Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The King: Someone Strategic and Tested

Preached Sunday, February 14

My life was not conducive to writing the kind of sermon I would have liked, but I wrote down some thoughts and stood away from the pulpit and spoke along the lines below.

Scripture Readings: Psalm 51; Matthew 4:1-17

Matthew, in his genealogy and parables and in many other ways, goes out of his way to show us that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised King. Matthew’s gospel is sometimes called “The Royal Gospel.”

Our first sample of Jesus’ teaching is found in these words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” (Matthew 4:17) This is really a way of saying not that God’s kingdom is right around the corner, but of saying that God’s kingdom has come upon you. And the reason why Jesus could say this was the fact that he, himself, had come upon them; because Jesus is the King. In sense he is ruling by coming to them and saying and doing what he does.

We don’t understand the first thing that Jesus says to us as a crowd because we live in an age of government. For us government is a matter of regulations and forms and congresses and councils and bureaucracies.

For the people who first heard Jesus, government was the personal function of the king. Government was what the king said and did. Sometimes the kingdom worked because the king sent one of the people who stood around him on a mission. The kingdom worked when he gave a friend or a servant a job to do. Or the kingdom worked when the king went where he was needed.

When Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum it was because events required his presence there. The kingdom of God is Jesus and the kingdom is at work wherever Jesus is, and it will always be that way.

Jesus rules by wandering around, and he wanders everywhere, and his wandering is not by chance. He wanders where he is needed. He comes to deal with the situation at hand.

This is what Jesus does with you. He wanders among the scenes of your life (what you think, and do, and say) and he comes ready to give you his input. He moves strategically to do something about what is going on with you. Or he moves strategically in order to get you to move strategically: at least to require you to think.

Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come upon you,” because he had dealt with two great issues that concern us.

The place of baptism is the place where human beings need to come to terms with their alienation from God (which affects everything in our life) and receive a new heart and mind and life. Jesus stood at the river with his people (and with us) in our recognition of need (even the need of our babies) to become “beloved”; to receive the gift of “belovedness”.

The place of temptation is the place where we fail. The temptation of bread is the temptation of what we feel we must have and what we cannot do without. Whereas what we need is to be people who cannot do without the words of God in his faithfulness and holiness.

The temptation of the leap from the temple is the temptation of winning other people. If Jesus had been gently carried by angels in a leap from the cornice of the temple down to the pavement below, everyone would have been greatly impressed. And Jesus would have fit his people’s expectations of a Messiah.

We are tempted to win and please others by taking the easy way, by going along with what others want even when what others want is not right. We know that kids deal with this a peer pressure, but grown-ups have peer pressure too.

The temptation of the kingdoms of the world is the temptation of power. In our own lives we are tempted to manipulate and wheedle and bully to get our own way and be in control. The unhappiness we feel when we don’t get our way is the measure of how powerful this temptation is for us. It is a sign of what we may be doing without knowing it, but others probably know it about us.

The answer to temptation and the way to pass the test of temptation is a life of loving communion with God.

We often misunderstand what Jesus asks of us. He says repent, and we think this is something we do on our own before we can be acceptable to him. Jesus says repent, because his presence with us is available. His presence works for us and with us.

The “because” is because he is at hand. Repentance in the biblical languages is a new direction and a new mind (not just a new brain but a new inner self).

We can come to him because he has come to us. He died for us and rose for us so that we can die to ourselves and live through him.

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