February 20, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READING:
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold; be the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. This gospel of the Kingdom of God will be preached to the whole world as a testimony to all nations- and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24.12-14)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFLECTION:
On Monday, late afternoon, as Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives watching the sun set behind the great city of Jerusalem, He had to be thinking of what was yet to come. Earlier, as He left the Temple with His disciples, the disciples drew His attention to the great Temple edifice. They marveled, as did many who did not make it to Jerusalem often, at the architecture of gleaming white stones. Each stone, like the pyramids, were set carefully in place. It gleamed in the sunlight and was visible from a great distance being set on a high hill. At night, the torches were lit all around so that it continued to shine as a beacon at night. He said to them, “The day will come when not one stone will be left on another as everyone will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24.2) By the time they had made their way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, through the East Gate, down the hill to the Kidron Valley and up again to the Mount of Olives, the sun was going down. The moon would have been rising nearing a full moon status. It was, after all, the Passover season. From their vantage point the sky may have been that dusky red and orange color which brings awe and wander to each one of us. It would have only highlighted the splendor of the Temple; at least it outward appearance. Inside, the failure to dwell in the true righteousness of God festered. His declaration to all those in the marketplace concerning His Father’s House being transformed out of a place of prayer into a den of thieves seemed to be lost on everyone but Him. The disciples may have been afraid to ask Him about His tirade the day before. No doubt that word of what had happened was on the lips of everyone who was in or near Jerusalem. The numbers of people swell to a couple of hundred thousand at Passover. The simple town of 25,000 was easily overwhelmed. People had to camp out on the Mount of Olives under the trees, somewhere in the valley below or find lodging in nearby inns of cities close by such as Bethany, Emmaus and Bethlehem. People talk!
Strange how similar it was on the day of His birth when there was no room in the inn on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The moon may have just set in those early morning hours bringing a temporary darkness to the world. The stars would have shone brilliantly and the air grew exceedingly cold in anticipation of the rising of the sun over the eastern horizon. It may have seemed an ordinary birth to anyone but Mary and Joseph. There may have been other babies born that night, too. The stillness of the air could have been filled with the joyful cries of new life. It was a far different situation than that in Egypt as they may have been remembering their version of Passover. In their history, that day the air was filled with the cries of loss as the first born of every house, man and beast, was taken by the Spirit of Death which passed through the land. Only those with the blood of the lamb painted over the doorway of their house would have been spared. Even Pharaoh himself suffered the loss of his son. The execution of God’s will temporarily subdued him and he allowed the Hebrew nation to depart from Goshen. They were free to leave and take whatever they wished with them in their pursuit of the Promised Land of their God. Of course, it would be on Jesus’ second birthday that in the region of Bethlehem similar cries would be heard. Herod, in a jealous rage inspired by the magi’s inquiry of “Where is He who is born King of the Jews,” gave the order to kill all babies in Bethlehem two years of age and younger. Bloodshed seemed to be a legacy where the name of Jesus would be found. Even His own life would experience such a threat twenty-eight years later in a visit to His hometown of Nazareth. It may have even been on Pentecost when it happened that Jesus was run out of town to the brow of a hill. The intention of some people was to push Him over the edge and to His death. What was their reasoning? He would not, and could not, do any great works for them because they lacked the prerequisite faith needed. What they wanted was something for nothing. They did not want to invest themselves in the word of God as it had been presented to them. They did want all the benefits they thought they were entitled to because this “son of Mary and Joseph” was a hometown boy. It was a special privilege they deserved. The message from Jesus was in evidence, because a few people did receive a miracle, that faith was the key. Now that faith was to be sorely tested but this time from the brow of a different hill. From the Mount of Olives, Jesus could not only see the Temple on Mount Moriah (yes, where Abraham nearly sacrificed his own son, Jacob) but the rise of the Skull where Rome loved to conduct crucifixions. It was a show place that Rome used to make a spectacle of their brutish and savage authority in the eyes of the religious and the irreligious. Its purpose was to strike fear in the hearts of everyone. What great purpose did the natural geography play as they took advantage of what was provided. But, it may not have been an accident of nature that such a place existed. It was not intended for their purpose but that of God’s purpose to transform “sorry into joy, mourning into dancing, death into life, despair into hope, emptiness into fulfillment.” All of that Jesus could well have been considering as the voices of the inquiring disciples crept through the “lost in thought” moment for Him.
What did they want to know? In light of all that Jesus had said and done just in the last two days pushed them to the brink of “when will this all come to pass?” They were bridled horses chomping at the bit to be released in a freedom fury against the Romans and the unrighteousness of their own leadership. They yearned for the freedom to be Hebrews without fetters, masters and not slaves, determiners of their own destiny instead of pawns in the game of another. They followed Jesus because He was a change agent and the culture and climate of their day was ripe for a change. “Just say the word, Jesus, and we will be on the move!” It would happen but not as they thought. They would be free of the fetters of the Law and Prophets as the Scribes and Pharisees had constrained them but bound by the Spirit of the Law to its thread of grace and mercy with a new covenant that required them to even love their enemies and do good to those who would persecute them. It was Jesus’ modus operandi. They would be masters of faith and slaves to God’s will unlike the leadership they had grown up with themselves. But, then that was the way life had been intended to be lived from the beginning. Jesus knew this because He was the very image used by God to create humanity and set His purpose in them by His Spirit. And choice was still the gift of freewill which God granted to every person. It was always a matter of making the “good” decision. We so often think of making the “right” decision but what is right may be ambiguous and bound to what serves “me” best. But, Jesus said “Why do you call Me good when only God is good!” Making that “good” decision was to choose the will of God for one’s own life even if it meant to demonstrate the fulfillment of love by laying one’s life down for another. And that would be the heart of the gospel which told the story of the Messiah God had sent into the world, Jesus of Nazareth.
What they wanted to know was an end date. What they received were marching orders. And those orders remain in effect even to this day. In our desire to be free of the enemy, whomever we have decided the enemy to be, we must become an enemy ourselves and allies of faith, hope and love. We must stand against the tyranny of unrighteousness knowing we must be aligned with fidelity to the righteousness of God. Jesus had said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and the rest of what is needed will be provided.” It wasn’t about the end of times for Jesus but the beginning of all time. The truth remained constant: God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Sure, the end of one age comes and the start of a new age begins. And those ages come and go with the passing whims of humankind. The pages of history are littered with their identifications. But, one age can never pass and it is the Age of God. In the Age of Humanity, there was still one more age to pass through. It was the age of the Church. When that Age would come to a close then the end of life as we know it would come as well. It was the purpose and hope that Jesus would show them preemptively what that “age” would look like both as the Church and as the Age to Come. When? That was the critical mass event the disciples and followers wanted to know about. Timing is everything. Perfect timing is in the hands of God. Jesus said the end will come when the gospel is preached globally and universally by the Church. It was not “preached in the heart and mind of good intentions” nor conjured as a “I should do that or wouldn’t it be good if that happened.” It is a non-negotiable mission and purpose which all believers are asked to engage. It is to “all” nations: Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Man, Woman as far as the east is from the west and the north is from the south and all parts inbetween. It seems the Church has a lot of work yet to do before that day can come. I said “can” come not will come. Jesus’ life was filled with inevitabilities and so are ours. His life was aligned with non-negotiables and so, too, must ours be. Are we willing to be ready for what we are asking for? Are we willing to face the hills of our lives with the desire to live and die by faith? And no, it is not measured by the standards of the world to be successful in this venture. The true measure comes in our fealty to doing the will of God and allow the consequences to rest in His hands alone. This is what Jesus was doing. This is what it was all about as He sat there on the Mount of Olives looking at the future of humanity. More was to come.
Father, You have prepared a way for us to live purposefully, successfully and to Your glory. In the midst of our choices, You still find a way to move us in the direction we should go. May we surrender to Your Holy Spirit and its leadership instead of chomping on the bit of our own. We will seek to walk more by faith today than by sight of the past and the future. Thank You for being here with us in and through these days in Jesus’ name. Amen.