Episode 7: Salvation
World Communion Sunday
Open with Recap Video “Previously on Bingeworthy”
Last Sunday Pastor Jevon got us through the restoration following the exile of the Jews in Babylon. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt by Nehemiah. Ezra led the spiritual rebuilding. And Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, which created a tension. Many Jews who returned from the diaspora, or dispersion after the Babylonian takeover, brought their new form of worship: synagogues, where they focused on the teaching of Torah. But with a new temple others wanted to reestablish sacrificial worship.
Roughly 400 years go by before the New Testament. This is called the Intertestimental Period. Not much is written during these years, but as we know historically a lot happened. Alexander the Great came onto to the scene from Greece in 336BC. In 13 years he conquest went as far as India. When he died his empire was divided among his 10 generals who ended up fighting each other. Israel was caught between two of these warring groups. (MAP) General Ptolemy’s empire to the south, or modern day Egypt; and General Seleucus to the north. By the second century BC, the Seleucids have the upper hand and their new emperor is Antiochus. He gave himself the last name Epiphanes, which means “God revealed.” He named himself the revelation of God. Any women ever dated him before?
Well, if you think you are God on earth, you can’t tolerate people having a different God, so the Jews suffered terribly during this time, until Judas Maccabees led a revolt, and overthrew the Seleucids. They reclaimed the temple where there was enough oil to burn for just one day. They lit the lamp and it burned for, any guesses? Eight days. That led to the holiday of Hannakah, the feast of lights. This created the first free nation of Israel in nearly a thousand years, starting in 163BC. It last just 100 years until the Roman General Pompey rode into Palestine in 63 BC. Israel would not be a free nation again until 1948.
So roughly 60 years later, time itself changed, at least the way we date the calendar changed, when an angel visited a girl in Nazareth named Mary and said these words to her: “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:31-33)
Nine months later Jesus, the Son of God, was born in Bethlehem, and thus begins the era of the New Testament. Four books tell the story of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Tradition gave them symbols which you see on screens behind me. Matthew is a Winged Man, Mark a winged lion, Luke an ox, and John an eagle.
These are called the four Gospels. Gospel means “Good news.” Matthew, Mark and Luke are considered synoptic gospels. Synoptic comes from “syn” meaning together, and optic which can guess means see. Seen together. These three gospels are similar in that they see together the biographical life of Jesus. A few years after them came the Gospel of John. It uses more symbolism. It’s focus is on Jesus as the source of spiritual life. All four gospel agree that Jesus is the son of God who brings life to the world and reveals God’s intention for us. With that, let’s hear a story from Jesus’ ministry…(scripture reading)
That story captures Jesus’ mission. I’ll come back to it in a bit. First let’s consider the different worlds Jesus lived in.
A. Political. The Romans ruled Palestine, but they had an interesting way of doing so. This was the period known as the Pax Romana, Roman Peace. Romans found ways not to have to rule by force and intimidation. They sought local rulers who would see that Roman law and peace was kept and therefore give authority to these people. When Jesus lived this was the Herods. There were several generations of Herods. The first, King Herod. He was Jewish but relished the power Rome gave him. To be more popular with the people he rebuilt the temple about fifteen years before Jesus was born. He greatly increased the size of the temple mount and the building. In fact, his temple was significantly larger than the one Solomon first built. (PIC of temple comparisons)
But Herod was also a ruthless tyrant, fearful of losing power. Learning that a “king of the Jews” had been born, he ordered the execution of all male children under 2 years old in Bethlehem. It was actions like this that made many people despise the Herods and the Romans. This tension was a significant factor in Jesus’ lifetime. Herod’s temple.
B. Social Following the Exile many people returned to Israel who were Jewish by faith but not race. This was especially true of Samaritans. We talked about this several weeks ago. People from other nations were brought to Samaria by the Assyrians. They became believers but they weren’t racial Jews. This was a huge tension in Jesus’ day. Many Jews by race despised Samaritans. They believed a Messiah would one day not only remove foreign governments, but restore a racial purity among God’s people.
C. Religious The development of synagogue worship and the reestablished temple worship created two strands of leadership: Pharisees who were devoted to the study and teaching of Torah, and Sadducees who were committed to the preservation of temple worship. Jesus had conflict with both of these groups. When he or his disciples did things like violate Sabbath laws, he heard it from the Pharisees. When he said things like “destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it,” he was condemned by the Sadducees.
There was also a council that governed the religious affairs of the nation, the Sanhedrin. This was made up of 69 teachers and priests, and then the High Priest, making it 70 members in all. They worked with the Romans to see that peace was maintained. Their biggest fear was someone who would lead a religious rebellion because it would mean that the Romans would take away their freedoms. The charge against Jesus was that he was a rebel who threatened Rome and therefore needed to be executed.
So with that, let’s think about three primary identities Jesus had.
A. King. This was the most misunderstood part of Jesus’ role. People looked for a Messiah who would be a military conqueror and return Israel to a free state, but Jesus’ kingdom was different. He came to usher in the kingdom of God. As it says in Matthew, “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (4:17)
In other words, in Jesus’ life God’s kingdom is present. What is that kingdom? It basically means God’s reign; the way life looks when God’s way for us in effect. We’ve already learned much of that way. This is what the Old Testament talked about. Loving God. Loving our neighbors. Jesus didn’t make that up. He took it from the Torah. Caring for the widows and orphans and poor. Jesus demonstrates by his living what God’s reign looks like.
Therefore he calls people to follow him, to make him their king, to live like him. This is what the synoptic gospels emphasize. 75 times the expression Kingdom of God is used in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Their emphasis is on discipleship and following Jesus.
Jesus proves his authority with the miracles he performed. Miracles were a significant part of his ministry, but this was not something Jesus emphasized. In fact, one of the unique features of Mark’s Gospel is called “The Messianic Secret.” That’s because Jesus would say to people after performing a miracle, “Tell no one what you saw.” Because he didn’t want people to miss the point. He didn’t come to be a Magic Genie, he came to be a Lord who called people to take up their cross and follow him. Eventually following Jesus doesn’t overcome our problems, it leads us to face the problems of our world.
Jesus’ greatest miracle, of course, was resurrection. He overcame death. He proves that God’s kingdom eventually wins out, but it comes by way of a cross. Jesus still today calls people to follow him. To let him be in charge and use us to face the problems that keep our world from looking like the kingdom of God. He calls you and me.
B. Priest. And not just any priest, but a new High Priest. Look at these verses from Hebrews 4: “Since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God…let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Notice the regal language, throne. Where is the one place only the High Priest can enter? The Holy of Holies in the temple. What is in there? The Ark of the Covenant, which had gone missing by Jesus’ day, but this language refers to the old temple. What was the cover to the ark called? The Atonement Cover, or the Mercy Seat, the place believed to be God’s seat. Salvation, restored relationship with God depends on having a mediator who can go before God on your behalf.
In Jesus we have someone who is better than a High Priest because he is God! We can have direct access to God. So later in Hebrews it says, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…” (Hebrews 10:11-12)
In the sacrificial system priests had to keep receiving the sacrifices of people because every sin required a new offering. And since sin hadn’t gone out of business, there was a need for priests. But Jesus changed that. He is a High Priest who becomes the sacrifice for our sins. His sacrifice served for all time. No more sacrifices are needed.
This makes an important faith claim, that our forgiveness is not dependent on what we do but what God has done. Christianity is not about doing, it’s about accepting what has been done. You don’t have to earn God’s forgiveness and love. We only need to accept it.
Also, the New Testament was written in Greek. The word for salvation means wholeness. It includes healing which was another important part of Jesus’ ministry. He healed people, but his healing was more than temporary physical restoration, he offers wholeness. Jesus comes to help us be whole.
C. Prophet When we looked at prophets in the Old Testament we pointed out that prophets were not so much predictors of the future as interpreters of the times. They challenged people with the values of God’s kingdom. Jesus did this through his teaching. The largest amount of the Gospels record Jesus’ teaching. His most popular way of teaching was parables, stories that have multiple levels of meaning, but they all teach something about the values of God. Stories like the Good Samaritan challenged the prejudice of his day. The Prodigal Son challenged the judgment and compassion of people. Many stories attacked the self-righteousness of religious people.
But Jesus teaching was unlike anyone else. After the Sermon on the Mount people said, “…he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Matthew 7:29 Jesus didn’t just teach God’s Word, he was the Word of God! Jesus fulfilled the promises of the prophets like Isaiah who said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (7:14) Immanuel means “God with us.” In Jesus we have God with us. He doesn’t come to throw scripture at people. Instead he comes to be God’s hope for people.
I heard a pastor speak at a youth conference one time. He shared that when his daughter was a baby he bought her a little book that had objects in it. One page said, “This is a pig,” with a little pig shape on the page his daughter could push and it went “Oink!” Another page said, “This is a cow,” and she’d push on the cow and it went “Mooo!”
Well, his daughter loved this little book. It became like a security object. She held it all the time and slept with it. But one day she fell down and scraped her chin. She started crying, and he said, “I just wanted her to feel better. I wanted to help her. I went and got her little book and handed it to her, but she kept crying. I started reading it to her, but that didn’t help. Finally I picked her up and just held her and eventually she stopped crying.” He pointed out that when someone is hurting they need someone to throw a book at them, they need someone to hold them and let them know it will be alright.
Jesus IS God’s word of love and compassion and healing and hope.
An Example of Jesus’ Mission
So let’s put all this together. The scripture we heard earlier is a good example of Jesus’ mission. While passing through Jericho one day people crowded around him. One man came to see Jesus named Zaccheus but he had to climb a tree to see Jesus because he was short of stature. How many of you grew up singing the song, “Zaccheus was a wee-little man, a wee-little man was he?” Well, Zaccheus other challenge was being a tax collector. That meant he collected Roman taxes on his own people. This was another way Romans kept peace. They used locals to do their tax collecting, but they allowed those willing to do it, to charge more than the tax so they could make money. This made them an outcast among their own people.
So Jesus spots Zaccheus and invites himself to Zaccheus’ home which draws the ire of the people. They say, “He is going to the home of a sinner!” In other words they want feel they deserve Jesus attention more than someone like Zacchaeus. This story highlights Jesus’ ministry. He has come not for the healthy but the sick. He has come to relate to people needing greater wholeness. Jesus is concerned for those outside religious community.
Because of their encounter Zaccheus vows to right his wrongs and pay back all he has defrauded with interest! Justice results. The Kingdom of God is extended.
Then Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
This story reveals the power that changes the world. It is not giving people what they deserve, but what they need. The word for that is Grace. Grace is getting better than you deserve, and grace has the greatest power to make our world look like the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is a picture of Grace