By Jared WarnerWillow Creek Friends Church
November 27, 2022
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Isaiah 2:1–5 (ESV)
1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
We have all inherited a faith. Ideas and concepts, beliefs and traditions have been passed down to us since ancient times. We have received these gifts, but at times we may have lost the context. As much as we would like to believe that we read scripture without bias, we cannot remove ourselves from cultural biases. I as a minister among Friends, read this passage much differently than people of other traditions. I am of course right, but we need to extend grace and learn from the perspectives of others because it may provide a richness to the soils of our hearts.
Today we read from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. During the 2nd temple era of Israel’s history, Isaiah had great influence. He is quoted, referenced, or alluded to in the New Testament more than any other author outside of the Psalms. And this is the same with the writings that were found among the Dead Sea scrolls. One scholar says this about Isaiah, “Isaiah is the Shakespeare of the prophets, and the St. Paul of the Old Testament.” Understanding Isaiah is important. And understanding how the various groups understand Isaiah is also important.
Isaiah is unique among the prophets. He came from an educated background. Most believe that he was a trained scribe, someone that worked within the royal courts, that along the way developed a sage like understanding of faith. He had access to the royal courts because he was a cousin to the king. This is also unique among the prophets. He had a position, education, and connections. Because of these his ministry was long, it extended through the rule of four kings. Many believe that this means he served for nearly forty years through this ninety-year period.
To understand Isaiah, we need to understand that he had these connections and knowledge of both his culture and the cultures surrounding Judah. When he spoke or wrote, much like Paul in the New Testament, he often spoke of how their God, and their faith interacted within the larger world. Isaiah did not simply work within a vacuum, he knew what was going on around him, and he knew what was going on at home. He had knowledge and he was also sensitive to the voice of God.
We begin this section with a touchpoint that connects the prophet to a time and place. “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” This section of scripture begins with the Word and concludes with Light. These two words are connected, they refer to wisdom and knowledge. They refer to the Torah, and revelation. When we look at John 1, we see that John begins his Gospel, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God.” John continues this line of thought about the divine word by saying, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Word and light, look at wisdom from two perspectives, knowledge and guidance or application. Light guides, and the word instructs. Life with God is relational and active as much as it is scholarly.
Isaiah is speaking of knowledge and revelation that will guide if we listen. But what are we to listen to? “It shall come to pass in the latter days…” The introductory phrase of the second verse can cause us to stumble depending on how the translation is made. In the English standard version it says, “It shall come to pass in the latter days.” Where the King James version says, “and it shall come to pass in the last days.” I want us to just sit with this difference for a bit. Both are correct because the Hebrew phrase can mean both a future time and the end. The interesting thing is that in the Complete Jewish Bible in English, a translation from Messianic Jewish traditions, they do not translate the phrase but leave the phrase as transliterated Hebrew. They do this because the true meaning is ambiguous. Isaiah could be speaking about the apocalyptic end, or he could be speaking of a future hope.
How has the translation of this ambiguous and loaded phrase influenced the way we approach this passage? Is the words Isaiah says something within our reach, or are they beyond human facility? Are they a goal we should stive to accomplish or the hope we cling to in that almost mystical era beyond the mists of time? The reality is that both interpretations have been equally used throughout history and we are not given any real context as to what Isaiah truly meant. Therefore, we make an honest attempt, but even within that attempt to provide an accurate translation our biases can come into play.
“The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains.” Most people look at this statement and their minds are immediately drawn to the temple mount because this is what Isaiah saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. This is not necessarily wrong, but it may not give us the fullest picture of what Isaiah is speaking about.
Mountains have an interesting place in ancient religious thought. From the Greek’s Mount Olympus to the tower of Babel the image of mountains is central to many ancient religious thoughts. This is no different in the faith of Israel. The gods dwell in gardens upon the mountains. The council of the gods, where the gods make judgement and dictations for the earth are on the mountains. Hebrew scriptures speak in a similar manner. Several times Hebrew scriptures speak of God within his council. Psalm 82 states, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods, he holds judgement.” The gods dwell on these mountains, ancient people believed this because mountains were separated from humanity, our ancient ancestors did not have to tools to scale many mountains. But the ones that they could climb became places of worship. We are told of the righteous kings of Judea pulling down the high places, these high places were the temple of various gods. If an ancient culture far from mountains, they would often create their own, which is what the tower of Babel represents, and some believe that the pyramids of Egypt were man made mountains also.
There is an ancient understanding about the supernatural aspect of life that is shared throughout the ancient world. The concept of spiritual warfare is at the foundation of the religions of the nations but also the interactions between the nations. Every nation believed that they had some divine guardian directing their path, and as they battled with other people, these divine forces were also at war.
If the gods are on the mountains, the highest mountain is the greatest god. “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” Isaiah speaks of strength and power. When Isaiah ministered to the people there was a constant threat to the nations, the threat of Assyria. Isaiah witnessed the fall and the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel. He spoke to Judah about their own position against this mighty force. And it was a mighty fearsome force. The prophet Jonah was called to preach in the capital city of Assyria, and Jonah out of fear and hate ran from that calling. I understand why Jonah would act in that manner. If I were called to minister in the capital city of our nations’ greatest enemy, I too would question the wisdom of God.
In ancient understanding the power of your god was connected to battlefield. With this ideology in mind, the world’s understanding of the strongest god was not the god of Israel, but Assyria’s. Israel has never been a large nation. Even during its golden age under king David and Solomon the might of Israel has never come close to the might of the surrounding nations. It has always seemed to be one step behind, yet it still had influence that exceeded its size. Isaiah is telling Judah, do not pay attention to the ideas of the surrounding nations because our God is not like the gods of the nations.
Israel’s God will be lifted above the hills and all the nations shall flow to it. I love this image. Mainly because it proves that they are not speaking of a literal mountain, if it was a literal mountain, the flow is away from the mountain but this is reverse. People are attracted to it. “And the people shall come,” Isaiah continues, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
This attraction is something I want us to consider. What attracts your attention? What brought you to this place? What has kept you here even though you are free to go elsewhere?
“For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
This is where I would like us to sit and consider things. Is Isaiah speaking of a goal we should strive for, or is he speaking of the end of days? This I believe is important, because how we answer that question determines how we live our lives in this time and place.
Isaiah is saying that something is drawing people, even nations, toward Israel and her God. His mountain, the seat of God’s divine council, is taking a higher position in relation to the gods of the other nations. His mountain is being lifted, but not in the manner the world understands.
In Deuteronomy we are given a glimpse into the supernatural realm that is at play behind the scenes of life. In Genesis we are told about three instances of human failings. Our first parents ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they were banished from God’s presence. Then we are told that God became disgusted with the world because the sons of God took wives from among the daughters of men, and this led to the great flood. The last of the failings was when mankind wanted to make a name for themselves so they built a tower to reach the heavens, we know this tower to be Babel. The tower was built as a human attempt to reach the realm of the gods, but God decided that he would confuse the languages so that this could not happen. It seems odd but we were not really told the whole story in Genesis. In Deuteronomy we get the rest of the story so to speak. Deuteronomy 32 is near the end of Moses’s life and is considered his song. We might call it Moses’s farewell speech as sends the people of God into the land of Promise, and he remains with their parents in the wilderness. Moses writes, “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”
This is a weird passage but it is linked to the Babel event. God divided the people; he separated their languages and those that spoke the same language gathered to each other. We are told through Moses that these people were divided among the sons of God. We are troubled by this passage, but to the ancients this made total sense. Each nation had a god. Each people had a god. Yet among all these groups they had an idea that there were lesser and greater gods. Very few of the ancient world religious faiths allowed direct access to the Most High God. Most were lucky if they had access to the servant of the Most High. Even the Baal the false god that Israel often turned to when they turned away from God once they settled in the Promised Land, was not the primary deity in the pantheon of that faith tradition. Baal was the servant of El. This is interesting if you ask me, because El is often used as a name for God within the Hebrew Scriptures. The Most High God divided the nations, but there was only one group that had direct access to the Most High. And that was a group that did not yet exist at the time of Babel.
It was after Babel that Abraham was called, it was after Babel that God chose his people, and he did not choose the mightiest among the nations. He chose one old and childless man. If the world believes that the strength of a deity is based on the strength of the military God was determined to choose a different path.
God chose a nation that did not yet exist. The Most High God, chose to reveal his greatness in a manner that contradicted the wisdom of men. The might of God is revealed through what men see as weakness. And yet Isaiah is saying there will be an attraction to the Most High. The attraction is peace and justice. It is equity and concern for others. It is a continuation of what God began in Eden, God commissioned our first parent to go into the world and bring it into submission. We often look at that commission through the eyes of conquest. This is a mistake because that is looking at the commissioning through the wisdom of men. Instead, we should look at it through the eyes of diplomacy and convincement. Adam and Eve were commissioned to reflect the life they had in Eden to the world that lay outside the borders of that garden. The garden is described by the prophets as God’s Mountain abode. Our first parents were to go out into the world, walking with all of creation in the same manner that God walked with them in the cool of the evenings. They were to go into the world as God’s royal envoy to extend the influence God had in the garden to all of creation.
When God gave Moses the law, this is what God was attempting to restore. We as humans turned away from God’s created order, we used might and force to exploit and control. But Torah was given to teach a different lifestyle. God chose Israel to be a light to the nations, to be the evidence that there is a different lifestyle available. A life where the poor are treated with dignity, where the outsider is treated with the same respect and honor as the native. Where people are concerned with the wellbeing of others just as much as they are concerned with the wellbeing of themselves.
People will flow to the Mountain of God to learn His ways, why? “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Reflect for a moment on what that means. The people of God will use the resources available to them for, agriculture. They will use the resources available, not to exploit and steal from others, but to create an abundance. Jesus told his disciples that he came to give life, and life to the full or abundance. This is what he means. It does not necessarily mean that we each need to have a farm, but that we should use what we have available to encourage others.
“Neither shall they learn war anymore.”
I have contemplated that last statement over the years. I have wrestled with it, as I look at the world around us. I have wrestled because I do believe that the ambiguousness of verse 2 means that this is both the goal we should strive to reach within our lifetime, and it will also be the hope we have in that future beyond the veil. I wrestle because we do not live in a world dominated by peace and justice.
As I have wrestled with this, I have been convicted. What have I done to promote this kind of life? And this has caused me to wrestle more. Through the past few weeks people have asked me what I think of war and peace, because they know that Friends are opposed to participation in war. They ask how we can say these things knowing that there are people in the world dying every day in war. To be opposed to war does not mean war does not exist, it simply means that I recognize that it is not the way things should be.
What promotes peace? Isaiah tells us. Teaching. We should educate. Education equips the next generation to meet the challenges they will face in the world. We should teach our children everything we know and we should encourage them to learn even more. We should be curious and free to explore the things that make us curious. The second thing that promotes peace is having a place to speak. When Isaiah says, “He shall judge between nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples.” He is promoting equity and free speech. He is saying that there cannot be peace unless all people can voice their concerns and are given fair consideration. And the third pillar of peace is fair and free trade, this is what the sword to plowshares is. It is using our resources to benefit others instead of using them to exploit.
People need free speech so that they can voice their concerns, we need education so that we are able to find resolution to those concerns, and we need fair and free trade so that we can act on those concerns, with mutual profit for all involved. This is the goal, and yes, it is my ideology and my hope. If all people have access to these things, we will see a startling difference in the world.
Twenty-two years ago, a student in Ukraine asked me why I was in their country teaching English. I was asked why people from the United States even cared. Twenty-two years ago, Ukraine was still a new nation. They had emerged from nearly a hundred years of being our enemy and I was sitting at a table in McDonald’s encouraging them. I was honest with this student. I told them that I did not care about the politics but I wanted friendship. If nations can talk, if they share ideas, and if they can trade goods and services, they are less likely to participate in war against each other. But when we begin to cut ties, when we begin to look to our own self interest instead of mutual benefit, we start down a road to destruction. We see this in Ukraine, we see it in our own nation, we saw it in the 2nd world war, and we see it throughout Africa. God has given us the pathway to peace. Will we take it?
“The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” It begins by recognizing and honoring that of God in all people. It continues when we take up the cross and follow Jesus. When we take on his life and lifestyle and live it in our community, we show them that there is a better way. When we love God with all that we have, when we embrace the Spirit in our times of prayer and live the love of Christ with others, we participate in the things that promote peace. Isaiah challenges the people of Judah. He says to them, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” He is calling them to live the lifestyle of God. He is calling them to return to God and to allow God to guide their lives. Will we repent and turn to God, or will we allow the destruction of selfishness and envy reign in our lives? Will we promote peace or will continue to suffer the wrath of the sword?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 20, 2022
Luke 23:33–43 (ESV)
33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The past couple of weeks I have come down hard on the Evangelical Church. I do this knowing that this is the tradition that I have been reared. It is among the Evangelicals that I have formed my ideas of who God is and where I stand with God. As much as we would like to believe that we are influenced by culture and tradition, the reality is that these things influence a great deal.
Two weeks ago, I spoke about marriage. I said that marriage at its base form is about survival, and I was actually surprised that I did not have an email box full of responses. But I wanted us to consider things from a different perspective. I wanted us to do this because by making definitions based on our contemporary understanding of scripture, we end up condemning most of the heroes of faith. Most of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament would not be accepted under most Evangelical definitions of marriage. King David would have been condemned by the contemporary church. These are just a few. If we looked deeper into church history, we would see even greater issues. St. Augustine, who is considered one of the doctors of the church, lived his entire adult life with a mistress. Why do we not see him as being defiled by this activity. Because he was living a lifestyle accepted within his contemporary culture. He did not marry his mistress because she was of a lower class than him in his culture. He was not allowed to marry her, in fact it would have been considered sinful if he had.
I bring this up not because I want to debate our understandings of marriage, but because this is probably the one area where we can see how culture has been influential in our understanding of faith. This is why I made the case that marriage is for survival. Our definition of marriage is based on the survival of our contemporary understanding of life and faith.
Last week we discussed another issue that has changed throughout church history. Eschatology and apocalypse. I mentioned how prevalent studies on this topic have been within my lifetime, and it is becoming divisive. The most prevalent understanding of eschatology among American Evangelicals is called Dispensationalism. This understanding of eschatology, although it is often taught as Biblical truth accepted from the early church until today, did not exist until the late 19th century.
When this concept of eschatology first emerged it was not widely accepted but early in the 20th century something else happened. Christian Fundamentalism began to take hold. Things that we take as being gospel truths today draw their roots from this movement. But along with the fundamentalist movement came the idea of personal bible study. Everyone was encouraged to study scripture on their own. This study prompted many great movements, including the Evangelical church. What we may not realize is that because of the great encouragement to study for yourself, people realized that portions of scripture were difficult to understand. So they went out to find resources that could assist in that study. In the early 20th century there very few marketed study bibles, or a bible with notes that help clarify those troublesome passages. But two that were available were the Darby Bible and the Scofield bible. Both of these study bibles were published in the effort to prove that dispensational eschatology was biblical, despite what church history taught.
Through the great desire of devout followers of Christ, wanting to deepen the foundations of their faith, we began to study. And as we bought resources to aid in that study, we purchased publications that had notes that were biased. And as we read these notes along with scripture, we began to think that this had always been the belief. But it has not. We were influenced by culture, and well meaning teachers to believe something.
We live in an era that tells us that culture is at war with the church. I am not denying this. The culture has always opposed the church. That is the nature of sin. If the culture did not war with the church there would not be sin, and we would be living in Eden. But sin misses the mark. Sin distracts us from what we should be looking at and takes us down a different path. Repentance is the return from sin.
The Sadducees brought Jesus the question about marriage. They brought this question because there was an internal debate among the faithful about the reality of the Resurrection. The Sadducees we are told did not believe in the resurrection, so they had no problem with the levirate marriage. But if there was a resurrection and if in the resurrection things were as they are on Earth, there is a real problem. The woman was married to seven men, they could logically explain a man with seven wives, but how can we prove inheritance if a child might be from one of seven?
Let us consider another question that was posed. In Matthew 22 the Pharisees went with the Herodians and asked, “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” (Matthew 22:15-22 ESV)
I pulled just one question out of the sixty some odd questions asked of Jesus. But again, we notice something within the context of the question. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” People often tell me that I should just simply read scripture and not put so much effort in looking deeper, but this is important. Two groups ask this question, the Pharisees and the Herodians. This is again two groups that make up the cultural identities of the first century Jewish faith. Both would be seen on the outside as being Israel, but internally there is a debate. By asking this question we can see the sides that each might take. One side says it is not lawful to pay taxes. And the other is stating that it is lawful. We could venture to say which is which by the names given the Herodians, by their very name are supporters of the Herodian dynasty. Herod was given his position by the grace of Rome. The Pharisees on the other hand were from a school of thought, that they should make the nation righteous, and how could we be righteous if Gentiles ruled over us?
Should we conform to the government or are we sanctified, or set apart from it? About this time someone should start yelling, “Paul tells us in Romans that we should submit to the government, because God allowed them to rule and to reject this is to reject God.” Do you get a sense as to why it is difficult to study scripture alone. Jesus tells those that questioned him to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Have you ever just stopped to really consider the implications of this?
These various groups were arguing among themselves. We are told by Jesus, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40 ESV). They search the Scriptures, they can quote scripture references to support their various positions. Yet they do not know the source of life is standing before them.
And then after they were done asking questions. They came to an agreement. They made peace between their various factions, and they plotted.
John 11:47–50 (ESV)
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”
One man for the whole nation. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. Did you hear those words? Do you understand what they are saying, what they imply. This is a war, a divide between religion and culture. And the various groups are making alliances not on what they teach or believe, but based on the maintenance of political influence.
“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
I have sat with this passage in mind all week. I have had this prayer of Jesus echoing in my mind as I sleep. I also had the song lyrics , “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you.”
“Forgive them,” Jesus says, “For they know not what they do.” As far as they were concerned, they knew exactly what they were doing. They were placing all their political division onto one person, with the hopes that if they just got rid of this one divisive voice, they would be able to work through their problems. But this did not work. They did not know what they were doing. We often say if they had recognized him as the Messiah they would not have crucified him. The fact is, they would have. If the Roman knew that Jesus had no dynastic ambitions they would not have crucified him. The truth is they would have. If they only knew. We know, and yet we still divide.
“And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up, and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’’ They mock and they jeer. They create no-win situations and expect an answer. What would have happened if Jesus came off the cross? A riot would have ensued, a war would have started, and nothing would have changed.
Nothing would have changed. When we think of the crucifixion do we see it as the love of God? Do we see it as Jesus taking on our sin and our shame? Do we see it as the selfless act that it was and is?
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that selfishness leads to destruction. I want you to think of all the ambitions of mankind. What often is left in the wake? What do we see in the wake of an individual’s pursuit of power? What is left behind in our pursuit of wealth? It is usually not difficult to see, when these ambitions are pursued in a selfish manner there is destruction and desolation left in the wake. There can only be destruction in the wake, because to not destroy would mean there would be empathy and selfless concern. War leaves cities in ruins, even if a nation uses precision rockets. And often companies will hoard away wealth and file for bankruptcy if they are required to do anything that does not directly result in profit.
I am not anti-profit by any means. I am not even anti-military although I am a conscientious objector. All I am saying is that selfishness always leads to destruction in some form. Selfishness leaves families broken, it leaves relationships cold, it leaves tables empty, and schools without books. And the religious leaders plotted with each other against a man that taught us to live selflessly because he threatened their power.
Marriage is about survival. It is the selfless giving of what you have available to you to another, with the hope that they will selflessly give what they have available to them to you. We do this so that we both survive. And this spreads to the wider family, and to the tribe and to the nation. This is what the Old Testament law taught. Live selflessly. But we tend to twist the law, and we begin to twist our relationships, and we begin to justify our actions. I need this and they will not give it to me so I will take it instead of asking, neglect sharing, or failing to consider their opinion.
Or when Jesus said that we should not listen to those that make apocalyptic claims. Why would he say this, because it is clearly a theme throughout scripture. That if we do not repent bad things will happen. It is throughout the teachings of the prophets, and it is in Revelation. It is in scripture so we should teach it. Jesus tells us not to listen to them, because they are using our fear to manipulate our actions, or to sell products. It is not out of concern for others, but it is for selfishness. Churches preach the apocalypse because it brings more people in. When we have had our fill of apocalypse many do not know what to teach, because they already made the claim the end was going to happen, and it did not. They sold fear, and they will continue to sell fear. And as long as we live in fear they control us.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those that put Jesus on trial genuinely thought they were doing the right thing. The Roman soldiers that place the nails in his hand genuinely thought that if they did not execute this man that society would crumble. They all thought, they all believed that they were doing what is best, because in their mind as long as they maintained power all would be good. Jesus told the Pharisees and the Herodians give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. He said this after they handed him a coin that bore the image of Caesar. The coin represented the tax, the authority of the state the status quo, but what did Jesus leave open? What are the things of God? What bears the image of God?
In all the power brokering that lead to Jesus hanging on the cross, the righteous and the powerful forgot the most important thing. What is a nation? What is a congregation? A nation is people. It always has been and always will be. People. This is what Jesus means when he says give unto God what is God’s. We are created in God’s image. We bear the image of God. We were created to reflect the nature of God into the world around us. How do we do this?
Marriage is survival. It is survival because marriages are families and families are to take care of one another. If we say we support the sanctity of marriage, then what that means is that we support selfless giving for mutual profit. And this by nature must extend beyond into the nation, and from the nation to the world. That was the command that God gave our first parents, and that was the command that they broke when they ate of the fruit.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right here I am stuck in the middle with you. Jesus hangs on the cross between two criminals. He hangs there crying out to the Father to forgive them for they do not know what they are doing, and one of the criminals starts mocking him as well. We lash out in our pain; we want others to feel our misery. If we cannot have it good, no one should. We see this throughout our cultures. It is again a form of selfishness, called jealousy and greed. The inability to see our own self as part of the problem is the true pandemic in our culture. But one of those that hung on the cross, recognized something. He rebuked his fellow condemned man, and looked to Jesus and said remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Have you ever really considered the silliness of that statement at face value. The three of them are hanging on crosses. Their future is numbered in minutes not days, and this man says remember me when you come into your kingdom. What kingdom does a condemned man have? This is before the resurrection and before the church. And yet this man realized something that so many of us miss. The kingdom is already here, and Jesus in that moment on the cross established it. The Kingdom is selfless giving for mutual profit. The kingdom is taking care of those around you. The Kingdom is honoring that of God in the person siting next to you, and honoring that of God in the person that politically opposes you. That criminal listened to Jesus’s prayer, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” That criminal might have been in the crowd listening to the answers posed by the various debating factions within the nation of Israel, and something changed in that man’s mind. He knew what he had done, he knew that he was receiving just compensation for what he had done, but Jesus had done nothing but speak words that caused people to become uncomfortable. And the actions that Jesus took were always for the benefit of others and the larger community. He healed, he fed, he taught, and encouraged. He told the wealthy to use their wealth to assist those that did not have a voice in their society. He treated those that were marginalized with respect and restored their dignity. Even those caught in sin or living outside the community of God, Jesus encouraged. And yet he hung on the tree between the clown and the joker. And all he said is, “Forgive them.”
We are living in a culture at war with ourselves. We are living in a community that is so blinded by selfishness. We try to place the blame on others, it’s the rich, or some other faction within our nation. We plot and we conspire, we vote and we sell. We argue and we take up arms. We think we know what we are doing and Jesus is hanging on the cross between us. Us clowns and jokers. And he says forgive them for they do not know what they do. As we argue do we love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others? As we buy and sell are we loving God with everything that we have and our neighbor as ourselves. As we build and as we tear down are we bringing the earth into Eden? Or are we just acting foolish? Each of us should be on that cross, and yet it is not I but Christ. And because he took up the cross, he looks at us and says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” We can live in the kingdom today. We can experience God and see his glory today. We could if we turned. If we turn from self and live for others.
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 13, 2022
Luke 21:5–19 (ESV)
5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Have you ever really thought about what it means to be a follower of Jesus? I have wrestled with this question over the past couple of weeks. Well, if I am honest, years. I ask this question and I even encourage you to consider this question because it is important. What does it mean to follow Christ?
This is not flippant or something I ask in jest, but I really want us to deeply consider what it means to follow Christ. It has been a question of mine because we live in a culture where this definition can easily become skewed. Does following Christ mean that I need to belong to a particular political party? Does following Christ mean that I cannot study the sciences or even worse the arts? Does following Christ mean that we must treat certain people within our community differently than others? I want us to really consider these questions because they are important. And I hope that it takes you a bit to answer them.
I ask these questions because these questions have always been part of faith. What did it mean to be part of Israel in the days of Moses? During the days of Isaiah? Or during exile? What did it mean to be part of Israel while living in Egypt after the temple was rebuilt? What did it mean to believe in the God of Israel if you were recognized as a Gentile or a Samaritan?
A great deal has changed over the course of history. Today each of us can read the scripture, most of us can read it in our native language, and at times we can have multiple translations within our native language. We each own at least one bible, and if you do not then today is your lucky day because we have Bibles available in the foyer and you can have one. Most of us, if we have a smart phone, have the scripture within reach every moment of every day. This is something that has changed in history. Since 1611 those that speak English have had access to scripture, prior to that the only time most people heard scripture, not read, but heard scripture was if they attended a meeting for worship in a church. Because of this lack of access to scripture, the church formed a lectionary where over the course of three years nearly 14% of the Old Testament not including the Psalms is read, 55% of the non-gospel portions of the New Testament, and nearly 90% of the Gospels are read.
That is the statistics if we were to read all the lectionary readings each week. We do not do this here at Willow Creek Friends, and this is only for those churches that use the lectionary. Most Evangelical churches do not use the lectionary because we consider ourselves free churches, meaning we have the freedom to use whatever scriptures we want at any given time. I like that freedom, but unfortunately this freedom comes with a cost.
One of my great-grandfathers was a pastor, and so was one of my grandfathers, the second set of commentaries that I owned was given to me by my grandmother and they were commentaries that my great-grandfather used, she also gave me the last bible he used while preaching and these are some of my most cherished possessions. But there is a problem. Most of the volumes are in near mint condition, while a few are so tattered I can barely use them. I am not speaking ill of my great-grandfather, every pastor has books and passages they have greater comfort with. I am no different, but in many free churches this leaves a gap in what is spoken about publicly and to fill this gap each member must do their own work.
But where the gaps occur is the greatest problem. My great-grandfather is not the greatest source of information but I can say that the people within the meetings he served heard messages primarily from Roman’s, and then Matthew. These are the volumes of his commentaries that are in near tatters and I must admit because I inherited his commentaries and used them for the first ten years of my ministry, I avoided those books not because they are unimportant but because I did not want to further damage my resources.
If this is similar in other churches and we could probably say it is, there is a real gap in teaching. We can learn a great deal from a couple of books within scripture but by only focusing on a portion we risk getting a skewed view of what faith is. And for most of my life this skewed view has gotten broader. This is the primary reason I tend to avoid eschatology. And next year I am planning on alleviating some of this disparity in teaching and will speak more on the Old Testament, since I have mainly spoken out of the gospels during the time I have been here at Willow Creek.
What does it mean to be a Christian, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ or a follower of Jesus? This question is similar to the question those of Israel had in the first century. We saw a portion of this last week when the Sadducees came to ask Jesus a question. There is no question that history considers them to be on an equal standing or of equal footing to the Pharisees, even though they had different understandings of what faith was. To the point that history says they controlled the temple.
This is where we want to begin. The temple of Yahweh was something to behold. I have not had the pleasure of visiting the Mount that once held this wonder of the ancient world, but some of you have. And what we see today is nothing, it is just part of the retaining wall. If we are to believe the ancient historians, the façade or the main entrance to the courts were ten stories tall and equally wide. This would cover a third of an average city block and they did not say if this was the outer courts or the inner courts. But what they did say is that this massive façade ten stories tall and just as wide was covered in gold. The federal courthouse in Kansas City is of similar size. Just imagine that covered in gold.
We assume that the Sadducees held influence over this building. This building that each religious observer would visit at least three times a year. It was at this temple where the tithes of Israel were brought, and where the priests would offer the sacrifices of Thanksgiving and for the sins of the nation. This is an influential place. With stones that are estimated to weigh a million pounds. And those at this temple looked to Jesus and they said, “Just look at this place.” They were awestruck by the grandeur and we could not blame them.
There are many great buildings in the world. And some buildings built in ancient days still astonish us. The pyramids of Egypt and Mexico fascinate me. The great cathedral Hagia Sophia in Istanbul takes my breath away. I literally cried when Notre Dame burned. As much as I currently dislike Russia today, I still marvel every time I see the onion domes of St Basil’s. And the Norwegian Stave churches are currently my favorite architectural style.
When we see these great buildings it is difficult for us to imagine the societies that initiated these wonders falling from prominence, but the once great gate of Persia have been transported to the British Museum along with countless other artifacts. Egypt remained a mystery to modern people until the Rosetta Stone was discovered. Hagia Sophia the great cathedral with the largest freestanding dome was converted to a mosque and is now only a museum. Those are ancient buildings, the company that built the Willis Tower, which was once the largest building in the world is nearly extinct.
Jesus looked at those men marveling about the great building before them and he told them not one of these stones will be left standing on another. This is a shocking statement, and the people that listened were amazed.
Why were they amazed? Imagine a world without the White House. Imagine a world where the Red Square was a vague memory. Imagine the British Isles without Buckingham palace. These are more than structures they are cultural identity. They define a nation, or people. This is what the Temple in Jerusalem was. It was more than a place of worship. It was a monument to the hope of Israel.
Jesus is telling them that they have a misplaced faith. They are worshiping the building, not the God who is said to reside within. Their worship and have faith not in the hope given by God but in the things they have provided for themselves. Look at the building, marvel at the offerings. All the gold.
Jesus has their attention. And he has their attention for a reason the second temple period of Jewish faith loved a good apocalypse. Jesus starts saying the temple will be destroyed and they think they might just have something that could sell.
They press Jesus for more information. Tell us the signs. Give us something to look for. Why do they want to know this? For the same reason we do. They want to use it for their own advantage.
I mentioned that I avoid speaking about eschatology, there is a reason for this. That is nearly all I heard growing up. As a young adult nearly, every Christian movie produced was based on eschatology. The most popular book series in my formative years was Left Behind. Probably once every five years I heard an in-depth sermon series on an aspect of Revelation. Apocalypse sells. It was not until the Passion of Christ that the movie industry realized that maybe they could make something other than apocalyptic films.
Jesus again looks at these profit seeking sign teachers and he tells them probably the most important things we need to know about the end of the world.
Luke 21:8–9 (ESV): “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”
There are three very important points in those two verses. The first: “Do not go after them.” The second: “Do not be terrified.” And the third and probably the most important of the three: “the end will not be at once.”
Do not be terrified. I just mentioned that apocalypse sells. It sells because it preys upon our fears. We as humans will do almost anything, buy almost anything, or vote for almost anyone if it will take away or alleviate our fears. Jesus tells us not to be terrified of these apocalyptic tales. And there were many during Jesus’s Era of history.
Do not listen to them.
Have I ever told you how much is dislike the election cycle? Some get annoyed with me when I say things like this because they think I do not care about our country. Those that know me can tell you that is far from the truth. What I dislike about the election cycle is the fear mongering, and the telling of partial truths. I will be honest. I grew up in a family that is deeply Republican and that is by in large my political views. I say this only because I have lived through two presidential terms that I was told would end the nation. They may not have done what I would have liked but I would not want to live anywhere else.
Fear mongers are out for something. They know they do not have solutions to the problems we face, but they want you to believe that if you do not listen to them the worst will happen. There are times when we should be cautious, I wear a seat belt for a reason. I get my vaccinations not because someone tells me to but because I understand enough about our biological systems to know that vaccines can work. You do not have to agree with me, if fact I would love for you to change my mind. Those that use fear are selling something we do not need.
Finally the last point Jesus made in those two verses. “the end will not be at once.” This statement is one that often gets twisted. Some will say that Jesus was making a statement about the destruction of Jerusalem will not be the end. And yes, he did say that. But what we often miss is that he means. You might think that the end is near but it will not come soon.
I know several took a quick breath right there. Jesus is not telling us the end will not come. He is saying our focus should not be on the end but what is going on right now. He continues to speak about how terrible life could get for those that follow him. He says even your own family will turn you over to the authorities. This is something extremely taboo in a culture that is largely based on subsistence agriculture. You are not going to purposefully cause a labor shortage especially when harvest is coming.
The end is not what we should be focused on. We should not fear it, we should not listen to those the perpetuate theories surround it. And we should realize that it is not coming at once.
Why do I say these things? Because we as churches as Evangelical Churches, have gotten distracted. We have focused on avoiding the end to such a degree that we have forgotten that when we struggle together with those around us, we have an amazing opportunity. Jesus says that when you are struggling, when you are brought before your accusers, and face trials, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” The Greek here is martyr, which we often regard as being someone that has died for their faith. But it is a witness, or evidence. Jesus is literally saying you, when you face struggles, are the evidence for him. He then goes on to say, “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer.” This is something very important. Throughout the Old Testament the righteous are encouraged to bind the law on their foreheads and to on hands. There are groups within the Jewish faith that take this quite literally, and they have phylacteries that they tie to their heads and they have strips of leather that they wrap around their arms as they pray. The prophets of old then said that God will write these things upon their hearts and later John wrote in the Revelation of Jesus about a mark we know as the mark of the beast. This mark is the anti-phylactery.
When God told the Israelites to bind the law on their foreheads, he was saying that the law should be on their mind. When its bound to their arms, he says that the law should be lived out in their actions. When the beast marks his people the same could be said. Their thoughts and actions are contrary to God. When Jesus says that we should settle it therefore in our minds, it is the Greek form of this concept. The word of God should already be present in our minds and in our actions. We do not need to prepare a speech to give at a moment’s notice because the Spirit has already written or prepared those words for us as we live each day for Him. There will be a day when everything within the kingdoms of men that we have confidence in will crumble and fall. There will be a day when we will have to bear witness to our faith in a manner that may be uncomfortable and at times may even be dangerous. How will we respond? Will it be in fear or faith? Those that live by faith even through the greatest trials, Jesus says will gain your lives. This does not necessarily mean that our troubles will end, but we will find we will gain meaning and purpose. We will find the very thing we seek and hope for. We will find the god we put our hope in. For those that are reading my sermon notes you will notice I put the lower case god in that sentence, because we often worship many different things. What we think about, and how we live, often determines where our faith resides. Our nation, our wealth, the buildings that inspire us, or the God that come to live among us, to teach us, to die in for us and to raise again to give us the hope of restored life. Will we live by fear or will we be the evidence of faith in God.
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.