February 21, 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:
What if Jesus took on the human perspective of life which says “If something is worth doing, then let someone else do it just in case there are ramifications for it I don’t want to face!” Of course, there is that kind of agenda declared from Golgotha’s Hill as much as it was from the Mount of Olives. In three days from that Monday evening as Jesus sat with His disciples peering into the sunset looking over the city for which Jesus wept (Matthew 23.37-39 and Luke 19.41-44), He would sit in a similar place and pray “Father, if it might be possible [and all things are possible for God] please allow this cup to pass from Me.” I wonder who Jesus thought of in that moment who would be capable of drinking from that cup passed to Him by His Father? He said to James and John, “You may well be able to drink from this cup and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with but unless God has ordained it, you will not sit at My right or left hand. [That is not a ME decision.]” (Mark 10.39-40) Of course, Jesus knew that the position of sitting at God’s right hand or left was ordained for Him and the Holy Spirit alone just as He knew that the cup passed to Him could be consumed only by Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had the most to surrender in order for us to gain the most. Yesterday, as I was writing about Jesus drawing the disciples’ attention to the city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in particular cast against a red sky of sunset, there were several posts which showed up depicting such beautiful sunsets. I took it as an affirmation of “the signs of the times.” Even this morning, there were still others showing up in my feed. They were all beautiful, inspiring and telling. I reflected with one friend that old nautical saying (based on a teaching presented by Jesus who must have heard it from some of His fishing buddies…Matthew 16.2-3) “Red sky at night is a sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning is a sailor’s warning.” I was then prompted in my spirit with the consideration that one person’s red sky at night may well have been another person’s red sky at morning. It is the way of the earth that as the sun is setting it is also rising. The vision we see is one side of the coin. That same coin is seen differently from the other side. But, God holds the same coin in His hand. It makes me consider, too, that lost coin Luke mentioned in his “lost trilogy.” It had and has such value that dare not be lost to us because for God it is not lost on us. The marvel experienced by many who shared the same view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (Jesus and the disciples were not the only ones who saw it from the perspective) was countered by the deep angst of Jesus who saw this “sign of heaven” from a far different vantage point.
If we go back to when Jesus uttered the nautical wisdom mentioned above as Matthew recorded it, we will find it connected to a prelude of what was yet to come. The Sadducees and Pharisees approached Jesus testing Him with a question. How they loved their questions but often did not love His answers. Their question was a request which said “Will you show us a sign from Heaven?” Of course, what they wanted was a validation and declaration which would put Jesus in a position of saying “I AM the Christ of God.” They longed for His words to convict Him of their own crime of blasphemy. Wait, they did not see the other side of the coin that what they were saying and doing was actually blasphemy. From the cross on Golgotha’s hill Jesus would utter on their behalf, “Father, forgive them because they haven’t got a clue as to what they are doing [and what is happening].” Jesus proposed to them that they were able to interpret such meteorological signs but were unequal to the task of interpreting the “signs of the times.” He then alluded to an “old salt” well known to them all: Jonah. The sign of Jonah’s appearance in Nineveh was one of repentance, reconciliation and redemption as much for himself as it was for the “heathen” Ninevites. The Ninevites were the arch enemies of Israel, in particular, and, by extension, of Judea. At this time, the Hebrew nation was still divided into two kingdoms. Jonah, at that time was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom. He had been sent to Jerusalem to warn the king and call him into redemption before God. It was an anathema to him because he loathed the Southern Kingdom nearly as much as he did the Ninevites. But, the king heard the word of God from a “northerner” and repented. The king was won! Now Jonah feared the same consequence would happen to another “enemy.” How coincidental the sound of those two words: enemy and anathema. What did Jesus say about the new covenant His disciples were to propose to all the world? It was to be so inclusive that their love for God as God loves them was to be extended to their enemies. That very calling may have sounded like an anathema to them. But, who were they, and who are we, but enemies of God because of our penchant for sin. We are essentially blasphemers ourselves because the “spirit, or ruach,” of God is in us but outwardly we live for ourselves more than we do for God. Such hypocrisy exists in that we are such proficient sinners we can appear “holy and grand” on the outside while being obedient to a loathsome spirit inside. Such was the vision of the Temple which Jesus gazed upon that Monday evening. At one point He had even called those same questioners “white-washed tombs.” The temple itself had become a white-washed tomb. How appropriate that the Holy of Holies was opened and exposed at the very moment of Jesus’ death on the cross as He surrendered Himself to drink fully from the cup given to Him. On the “third day,” the other side of that coin would find the stone rolled away from the tomb to expose its emptiness as well. All that remained were the graveclothes as images of the past and the futility of death to hold back the mercy and grace of God for His people as it was for His Son. And for Jonah wrapped in seaweed vomited out of the mouth of a great creature of the deep? Well, he relented and went to Nineveh but in his heart he had not fully repented. His angst was the virtual conclusion of his story. He declared to God because of the conversion of the Ninevites, “I am so angry that I wish I was dead.” What he wanted was to have died before they repented so that the wrath of God would be upon them and not him. Yet, if not Jonah then would God have chosen another?
In fact, God did choose another who in turn choose a host of others to declare the “sign of Jonah” and the gospel call to repent, be redeemed and thus reconciled to God. It was Jesus and the disciples and in time, it is us as well as mighty ones of God. We are the “signs of the times.” We are visions and witnesses of both sides of the coin of spiritual delight in all that God can do and the spiritual challenge that God can do it to all people as well as for all people. The gospel is a warning, a claim of accountability, to the truth that there is more to the Kingdom of God than meets the eye. The end comes when the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God, is revealed. We must not get caught up in the unworthiness of the world as it becomes increasingly and exponentially unworthy of God’s mercy and grace and plead for the end to come…unless we, too, repent of our sins and are truly baptized with the baptism that Jesus was baptized with. We must also dare to drink the cup from which He drank without regard or concern for where at the banquet table we sit. Remember, to sit at His right or left was not His to commit to. That decision belonged to God alone. But, what was the opportunity of Jesus to confer was the privilege to be welcomed to the table set before all who would believe in the presence of their enemies. Maybe even then the hope of the Lord of the Feast was to win some of those enemies into the household of God by extending the “bread of life” and the “cup of blessing and promise.” It is that communion which runs red with a common union for even the sinner to become a saint. But, not without a price.
It was that price, I believe, that Jesus was considering that Monday evening as He drew the attention of the disciples to the scene painted before them with a sign from heaven!
Father, help us to not only see the signs of the times but to be signs of a better time which You have made available to us all in Jesus our Christ, Your Son, in whose name we live serve and pray. Amen.