Fruitful (Part 2)

(This is an excerpt from a recent sermon covering Mark 11:1-12:12, you can click here to find the audio) 

In my previous post, I offered a few thoughts on the Royal Procession of Jesus towards Jerusalem. Though the next day begins with the cursing of the fig tree, I chose to save that for the end of the message.

Read Mark 11:15-19 

As Linda Richman might say, the cleansing of the temple was neither a cleansing, nor a temple… discuss… There are passages where the bold headings are helpful… Mark 11 is not one of them. I’d like to challenge the notion that Jesus was cleansing the temple as we examine these details. He entered the court of the Gentiles, an area approximately 500yds x 325yds. That amounts to roughly 35-acres. The central courts that held the temple measured more than a football field alone. Why do I bring this up? Because Jesus, one man, granted the God-man, but one man, raised a scene. Was it sufficient to bring 35-acres of activity to a halt? Was it enough, in a moment, to cleanse a broken system? The assumption would be that, following a cleansing, the temple would be… clean. 

He drove out the sellers. But did you notice he also drove out the buyers?! We think of Jesus sending away the corrupt traders and money changers, but why the buyers? Why the worshipers?

Animals bought and sold as commodities were a part of temple life. Pilgrims weren’t often able to bring the necessary sacrifices. Temple giving required a particular unit of currency, the temple shekel, which required money changers. And this was the week of Passover, the most grand and busy festival of the year. Because God’s worship was very specific, these merchants found use in the temple system. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been in the court. Perhaps they were corrupt. But it was a desire to adhere to the law that gave rise to their trade.

The last verse of the prophet Zechariah says that one day, there would be no more traders. And on that day… Something would shift. The shift would draw the worshipers nearer to the LORD who saves them.

Notice Jesus wouldn’t let anyone carry anything through, as if Jesus, rather than seeking to purify the totality of what was happening, was actually trying to disrupt totally, on a small scale, everything and everyone, as if planting a seed or setting to motion a ripple effect approaching something larger… all so he could teach from Isaiah 56… a chapter about the salvation of the Gentiles. A house for the nations. Everyone who holds fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Isaiah goes on to call Israel’s leaders idolatrous blind watchmen, and to preach the humility that pleases God.

Jesus was ready to bring Jews and Gentiles together, to tear down the dividing wall of hostility, as Paul called it in Ephesians 2:14. Because of sin, ethnic distinction was necessary for a season of God’s plan. It was ethnic distinction that set apart the family line that would welcome Jesus. God chose, save, protected, and preserved a particular nation as part of the plan to choose, save, protect, and preserve people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Now in Christ, all of the resentment could be restored and healed. Sinners united at the foot of the cross.

There were, at the time, signs posted in the temple distinguishing the various courts. The courts were a progression towards the presence of God. The outermost court was for the Gentiles. Next came the court of the women, then the court of the Israelites, and the court of the priests. Inside the temple, of course, was the distinction of the holy place – visited only by priest – and the most holy place – visited only by the high priest, and only once each year. Each distinction communicated a message of the realities of God’s redemption, but the messages had descended into hostile division. History reports that signs posted in the Gentile court threatened death for any who was found ascending beyond his or her position. Divisions designed to create longing instead created enmity. 

The time had come, not only to preach a message of unity, but to provide – through the cross – a means of unity.

Jesus then mentions robbers, and we think again of those pesky merchants. But think about this… what is the robber’s den for? They don’t rob the den. They leave the den for crime. They come home to hide. The den is a reference to Jeremiah 7, where God warns the worshipers, Do not trust in these deceptive words: This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD. It is foolish to trust the building. Don’t hide in the building.

Jeremiah blasts Israel’s oppression of foreigners, orphans, widows. They live in sin, and are then all-too-confident to return to stand before the LORD expecting deliverance. They treated the temple like a den. A hideout to bury a life of treachery Jeremiah warns the people of coming judgment in the hands of the LORD. Now Jesus takes these verses and applies them to the temple mount, the den.

Instead of reaching out, they were cowering inside. God’s good system was defiled by sin. Sure, it was impressive to look at… but there was no fruit inside. The temple mount was a pretty picture, but a hollow practice.

It wasn’t just the sellers who needed redemption.

I can’t see Jesus going to any great effort to reform or clean temple worship when, in three days, he would open the door to God’s presence for all mankind. Tabernacle and temple worship were a season of preparation in which the nation of Israel was to stand as a beacon of light, shining the truth of the one true God. Her worship should have foreshadowed true worship, sacrifice, prayer, relationship, and obedience that would come with the Messiah. And now, in the fullness of time, at the climax of human history, the temple had exhausted its ability to produce Godly fruit.

In the middle of this exhaustion stands Jesus… the Savior. The time had come to forge a better way to the Father. Not to erase the temple, but to fulfill its purpose.

The scribes and chief priests heard about the ruckus, understanding enough about the Lord’s actions that they sought to destroy him. The incident itself, the “cleansing” was small-ish. The area of catastrophe was likely clean and in operation again by morning if not sooner. But the message of judgment was big. This was no cleansing. It was a declaration that change was coming. The people didn’t realize the depth of change, that the loving redemption of worship was only days away.

Jesus went to Bethany for the night.

 

 

 

In Brief: Work Matters

2016 - Work MattersTitle: Work Matters
Author: Tom Nelson

Pages: 203 (plus notes)

Because of a forthcoming Sunday school series on the topic of vocation, I have been on the lookout for simple but helpful writings to supplement our secondary resource. I came across this book by Tom Nelson at the college library. Because of the author’s association with TEDS (I have much respect for the institution!), the recommendation by Ravi Zacharias, and the trendy cover (by which, sadly, you can occasionally judge an actual book), I decided to give it a shot.

I am glad I read the book, and I would gladly have given it 4 stars had it not been for the 9th chapter. Sadly, I considered 2 stars because of the 9th chapter. Harsh? Perhaps. But there are certain subjects that have such an effect on me.

I’ll start with the merits, and there are many:

Nelson is faithful to advocate for a “robust doctrine of vocation.” He is personally and pastorally committed to connecting Sunday worship to Monday work. I am a fan of this aspect of his ideology. Far too many churches elevate Sunday at the expense of the other six days of the week, providing an experience instead of equipping the saints to live. Nelson is determined to reclaim Sunday as not only a day of worship, but also of thankfulness, encouragement, and preparation for a life of worship. After all, if worship means to ascribe worth, then certainly we should desire to ascribe worth to the person and work of Christ through a life of faith by God’s grace.

 

“It is not a question of whether we are being formed spiritually, but rather, are we being spiritually formed in the inexhaustible riches of the gospel as we live and work in the already and not yet kingdom reign of Christ.” (p. 107)

 

Even if not by conscious decision, Christians live in danger of equating church work with ministry. Nelson advocates (I would say, rightly so) the intentional application of matters of the gospel to the many and varied vocational callings of Christians. The church does not exist that the world may run to us, but rather we are called to be the body of Christ exactly where the Lord finds us. If we fail to communicate God’s good – and now redeemed – plan for everyday work, our brothers and sisters in the faith may struggle with dissatisfaction and discontent at the life and means provided by God’s grace, wishing away six of every seven days just to get back to Sunday.

Nelson also strongly defends God’s common grace, and the connection between work and the common good. The value in work is found, not in compensation or benefits, but rather in God-ordained human contribution to the common good of creation. Early in the work, Nelson pronounces the value of work like this:

 

“Not only would the crown of creation (referring to humanity) have joyful intimacy with their Creator, but they would also be given the joyful privilege of contributing to the work of God in his good world.” (p. 24 emphasis mine)

 

God provides for his creation through common means. Human connection is one such glorious means. We use the gifts and talents endowed to us as a contribution, an offering to the benefit of the Father’s world. This was God’s plan. In Christ, we have the opportunity again to find the true value of work as a gift of God, an avenue of sacrificial worship in his name, and a distinct way to love others. Our misunderstanding (or sinful dismissal) of the value of every vocational calling leads us to undervalue work, or worse yet to undervalue the image-bearers God has gifted to perform the work.

Nelson also spends time on the significance of work in the believer’s sanctification. Work provides one crucible in which the Christian is sanctified, molded in holiness through common trials and successes. Considering the hours of life spent in vocation, a failure to understand the value of work could easily result in decades wasted with regard to the intentional pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness. If we believe ministry and worship only happen on Sunday, then we will surely downplay the spiritual significance of work.

It is in the matter of trials that I offer my only disappointment in the book. Chapter nine addresses the challenges of work, the dangers and temptations of working in a fallen world. From matters of honesty to sexuality, the workplace is yet another setting in which humanity unfortunately displays the depth and outworking of original sin. I do not disagree with Nelson’s premise, but rather his proposed remedy. For a book that so heavily leans on the gospel as God’s means of redeeming work, Nelson leaves Jesus out of the discussion of temptation.

Blatantly absent is the account of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. Absent is the reality that a Christian’s ability to resist temptation comes from Christ who endured temptation on our behalf (Hebrews 4:14-16). Absent is the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting our hearts. And, sadly, absent is the hope born of the sacrificial blood of Christ, offered for a world full of failures. There is none who is righteous – no not one. 

Subtly, and tragically, present is a works-based righteousness through the mishandling of prominent Old Testament personalities. Daniel made good decisions, so should you. Joseph made good decisions, so should you. Moses made good decisions, so should you, because God blesses good decisions. Chapter nine presents these men as flawless models to emulate, instead of sinners in need of God’s grace. Chapter nine presents these men as heroes to worship rather than sinful and fatally flawed forerunners of the only authentic hero. Daniel’s good decisions were filthy rags without the sacrifice of Christ (Isaiah 58), as were those of Joseph and Moses. Even their finest work required the purity of Jesus. By the account of chapter 9, God may provide the trap door to escape temptation, but you can take care of the rest on your own.

I would strongly argue for the removal of chapter 9, or better yet crafting it anew in light of grace.

 

In conclusion, the book is good, but not great. I would argue that it lays a wonderful foundation, but that it casts a dangerous gaze away from Christ at a critical junction.

 

 

“All vocations are intended by God to manifest his love in the world.” (Thomas Merton – p. 19)

  “If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep the streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. – p. 83)

 

 

 

For other brief reviews, keep an eye on my Reading page.

United by Blood

(excerpt from a recent sermon on Joshua 22)

 

This story is not a conflict between two individuals. It is a conflict between tribes. It is a nation divided, first by a river, then by a misunderstanding. It is a conflict among tribes based on decisions that have been made, for better or worse. There is a need to move forward in grace, truth, peace, and love. I want to look today at the modern Israel, the church. I want to look at the church as she often stands today, a body divided. A body divided based on decisions that have been made, beliefs that have been adopted, for better or worse. There is still a need to move forward in grace, truth, peace, and love.

But what do you mean, Bob? I thought everything in the church was perfect?

I thought that when you gather bunches of sinners together, they would only ever come to unanimous agreements in Jesus’ name?

I searched online and found 23 local churches. 23 bodies who gather in the name of Jesus Christ for worship. Within these 23, at least a dozen denominations. What is a denomination? It is a group of people who arrived at a Joshua 22 moment.  A group of people who, in the end, chose division. They decided that their identity in worship had been compromised, and a separation was necessary. Hopefully without war, but still.

What have they divided over? Large issues. Smaller issues. Some movements were born out of disagreement. Some were born out of a desire to chase a particular aspect of the faith. All place their roots in the person and work of Jesus Christ, though most can’t seem to agree what that means.

Christians have divided over:

Justification – what does it mean to be right before God? How does one become right before God?

Communion – what does it mean that Christ is present at the table?

Baptism – what does it mean to be baptized? How exactly do we use the water? Do we dunk? Do we sprinkle?

The person of the Holy Spirit? What exactly is he up to?

Musical instrumentation – organs, guitars, nothing at all? What instrument did Peter play?

Government – one elder, lots of elders, deacons, priests? Are they men, women, both? What should they wear – robes, jeans – what kind of jeans?

Bible translations – KJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, NASB, RSV, Da Jesus Book.

So when you go looking for a church these days, you have to bust out your checklist:

I’m looking for a church that:

Serves gluten free communion with grape juice.
Dunks believers in a body of natural water.
Employs two acoustic guitars and a djembe.
Has a pastor in boot cut jeans, sweater vests, a giant fish necklace and a scripture tattoo on his wrist.
Has Sunday school and cell groups.
Teaches from the NIV
Loathes powerpoint.

Meanwhile, somewhere in there you think about doctrine, kids ministry, the building, parking, location, mission, vision, whether they serve coffee and donuts, whether they allow you to pump gas in your car on Sunday, whether you are required to home school your children, and the list. Goes. On.

Then we get inside the church and we have a different checklist for every person we encounter!? Do I want to be their friend? Well…

 

No wonder people don’t understand American Christianity. Most of the time we don’t even understand what we’re doing and why.

Oddly, I’m not saying Christians are not unified. Also, I’m not saying that there aren’t varied blessings in these different expressions of the Church. If given the chance to sit down and think about it, I’m sure many if not most would agree that there is unity where there should be unity. At the cross.

However, our gut thoughts, words, and actions are not often guided by careful thought. The human heart is deceitful above all things. The Christian heart is engaged in a struggle. The question I pose to each of your hearts is this: when you think of the other tribes in your town, do you think first of the Christ who unites us, or do you think first of the differences? And as a result, do you immediately place them on the same level ground before Christ, or is your ground just a little higher? Do you want to hear stories of triumph from their fellowship? Or does jealousy burn? Are you building a delegation to find answers? Or just going to war? These questions challenge me.

 

As long as what unites us has not been compromised, what unites us is far stronger than what divides us.

 

Ephesians is a great book of unity. Chapter 2 pleads for unity between Gentile and Jew. In other words, regardless of your background, if you are in Christ, you are on equal footing with everyone else who has ever trusted the Savior. You are a sinner saved by grace through faith. Chapter 4 reminds us there is ONE body, ONE Spirit, ONE hope, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God & Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

Unity, Unity, Unity. Blessed together, battling the flesh and the devil together.

Ephesians 4:11 says that God gave us the gift of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip and mobilize the body of Christ IN UNITY. The irony of church is that the more we study, the more we know, the more we teach, the more we seem to divide, but Spirit-driven teaching is designed to bring us together at the intersection of justice and mercy! Oh, may it be so!

Lines have been drawn. Just as with our Israelite brothers & sisters, the decisions have been made, for better or worse. We must now draw on our identity as worshipers of the one true God through Jesus Christ so that we can move forward with grace & truth, peace and love.

Christians of every walk and flavor will spend eternity together. Folks from every church on that list.

We will be much better suited for our forever if we learn to love one another now. We grow as we walk together.

This doesn’t mean we can’t talk about our differences. In fact, we must! But we must also know that as long as our identity in worship has not been compromised, what unites us is far stronger than what divides us. For Christians, when disagreements arise, it is the cross that holds us together. It is worship of our risen Savior that unites. The blood of Jesus is stronger.

 

I’ve heard it said that you’re not ready for revival in your church until you’re ready to see revival in the church next door. In other words, if we’re not comfortable seeing God bless the church down the street, the church who – though they disagree – stand united to ours by grace through faith in Christ alone. If we’re not comfortable seeing God increase that church, then we’re not ready for him to increase ours. If we’re not comfortable seeing their congregation impact the culture through Christ. If we’re not comfortable seeing families brought together and marriages restored in their ministry. If we’re not comfortable seeing addicts find freedom there through the gospel. If we’re not comfortable seeing wounds healed and lives restored.

If we’re not comfortable with all of this happening down the road, then how are we ready for God to bring the charge and the blessing to us?

How wonderful would it be if we, as Christians, would pray for God to bless the faithful tribes with whom we share a zip code. We may be separated by streets or a creek, but we cling to the same cross as the faithful saints all over the world. Would you pray this morning?

That the gospel would be faithfully proclaimed. That the Lord Jesus Christ would be honored and magnified in their worship. That the people would find joy in Christ, that ministries would thrive. That pastors would rightly understand and preach the truth of Scripture. That people would approach with eyes to see and ears to hear.

And pray through it all that we would have a heart to find joy in God’s victory there, peace in our conversations, grace and truth in our relationships.

I am thankful today for the gracious witness of our Israelite brothers and sisters in Joshua 22. I am thankful that tribes divided by rivers and misunderstandings would go to such great lengths to preserve right worship and prevent civil war. I am thankful that they did so under the banner of their identity in God. May we do the same as we draw near under the witness of the cross of Christ.