revolutionaries popped up among the populace often enough that crucifixes were not an uncommon sight along the Judean and Galilean roads as examples of what would happen to those who sought to overthrow their Roman yoke.
The Jews didn't like the Romans. They didn't like their taxes. They didn't like the fact that taxes must be paid with Roman coins with Caesar's depiction stamped on one side and the pronouncement' son of god' on the other. The blasphemous thought grated at them every time they even saw one of those coins. That's part of the hypocrisy of their question to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees should have shuddered at producing a coin, much less had one within the Temple grounds.
Jesus spent most of his ministry outside Jerusalem to the very end, mostly, I think, to avoid what he knew would result when he spoke of the kingdom of God within the city. The priests would protect their positions with Rome. Rome would swiftly end anything they saw as a threat to their empire. Any talk of a new king constituted a threat to Caesar. How could Rome not execute another proclaimed Messiah, King of the Jews? Jesus was not the first to hang on their crosses, and he would not be the last. But he would be the only one the grave could not hold.
So, let's take a different picture of what Israel might look like in those three years of Jesus' ministry. Instead of the serene country hillsides and quiet fishing villages, let's move the scene forward into what it might have looked like in our modern world. Picture Chicago, Seattle, Portland, New York, and other major cities protesting the police's overreach in some of those cases. Riots spring up, rocks thrown, torches lit, crowds gather around public buildings.
But there is one huge difference. In our cities, those protests and riots run their course. Buildings burned. Some innocents and guilty were injured. Some arrested. But imagine living in a police state like Rome or China. That first night of protest, the army comes out in full force. The protesters find themselves surrounded. Gunshots begin to ring out. Within a few minutes, it's over. The protesters no longer stand shouting with fists raised, ready to let the government know their grievances. They lay dead in the streets.
That's Jerusalem in Jesus' day. Centurions kept peace with their companies of soldiers. When rocks were thrown, they retaliated with swords and spears. The Romans showed no mercy. They conquered wherever they went because everyone knew their reputation and most often surrendered before forced to fight. Paying taxes seemed better than lying in a grave.
Did Jesus hide? I don't think he hid from authorities, but as he often mentioned, he lived on a timetable. Jesus marched toward a specific destiny at one particular time. He would be the Passover Lamb and did not want to find himself in the hands of the authorities at the wrong time. Consequently, we find most of his teaching outside Jerusalem in Judea and Galilea's hills, and sometimes in Samaria.
Why all that background? It's to introduce us to a story that hits too close to home for the church today. It comes from an event recorded by Luke in the seventeenth chapter:
11 As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he passed along the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into one particular village he was met by ten men with virulent skin diseases who stayed at some distance from him.
13 'Jesus, Master!' they called out loudly. 'Have pity on us!'
14 When Jesus saw them he said to them, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were healed.
15 One of them, seeing that he had been healed, turned back and gave glory to God at the top of his voice. 16 He fell on his face in front of Jesus' feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.
17 'There were ten of you healed, weren't there?' responded Jesus. 'Where are the nine? 18 Is it really the case that the only one who had the decency to give God the glory was this foreigner?
19 'Get up, and be on your way,' he said to him. 'Your faith has saved you.' Luke 17:11-19 NTE)
Jesus continued his ministry, mostly in small villages outside the major metropolitan areas of Israel. Herod had already arrested and killed his cousin, John, because of his ministry. Jesus' message was more inflammatory and revolutionary than John's. His disciples declared him Messiah. Herod knew from the prophecies that meant one thing. He would reign over all the Jews and all the nations. Jesus was a threat to Herod and Caesar.
Still, Jesus spread his message. Repent! The kingdom of God is near. His kingdom is at hand. But Jesus' kingdom didn't bring speak of violent overthrow of an oppressive government. He didn't expect to use armed soldiers to fight against another army. Jesus spoke of fighting with peace, love, mercy, forgiveness, grace. Characteristics that describe the loving Father he knew created all things and allowed the kings of the world to hold their positions to bring some order into the chaos that would otherwise run rampant throughout his world.
We saw how the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or Capitol Hill Organized Protest turned out. It didn't take very long until what was supposed to be a peaceful, everyone equal, no racism, no police area of Seattle included burned-out buildings, businesses looted, and owners threatened, robberies, rapes, and murders with a small group of armed men deciding they were in charge. Autonomy turned into anarchy in the small area. Peace and love turned to violence and fear. God's word says he puts authorities in place to keep us in line because we can't do it ourselves. We are broken people because of sin. We cave to our misdirected desires and satisfy them in ways that break the communities in which we live.
Still, Jesus spread his message. He knew our hearts. He knew most would reject him. Only one of the ten men healed of their dreadful disease returned to thank him and give praise to God. Did the other nine return after they went to the priest? We don't know, but based on the story, I doubt it. Did they run to their families to share the good news first and then come back? Probably not, according to the tone of Jesus' words.
We haven't changed much across the millennia of our existence. We think we become smarter with more information at our disposal. We think we know more than our ancestors. We think we possess advanced intelligence. But I think we may digress in wisdom as we look at the plight of humanity. We have all this information at our fingertips, but what do we do with it to help each other? Instead, we try to line our pockets with more. We build bigger barns, drive faster cars, get the corner office with bigger windows.
But do we give credit to the One who enables us to do any of those things? And do we share the surplus as God asks? Do we take care of the widows and orphans, the definition of those who could not take care of themselves in his day? Do we share the message that Jesus came to fulfill Abraham's side of the covenant, to finally share the blessings of God with all the nations of the world - to rescue them from themselves?
Jesus came to rescue us – from sin, death, sickness, economic woes, environmental problems, societal strife, all the things that plague humanity since Adam and Eve first broke their covenant with God and ate the fruit he forbade them to eat. Jesus began that work through his message. He fulfilled that work in his resurrection. He begins to make it available to all who believe in him as Messiah, the son of the living God.
Will all believe? I don't think so. Will all be rescued? Again, I don't think so. When drowning, you must grab the life ring before it can save you. While it just floats beside you and you refuse to grab it, the life ring can do nothing for you. God gives us every opportunity to grab on to his message, to believe in him, to experience his forgiving mercy and grace. But we must also take that step of faith and reach out to him as well. He reaches far past the middle, but we must also reach out to him. He wants believers in his kingdom, not puppets. It is always my choice and yours.
Ten were told to show themselves to the priest. One returned to praise God. One received the words from Jesus, "Your faith has saved you, healed you, rescued you." The other nine? We don't know their fate for sure. I only know I want to stand with that one and know for sure I'm in that small crowd who falls at Jesus' feet and praises him for his saving grace. How about you?
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked NTE are taken from the NEW TESTAMENT FOR EVERYONE: Scriptures are taken from The New Testament for Everyone copyright © Nicholas Thomas Wright 2011.