“But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.”

In a victimization society, a person’s rights are of paramount importance.  When we focus on those who have faced victimization, oppression, and individual or systemic marginalizing, public opinion will excessively side with the victimized.  Given that the alternative is society siding with unjust power structures, this may be the best we can do.  Today we see this elevation of the oppressed through movements like Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and a variety of LGBTQ-supportive movements.  We also see it in modern media, which Walt Mueller calls “both map and mirror” of our society, reflecting it and yet guiding it simultaneously.

This means that we focus a lot in making sure we are given “our rights”.  Whatever we feel we deserve, we will fight for.  This is different than many cultures around the world where people recognize that they won’t get their due and so learn to live with it.

But Jesus takes a different stance at His trial.  He neither fights for His rights nor succumbs glumly to being oppressed.  Instead, Jesus remains silent.  He has every right to stand up for Himself at His trial.  Though the charges against Him are accurate – He did call Himself God which was punishable by death for any human – they fall apart when we consider that He was telling the truth!  With the crowds on His side and holding the power elite in check with their numbers again and again, Jesus could have stood for Himself and argued His right to say what He did.  He could also have raised a riot from the crowd – remember, these are Jews oppressed by their Roman overseers, marginalized to the point of revolt and upheaval – proclaiming oppression from the Jewish leaders or even the Romans.  But instead, Jesus stood silent.

This is not a winning tactic in our society, nor was it in His.  But it was the will of God for Him, and so He obeyed.  This poor Jewish carpenter turned Rabbi, oppressed by the Romans and the Jewish elite, gave Himself to be the Passover Lamb for us all while not admitting to crimes He had not committed.  For Jesus, silence was the right response to His own oppression.  Wisdom requires a lot of prayer and thought for us about our application of this principle.

Perhaps one of the most convicting stories of human sinfulness is today’s story of Jesus in Gethsemane.  As Jesus, the Son of God, the One to whom we’ve pledged not just our lives but our eternities, is wracked with terror, grief, and loneliness, his followers fall asleep.  Now I’ve fallen asleep on people in my life.  Late night talking with friends at a sleepover, watching a really boring movie with an old flame, even in conversation with my wife in the living room.  And I’ve fallen asleep on Jesus before.  It used to be that my prayer time each day was before bed, until I realized that I regularly fell asleep in the middle of my prayer, my conversation with Jesus.  Someone comforted me with the idea that parents love it when kids fall asleep in their arms.  But I could never get over this story.

We argue about what is sin and what isn’t all the time.  Is homosexuality a sin?  Is drinking a sin?  Is having wealth a sin?  But we seldom argue about the smaller things that can still be sinful.  Is falling asleep on God a sin?  Was falling asleep on Jesus in the garden sinful?  I guess we have to ask what sin is.

“Sin is all in thought, word, and deed contrary to the will of God,” we recite in Confirmation.  Prof. Neill Plantinga defines sin as “anything that is not the way it’s supposed to be”.  If something is not fulfilling it’s original purpose as determined by God, then it is sinful.  This is an awfully wide span of what is sinful and what isn’t.  Sometimes we get worried or touchy about placing so much, even falling asleep, in the sin category.  But while the span of sin is large, the good news is that the span of grace is even larger!  To hold such a vast view of sin requires us to hold an even vaster view of grace, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be!

“…when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover Lamb…”

Mark makes no bones about what Jesus is about to do.  He has told us numerous times from Jesus’ own mouth that He is about to die, to be killed in fact, but also to rise again.  And here, he tells us why.

On the night of the first Passover, the Jews were huddling in Egypt in their homes awaiting the final plague of God.  He had turned the Nile River to blood, brought flies, gnats, locust, boils, and frogs to cover the land, the land of the Egyptians had been in complete darkness (though not the land of the Israelites) and now came the last and worst plague of all.  Since the firstborn son carried on the family name, got the inheritance, and ascended the throne, this final plague in essence wiped out the future of the entire nation of Egypt.  With the death of the firstborn sons, the plagues were complete, Pharaoh’s heart was finally broken of its hardness, and God’s people were free.

But the angel of death sent for the firstborn of Egypt didn’t distinguish between Egyptian and Israelite.  So God gave them a way out.  A perfect, spotless lamb was to die, to be killed in fact, and it’s blood put on the side posts and top of the door of every Israelite home.  When the angel of death saw the blood, it would pass over that house, not killing the firstborn.  Hence, the practice and remembrance of the Passover Lamb was born.  A perfect, spotless lamb was sacrificed so that it’s blood would rescue the family from death.

And so, thousands of years later, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover Lamb in remembrance of God’s salvation from death in Egypt, Jesus shared the bread and wine, the body and blood of the Lamb, with His disciples.  And through His sacrifice, His blood rescued them all from death.  And that blood still rescues us from death today.  For those who put their faith, their trust, in Jesus, death is averted and eternal life begins.  Will you let Jesus be your Passover Lamb?

Waiting is hard, and waiting a long time is harder.  As a kid, waiting for Christmas was always hard, as proven by the fact that most of our teachers seemed to just give up the week before Christmas break and show movies.  They knew none of us had the attention for a lesson when we were waiting for Christmas to come.  Today, waiting for the weekend, or a day off, or even a paycheck can be hard.

If waiting for a week for the weekend is hard, and waiting for two weeks for a much-needed paycheck is harder, imagine how hard it is on us that we have waited 2000 years for Christ’s return!  For a very long time people were sitting outside on hilltops watching the sky and waiting for Jesus.  This is what prompted the Apostle Paul to command Christians to get to work and do something rather than spending all day sitting on a hill waiting for Jesus and all night mooching off of family and friends for food and a bed.

Eventually, people gave up watching the sky and got back to business as usual, but with the assurance that He would return soon.  Then it became a theological dogma that Christ would return, and everyone believed it would be during their lifetime, just not this week.  And eventually we came along, the first generation to NOT believe that Christ was returning in our lifetimes.

So today we proclaim that Christ is coming again, but we don’t believe we’ll see it.  We raise our hands in despair at the world around us and cry, “come, Lord Jesus!” but it’s not a prayer we believe will be answered on the spot.  So what do we do with teachings like this from Jesus, who says, “wait expectantly”?  Waiting is hard, and long waiting is harder.

The bad news is that we must be disciplines to continue waiting expectantly regardless of how we feel or even believe.  The good news is that Jesus has promised His return, and when He does return, He will bring redemption with Him.  We will see this world redeemed into the New Earth of Revelation.

And I for one can’t wait.

I don’t find preaching to be an onerous or nerve-wracking task.  In high school, I quickly got involved in drama and music, and found even there God preparing me for a life in front of crowds.  And while I take the prophetic role of the preacher seriously, I’ve seldom truly been afraid of it.

Early on in my career, I read this passage we just read today.  And for the first time, the prophetic role asserted it’s gravity in my life.  Prophets bring God’s message to the people, as opposed to the Priest who brings the people’s needs to God.  But Moses warns against false prophets, those who speak for God without God’s permission.  These prophets are to be killed.  Wait, what?  Killed?  For a bad sermon?  Um…..

And how would the people determine whether the message was from God?  If it came true, of course.  Now, today’s prophetic speakers know if a message comes from God because we have His Word, the bible.  True preachers simply lay out God’s word, not adding their own opinion or subtracting anything God has given in it.  But in the Old Testament, they didn’t have the Bible, and so these Prophets were their only direct communication from God.  So if they speak for God and it doesn’t come true, then they are not speaking for God.  And they die.

I, being a speaker, put myself immediately into the shoes of the prophet.  Here I am, minding my own business, when suddenly God shows up and says, “Tell my people…”  Now I have a decision to make.  If I do, I’m literally putting my life in God’s hands.  If He changes His mind, or waits too long to fulfill the prophecy, I die.  If what I hear is a bad dream, the advice of another person, or even a demonic message disguised as God, I die.

So how do we know when a message comes from God?  How do we discern a preacher’s prophecy?  Well, we can wait to see if it comes true, or, as Jesus says, we can know the voice of our Shepherd well enough to know when the voice is from someone else.  But that takes a long time of listening to His voice, a lot of prayer, and a lot of wisdom.

Following God is serious business.  Today we read about ultimate consequences for those who lead others away from God.  Death comes to those who worship other gods, and to those who lead others to join them.  Following God is literally a matter of life and death in this passage.

We hear all the time from people that a God of love would never command His people to kill someone just for breaking one of His laws or having a different opinion (usually stated as “thinking for themselves”).   Two things about this line of thought.  First, it passes judgement on a society not our own, distant from us in both time and space.  Things were different back then.  And things still are different in the Middle East.  We cannot pass judgement on a time and place this far removed from our own.  Second, it contains a philosophy that has been killing the church for centuries, namely that following God isn’t that important.  It’s not a matter of life and death, but of opinion.  We can think differently and it’s ok.  God just wants an hour or two of your time each week, a prayer before bed or before meals, and the rest is up to you.

Few in their right minds advocate today for a death penalty for religious tolerance.  But taken too far, this belief that God isn’t all that important leads us to sleeping through church, having only a “private faith”, or living out our faith only when we don’t need to be at work, with family, at the game, or in bed napping.

God matters.  In fact, God is truly the most important part of our lives, for only through Jesus Christ can we find truth, hope, and eternal purpose in this life and the next.  What could possibly be more important than that?

What does God want from us?  People have been asking that forever.  People have tried to work to answer this with their lives throughout time.  They worship harder and they serve more and we get bigger and bigger churches and we follow more and more rules.  And all the time we have this nagging sense that God still isn’t happy with us.  We get more frustrated and more guilty feeling and still we cry out, “What does God want from us?”

This passage has some ideas:
Fear (“revere” might be a more accurate word for our time) the Lord.
Walk in obedience to Him.
Love Him.
Serve Him with all you have.
Observe God’s laws.
Circumcise your hearts (check with Apostle Paul for specifics on what this means)
Don’t be stiff-necked anymore.
Love foreigners.
Serve God.
Cling to Him.
Take your oaths in His name, not that of another god.

Boiled down, it means to put God first in your heart (Love Him) and your life (serve and obey Him).  The problem with doing more and more to try to please Him is that usually we do “more and more” not for Him but for us.  We do more to try to get Him to love us more so we’ll feel better, safer, more loved.  It is when we learn to put God first, even above our own wants, hopes, and plans, that we begin to realize we are loved already, that God has “set His affections on us”.  It is our love that God wants, not our success or our fame or our accomplishments.

“One bad apple spoils the bunch.”

We used to have a game we’d play in youth group to illustrate one of the first main points of today’s reading.  We’d have one of the youth, usually the strongest, stand on top of a chair.  His job was to pull everyone else up on the chair with him.  Everyone else’s job was to pull him down off the chair.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see the outcome of this contest – every time, no matter how strong or big the chair person was, they were brought down, and often by the first person to try.  The point was that it is impossible for us to make the people around us more righteous, more Godly, by force, or alone, or against their will.

God’s command to His people about the folk who lived in the Promised Land seems cruel, if not genocidal to us today.  Given our own history with the Native American population in America, and our current issues with other races, with immigrants and with those different than us have taught us the dangers of what God commanded His people back then.  To completely wipe out everyone, destroy any remnant of their culture and religion, “without mercy” seems very un-Godlike to us.

But these people were to be God’s people, and God knew they were too weak to stand against a rival culture.  He knew they would succumb to the temptations of the foreign culture around them and in so doing, they would lose their identity as God’s people.  And so the command to remain pure, seal themselves away from other cultures, and eliminate anything that was not Hebrew, from people to religions to philosophies.

As we look at Christians today, we have to see that God was correct in His assessment of our ability to remain pure in an impure culture.  While pure Christianity would put an end to abuse and violence, to divorce and adultery, to STD’s and racism, to gun violence and abortions, we are more known for being just like the culture around us, with the same divorce rates, addiction rates, and habits as our non-Christian neighbors.

I’m not advocating any kind of violence, but what would it take for us to recapture a pure Christianity, one based on love and the fruit of the spirit, one that was truly a light on a hill, attractive and healing for the whole world?