Passion Week XIXa

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him.  And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-16 NASB)

We’ve reached the beginning of the end in our study of Luke.  It’s been well over a year, but we’re headed for the triumphant crescendo of Jesus’ earthly life.  He and the disciples are now cloistered away in an upper room, like so many across the city of Jerusalem, celebrating the most holy of Jewish Feasts.  This is Jesus’ Last Supper…sort of.

The meal is a Passover meal, shared around the city by every good Jew able to make it to the city from anywhere around the known world.  The meal had ritual, elements had meaning and deep significance to the Jews.  The Passover commemorates their history, beginning and focusing on the Exodus from Egypt.  But Jesus makes a very interesting statement right at the beginning in Luke.  He says, “I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  And while the timing is His main point (when He’ll eat it next), the marker of the timing should get us thinking.

When is the Passover fulfilled in the kingdom of God?  For most Christians, a lack of understanding of the Passover and significance it has for Jesus’ suffering, death, burial, and resurrection makes this a difficult question to answer.  I’ve studied it, and have come to the conclusion that even experts aren’t completely sure about the Messianic elements fulfilled in Jesus’ Passion.  And that’s partly because we don’t know with certainty what elements from the First Century practice survived past the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Without complete certainty, I still believe that the Passover was only partially fulfilled in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.  I believe the final element to be fulfilled happens when He returns to finish off this world’s history.  Only then, I believe it will be called the “Wedding Feast of the Lamb”.  The same basic concept, but the Exodus will be His Bride from the world, completely renewed and perfected in white.

That’s my belief anyway.  But as I said we don’t really know with certainty, so it could also be that Jesus’ Passion completely fulfilled the Passover in His resurrection.  That would mean that we, as His disciples, can celebrate it with entirely new significance.  If the Passover is fulfilled, then we, as His disciples remember our redemption from sin rather than Egypt.  The “death” we deserved passed over us and fell on Him because of His blood covering our lives.  I can see that too, and I’m not at all opposed to it.

In the economy of our Creator, I can also believe that He intends both rather than one or the other.  He recycles like that.  And since this passage certainly looks ahead to Jesus’ return (appearing), and yet just as certainly looks at the Passion He is to suffer right then, there is a lot of merit to such a view.

But there is also the fulfillment of the Passover in my daily life with my Master.  He has certainly brought me out of a separation from Him into a relationship with Him.  “Salvation” can be understood as an Exodus as well.  The bitter herbs and joyful wine can all be understood in the paths of life with Him.  The story is one of His faithfulness to me, and my willfulness against Him, a struggle of love and repentance.  It’s  not difficult at all to see a kind of fulfillment of the Passover there.  The mingling of sorrow and joy is a very apt description of our walk with Jesus, worthy of a celebratory meal.

This is just the first entry (a) of the Last Passover Meal of Jesus which means there’s more to come.  This is my view through this knothole.  What do you see of Jesus from yours?


Giving Back What Is Owed

So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.  They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  But He detected their trickery and said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.”  And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:20-26 NASB)

How would you have liked to have been the “spies” sent to pretend to be righteous by the religious leaders, trying to trap the teacher who embarrassed them?  It’s sort of like the SEALS sending out the regular army after an enemy who defeated them.  Good idea…not so much.  They start out with puffing Jesus up, trying to put Him in a bind so that He couldn’t appear to be preferential to any; “…You teach correctly, and You are not partial…”, that no matter what He teaches the truth of God.  As if He’s really impressed by hearing that.  But it does set up the question well.

The question is about paying taxes.  The question is asked in the Temple courts where offerings are collected and sacrifices are offered.  In a very real sense, the people are “double-taxed” and it’s a big deal to them.  These people make up the audience.  But there are a few problems with the question.  First off, the coin used for Temple transactions is a “drachma” not a “denarius” (see Matthew 17).  This isn’t a big deal, they can be exchanged easily enough right there in the Temple courts (at least until Jesus drove out the money changers), or Jesus can find them in the mouths of fish when needed.  Yet one coin is not used for the other purpose.

The question being asked by one in possession of a denarius is somewhat ironic.  Essentially they are asking whether to give to the occupying government the money they require from that which is used to conduct business.  The drachma isn’t used to conduct business much. Since the temple exchange rate never works in the people’s favor, it’s a losing proposition for merchants to take them in trade.  And if the merchant isn’t a Jew, they’ll have trouble exchanging them at all.  Best for all concerned to use Roman coin.  And so our questioner has a denarius in the Temple courts, something he clearly will not be giving to God.

But Jesus’ answer is that we are to “render” or “give what is owed” to both Caesar and to God.  There is a sense of obligation in the word, whether of debt, reward, or retribution.  The person to whom whatever is given has a right to it.  In other words Jesus is saying that Caesar has a right to receive taxes.  But He also says that God has a right to receive from us.  In fact, the right to receive is similar enough in both cases Jesus mentions them together.  The challenge is whether or not to pay one or the other, and Jesus is insisting on paying both. There is something we owe back to God, something which He has a right to receive.

Jesus doesn’t mention what we owe back to God. It’s either obvious or assumed by some sort of context we’ve lost. I think it’s obvious.  There are plenty of “giving” or “stewardship” teachings available, so I don’t think I need to delve into it here.  But I will say that for those to whom it seems like God is “taxing” us, they’re not far off.  Jesus clearly says that God has a right to what He asks us to return to Him.  To withhold from God is often taken less serious than withholding from the government.  But that’s just “money”.

The fat of rams, the first born, these things are not what God requires, says Micah.  But rather He requires me to do justice, to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly with my Him.  I think most of us would rather just pay Him off, honestly. This other requirement is a lot more invasive, and requires more of me than money.  This Creator, Savior, and King wants my time, my attention, and my intent.  What’s really left for me at that point?  Nothing.  He wants all of me.  And I am to “render to God the things of God”.  I’d much rather hold back and look for the deductions, credits, and adjustments to income.  Instead my Master asks me to forego the balance sheet, and live entirely off the income statement; to own nothing and be entirely His.  What do I do with that, when I’m one of those who would rather be taxed?

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

Passion Week VI

On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”  (Luke 20:1-2 NASB)

And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  And He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. (Luke 20:8-9 NASB)

I discovered something in this passage.  Jesus tells the elders He won’t tell them of His authority, then turns around and does exactly that.  He says one thing and does another.  In this account in Matthew (21:22-45), in between these two is a short “parabolic question” about a father with two sons.  Each said one thing and did the other.  The one who did what was asked was obedient.  Then Jesus tells the parable which explains His authority.  I wonder if the “father” could also be the elders?

Jesus is asked to tell why He can cleanse the temple and teach there.  His authority comes from God as the Only Beloved Son, but how does He say that without inciting a riot right there?  On the other hand Jesus wants to declare His authority to the religious leaders, in fact they have a right to know, it’s their responsibility to check such things.  In a sense, the elders are afraid of the same thing Jesus is as they answer about John’s baptism.

It winds up that the elders and religious leaders know that the parable is about them.  Do they also realize they’ve had Jesus’ authority explained as well?  I think so.  And just as John’s baptism was problematic for them so too is Jesus’ claim of authority.  In the parable, the Beloved Son is sent to the vine growers by the Owner.  The leaders caught that they are the vine growers, which makes Jesus the Beloved Son who has authority from God and actually owns the Temple and the people therein.  He asserts His authority over theirs, claiming they are beholding to Him, not the other way around.

As Jesus points out in the parable, the vine growers want to destroy Him.  And so they do.  But He also points out they will destroy Him, outside the walls.  The very indicting parable also predicts their “success”; while predicting that it will spell their destruction.  The vineyard of Israel/Judah/Jerusalem will be given to “others”.

What I learn here is that my roles and responsibilities within my Master’s Kingdom are conditional.  I am expected to be responsible and honoring to my King.  I learn that I must gauge my response to Jesus.  Am I behaving in line with my belief that I am beholding to Him, working what He owns on His behalf?  Where can I honor Him more?  What do I owe Him as my King that I have not given Him yet?  It’s not comfortable for Americans to think this way.  But I believe it’s necessary.  The truth is that my King will accomplish His purposes and His design, with or without me.  I’d like to be included.

What’s your view through the fence?

Passion Week III

Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, saying to them, “It is written, ‘AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,’ but you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”  And He was teaching daily in the temple; but the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him, and they could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.  (Luke 19:45-48 NASB)

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, then the Temple, He then begins tossing out the religious commerce.  There’s a lot of speculation as to why, but the quote Jesus uses implies they made prayer difficult.  And as Jesus remained and taught, “the people were hanging on every word He said.”  And it literally says that, using that colloquial phrase.  It is apparently not unique to English.

Jesus takes the time to stop the behavior in the Temple that was actually disruptive to its purpose.  I wonder if others had thought about that.  The reason it probably had not happened before is likely tied to the reason the “chief priests, scribes, and leading men among the people” chose not to “destroy” Him.  They were afraid of the people “hanging on every word He said.”  There’s a lot of things for which that becomes underlying reason they either happen or don’t; popularity.

Jesus enters the Temple and does what others are afraid to do.  In a sense, anyone else would have to “live with the consequences”.  He knew He didn’t have long to live in any case.  On the other hand, Jesus did things regardless of their popularity with the people as well (see John 6 for instance).  He would have done the same had His death not been immanent (see John 2:14-22).  For Jesus, the obedience to His Father superseded popularity, and popularity with anyone.

What would it take for me to not let “living with the consequences” slow down my obedience to my Master?  What would it take for the question, “what would others think” not impede my devotion to my Master?  What would it take for me to be “thoughtless” about anyone but Jesus.  Love is not “rude”, but it does believe all things, including that a Good God will lead me to act in the best interest of all.  Just like I don’t get the plan He has for my life, I don’t get the plan He has for my church, my community, nor my state, nation, or world.  I know He wants to save, but His plan to do so is often baffling.

His enemies “could not find something they might do.”  Such a strange problem.  “For all the people were hanging on every word He said.”  They couldn’t find something to use to destroy Jesus because of the response of the people.  I read that and it baffles me.  How could they not find something?  He taught what they did not, contradicted their emphasis and interpretation of Scripture.  Or did He?  If their motivation was purely political, national in scope, then wouldn’t the attention of the people been confirmation of their need to destroy Him?  But if their motivation was theological, then His teaching would incite them easily.  And yet in both possible motivations, they could find nothing to do.

Clearly the problem with finding something to do is His popularity.  But perhaps what they risked is their own position with the people.  It’s not clear really.  It is theorized that the religious elite (Sadducees) risked their social/political authority unless stability with the Roman government was maintained.  That required peace among the people.  Pharisees weren’t motivated the same way, since they were typically neither rich nor powerful politically.  The groups opposing Jesus are listed as “chief priests” (i.e. religious elite), “scribes” (Pharisees or like them), “leading men among the people” (political leaders?).  For these groups, the motivation to oppose Jesus was probably different, and they had just the “object” in common.

What opposition do we, as His people, face today?  What will I face?  The truth of Jesus as Lord and Master of everything should supersede everything else in my life.  Yet I let all sorts of things impede my devotion.  But I have this enormous hope from this passage.  My Master will drive out those distractions at times.  His desire for me is unimaginably more than mine for Him.  His power to save actually exists, where mine does not.  His intent is for me to be His and His alone, and my intent is often blown hither and yon by the winds of popularity.  Therefore my hope is in Him, and not myself.  I wait eagerly for Him to throw out those doing business where there should be prayer.

That’s my view through the knothole?  What do you learn of our Master through yours?