News Blog

My Client didn’t say it! And if he did say it, it doesn’t mean what you think it means

Posted by on Sunday, March 3rd, 2024 in Minister, News

https://youtu.be/3qufUWXAa_Q
Watch Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, March 3, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

t is a pattern we have all seen by now so often that it has almost become routine. A report comes out that a popular personality – a celebrity or a politician or maybe it is an influential religious person – has said something horrible, awful and egregious – something racist or homophobic or a statement in support of an accused terrorist group.

And what is the first response? It is almost always a firm denial. No, they never said such a horrible, awful thing. Whoever said that they said it is obviously lying. Whoever reported it is only publishing fake news. Nothing to see here!

The Truth Comes Out

Shortly afterwards, almost on cue, what happens? The tape is suddenly released or an unimpeachable witness steps forward. Yes, it turns out, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the beloved personality really did say it.

That should be the end of the story, right? Now that the proof is out in the open, it cannot be denied. So, does the accused finally admit that they were in the wrong? Of course not! No, the next explanation we learn is that, okay, yes, they did say it. But everybody’s got it all wrong. They didn’t mean it like that!

So I guess it turns out that it’s actually everybody else’s fault because we all totally misunderstood what this very important person said. If there’s any apology at all at this point, the person will apologize for how everyone else misunderstood and misconstrued what they said.

Public Relations Confusion

How often have you seen that same series of events play out in public relations? Sometimes it leads us to real confusion about what the person actually said and what it meant. And sometimes it creates a conversation that might just lead to a better understanding of who they are – for better or for worse.

I was thinking about this kind of drama that regularly plays out in the world of public relations when I read our passage from the Gospel of John this morning. Because it turns out that Jesus himself was once accused of saying something terrible – something that you would think only a terrorist would say. He said that he would destroy the temple in Jerusalem – the central institution of Judean society and that he would rebuild it in three days.

Mark is Adamant!

And the very idea that Jesus could ever even dream of saying such a thing was so unthinkable that the writer of the Gospel of Mark, the first of our gospels ever written, went out of his way to deny it. When Jesus is on trial near the end of the Gospel of Mark, he writes, For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”’” (Mark 14:56-58)

Did you catch that? Mark is so sure that Jesus never said anything like that he insists twice that this was “false testimony.” Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I turn over to the Gospel of John who reports those very words on Jesus’ own lips: Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’”

False Testimony?

And yes, I realize that those are not exactly the words that Mark says that Jesus didn’t say. Perhaps they are even different enough that a public relations expert could spin it to say that Mark was technically correct in his previous denials. But is it really different enough for Mark to have insisted so strongly that it was all “false testimony”?

So, we are in that place where we so often find ourselves in the world these days when we are given conflicting reports about what some famous person said, and we are left to work out for ourselves what it all really means. And that is, by the way, exactly where the gospel writer of John wants us to be.

A Terrorist Act?

He has done this on purpose to get us thinking about the meaning behind what Jesus is doing. Jesus is, after all, causing a major disturbance in the temple. It is the kind of act that anyone, no matter how sympathetic to Jesus and his cause, would find troubling.

Imagine, for example, if some people went into the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem today and started turning over tables and whipping people. That would be seen, at the very least, as an act of terrorism. In the present context, it would probably open a new front in the ongoing war. Whatever Jesus may have said on the occasion, what he did in the temple was definitely radical, inflammatory and provocative. And yet, all four gospels agree that he did that.

This is one of Jesus’ more radical moments, and so we absolutely need to come to terms with what it means. The Gospel of John, by insisting that Jesus said what the Gospel of Mark insists that he didn’t say, is quite intentionally forcing us to come to terms with it.

Is it Practical?

So, what does it mean? Is Jesus attacking the temple? He may be doing so symbolically, but the gospel writer seems to want to make it abundantly clear that Jesus is by no means a practical threat to the temple itself. He underlines the fact that, at the time when Jesus’ ministry began, the temple had “been under construction for forty-six years.”

The rebuild had been started as a vanity project by Herod the Great and the work would not be completed for nearly as long again after Jesus came, at which point it would be destroyed by Romans, not by Jesus. So, the gospel writer seems to be screaming at his readers, “Do you know how big and complicated the temple complex was? The very idea that Jesus could destroy it is ridiculous!”

So, What did he Mean?

So, yes, the point is clear that Jesus cannot mean this literally. But we are still left with the question of how we can understand it. Fortunately, John clears that one up for us too. He tells us what Jesus really meant: “But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” He is speaking about his own death and resurrection that will be recounted at the end of this gospel.

But he’s also saying more than that. He is looking forward to the time when there will not be a temple in Jerusalem, and he’s promising that his own body will step into the role that the temple once played. The temple was the place where the people of Israel encountered their God, and Jesus is promising that his own body will become that point of contact between heaven and earth.

The Body of Christ

A little bit later this morning, we will be gathering around the communion table and remembering the ancient words of Jesus as we break the bread: “This is my body, given for you.” It is in our participation as a community in this meal, that we are able to find that same encounter with God that the people of Israel experienced in the temple.

So, this odd saying of Jesus that Mark had such a problem with that he insisted Jesus never said it, is suddenly laden with meaning for us as followers of Jesus.

But there is one more very surprising aspect to this objectionable saying of Jesus. The gospel writer tells us what Jesus meant by it, but he also admits that nobody understood that when Jesus said it. He writes, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Nobody Understood Jesus

So, the Jewish officials don’t understand what Jesus means, and neither do the disciples, not when he says it. In fact, they have to remember what he said for the three years of ministry that, according to the Gospel of John, are still ahead of Jesus at this point. They have to remember it until after he is crucified and then raised from the dead, and only then, only after the resurrection, will this saying of Jesus mean anything to them. So, what did they think that Jesus meant in the meantime? Did they think for three years that Jesus was making a terrorist threat against the temple? I mean, what else could they have thought?

The Resurrection Changed Everything

But this actually underlines something that is absolutely central to the whole Christian faith. It all comes down to the experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Very clearly, once those first Christians became convinced that Jesus really had risen from the dead, they went over everything that they remembered him saying and doing and all of it took on new meaning.

Previously vague statements about his relationship with his heavenly Father suddenly become indications that he was God’s Son in some unique way. Parables that were once incomprehensible became clearly about him and who he truly was. Nonsensical sayings became profound truths. Everything changed as it was seen through that lens.

How John is Telling his Story

And since the Gospel of John presents this story at the very beginning of his Gospel instead of at the end like the other three, the author is loudly announcing to us that he intends to tell this whole story through that lens. He is not merely going to tell us what Jesus did and said; he is going to tell us what his words and deeds meant in the light of his death and resurrection. And that probably explains why Jesus speaks so differently in this gospel as compared to the others. The writer isn’t just telling us what Jesus said; he is translating it all into the deeper meaning as he goes.

But, if that was true for the gospel writer, how much truer is it for us today? One of the things that unites us as Christians is our admiration for this man, Jesus. We admire his wisdom, his teaching, his care for the sinners and outcasts and the healing he brought into people’s lives. I would hope that all of those things inspire us as we do our best to walk in the path that Jesus has shown to us.

The Power of the Resurrection

But it is the experience of the resurrection of Jesus and its power that gives us the ability to keep going. It is the knowledge of that that transforms this simple meal that we will share into a spiritual feast of divine proportions. It is what gives us the hope and expectation that death is not the final word despite the fact that it often seems to reign in this world.

But I want you to note how I am phrasing this. It is about the experience of the resurrection of Jesus. I know there are some who would tell you that it is enough that we hear the news that Jesus is risen from the dead – that we accept the testimony of those first-generation Christians who saw him after his death. But I honestly don’t think that that is what it is about. It is not just a matter of coming to accept the intellectual knowledge that people saw Jesus alive. It’s not just about believing that it happened.

Firsthand Experience

The thing that changed everything for those early believers was when they experienced that resurrection for themselves. And, yes, some of them had a very direct experience of the risen Jesus, but not all did. But those who did not see him directly, didn’t just have to take other people’s word for it. They could experience the power of the resurrection for themselves.

They experienced it in the community of the church that came together and supported one another in the face of danger and opposition. They experienced it when they stepped out in faith to bring healing and hope to the people of their community. And they experienced it when they took on the structures of oppression in their society, much like Jesus attacked the temple institution in his day, and they survived. They experienced it when they gathered to share a common meal. And they especially experienced it when they saw new life coming out of death in many areas of their lives.

And so We Gather for Communion

In a little while, we will enter into a celebration of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And so, I will invite you to come to this celebration with an expectation. Don’t expect to merely hear a testimony to what happened to Jesus. Expect to enter into the experience of his death and resurrection for yourself. For the church community dies and is raised up to new life together every time we do this. And I would invite you to filter everything you have learned about Jesus through this  experience.

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Jesus and the Satan

Posted by on Sunday, February 25th, 2024 in Minister, News

https://youtu.be/21VE69RYhSY
Watch the Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, February 25, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:23-31, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38

Did you know that there was once a high priest who served in the temple in Jerusalem named Jesus? He was, in fact, the very first high priest who was consecrated to serve in the temple that was rebuilt after the people returned from exile in Babylon. He’s mentioned in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. His name in Hebrew would have been Joshua, or in Aramaic it would have been Yeshua. But in Greek, the language of the New Testament and of the Old Testament that the gospel writers read, the name was Jesus.

Zechariah’s Vision

So this was a very significant person at a very significant moment in history. And in the Book of Zechariah, we are told of a vision that the Prophet Zechariah had regarding this priest, Jesus. (Zechariah 3:1-6) In Zechariah’s vision, he saw the priest Jesus being prepared to lead the sacrifices in the temple.

But then he was accused by someone called the accuser, or, in Hebrew, the Satan, of not being worthy of performing the sacrifice. The Satan said that Jesus was nothing more than a brand plucked from the fire,” That is to say, he was just an upstart from the streets. He was dressed in dirty clothes and not impressive like a priest was supposed to be.

But, in this vision, Yahweh, the God of Israel, rebukes the Satan and tells him that Jesus is worthy of making the sacrifice, that God will clothe Jesus in new clean clothes and a white turban. That God will make him worthy.

I realize that this is just a vision. But visions matter a great deal in the biblical tradition, so I’d like to dwell on it for a moment. Zechariah had a vision in which the Satan rebuked Jesus for wanting to perform a sacrifice and the Satan was rebuked by God for doing so. Does any of that sound familiar?

The Satan

Oh, and you’re probably wondering why I keep saying the Satan rather than just talking about Satan. It is because that is what it actually says in the Hebrew text. It is not a name, but rather a title. The Satan, according to much of the Old Testament, was not another name for the devil or the great enemy of God.

The Satan was actually someone who was on God’s heavenly team. He had a very particular job; he operated like God’s Attorney General. He challenged and tested the actions of various people to decide if they were faithful or not. He famously did that to Job at the beginning of the Book of Job and he seems to be doing the same thing to the High Priest Jesus in Zechariah’s vision.

Now, it is true that, over time, the figure of the Satan came to be mingled with another figure – the devil who operated as God’s opponent and enemy – but that was a slow process and that blending had not completed when the Book of Zechariah was written. And that makes me wonder. Where are we in that blending process when it comes to the mind of Jesus or of the gospel writer in our reading this morning from the Gospel of Mark?

Peter’s Good Mood

Peter had been riding high all week. Things had just been going so well. Jesus was growing in popularity. Larger and larger crowds were turning out and he was really starting to think that this whole movement was going somewhere. Everyone recognized him as a key leader. He began to dream that, as he rode on Jesus’ coattails, he would see his own influence and status grow. Things were good.

One day they were just all hanging out and shooting the breeze in Caesarea Philippi when something Jesus said suddenly made Peter realize what all of this fantastic success they’d been experiencing really meant. Jesus wasn’t just a really great teacher and healer. He was actually God’s Messiah, the Anointed One. And so he said so – said it right in front of everyone. And then, far from denying it, Jesus said that it was all a big secret that they would have to keep for a while.

Jesus Spoils his Day

But then, all of a sudden, Jesus just crushed all of Peter’s good mood. He started talking about how they would have to go down to Jerusalem and, when they did, he would undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and that he would be killed! He said more after that, but when Peter heard that much, he got so mad that he stopped listening.

What’s more, he could hardly wait to get Jesus alone so that he could tell him off for being such a downer. “Listen, Jesus,” he said, “we just can’t afford this kind of pessimistic thinking! You need to stop talking like that right now!” But Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Coincidence?

I was rather surprised to notice the strong parallels between that famous episode in Jesus’ life and the less famous vision that the Prophet Zechariah had. Do you think that it is just a coincidence that those two passages echo each other so perfectly? I don’t really believe in that kind of coincidence when it comes to reading the scripture. I think there is a connection between those passages that we had better not miss.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think that that exchange between Peter and Jesus where each rebuked the other is just about something that happened once. It is not just about that time when Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen specifically to him and his disciples, and especially Peter, really couldn’t handle it.

What Messiah Means

I mean, yes, it is about that. It is obviously about what it means that Jesus is the Messiah. It is about how people like Peter had one idea about him being Messiah – that it was all about honour and glory and continual victory – and that Jesus had a very different idea, that it was actually about service and sacrifice.

And Peter tested Jesus. He didn’t test him towards evil; if that had been the case, Jesus would have called him the devil. But Jesus didn’t call him that; he called him Satan. He was saying that Peter’s rebuke meant that Peter wanted Jesus to take the easy way out – the path of least resistance. Peter was being enticing, but he wasn’t being evil.

So that was a significant moment in Jesus’ ministry and the development of it. But, like I said, it wasn’t just a one-time event. It happened in the time of the Prophet Zechariah too when that prophet had a vision of almost exactly the same thing happening to the priest Jesus in his own day. The two events are connected and that, to my mind, means that it is a kind of cosmic event that happened way back then and in the time of Jesus and that it just keeps happening.

The Spirit of the Satan

In other words, the spirit of the Satan is still active in the world today. And again, when I say the Satan, I do not mean it in the way that that is usually understood today. I am not talking about a great malevolent spirit who is at work in this world. I mean, sure, there may be a lot of evidence of that spirit at work in the world today, but that was not the spirit the Jesus was dealing with as he spoke with Peter. I’m talking about the spirit of testing that goes forth from God and tests all of our hearts as we seek to choose between what is good and what is better.

Priorities and Modern Life

No, I’m thinking about situations like this. You, everyday as you go through your life, are faced with a myriad of decisions. You are forced to prioritize certain things. In this world, we are often pushed to prioritize the things that will give us and the people in our family financial security. Indeed, that is one of the primary messages of our modern age. And there is indeed nothing wrong with doing that. We are living within a capitalistic society, and so we are pretty much forced to operate according to the capitalist system.

And so, for example, people often feel the pressure to prioritize work over family or more pay over their personal health and well-being. Of course these are good things, especially when we are doing things like creating security for the people that we love. And security usually means money in our society. And so Peter, or the Satan, is constantly coming to us and saying that we should just continue to prioritize these things.

God’s Priorities

But what if God is calling you to prioritize something else? In some cases that might be your own health, or it could be about spending some real quality time with the people that you love. In some cases, God might be calling you to embrace something that has more meaning than merely getting more money to participate in the economy. Maybe God is asking you to step out in ministry or service to others like he was calling Jesus.

And God may even be calling you to step out in a risky way to challenge what is wrong in the world right now, possibly at great personal cost. Which, of course, was also what God was calling Jesus to do.

The Satan Rebukes You

Whenever we consider any such things, whenever the call seems to be upon you to do such things, you can be sure that the Satan of this world, the people of this world who don’t want anyone to rock the boat or to prioritize something different will rebuke you.

You may be at such a moment in your life right now. That’s what I mean when I say that Zechariah’s vision continues to play out in the modern world just as it played out for Jesus. And will you, like him, have the courage to rebuke the accuser and choose the path of courage that is before you?

Corporate Priorities

But this is not only about your individual action. This is also about how we choose to act corporately in this world. I suspect that the church, for one, is also living out Zechariah’s vision today? We are still attempting to live out our models of success that we have inherited from the past, continuing to try and replicate past glories and past successes.

But many of them are not working like they once did. It is like the church has become a brand plucked from the fire,” a priest in dirty clothes. But whenever anyone suggests that maybe it’s time to try something new or different, what is the reaction? The Satan will rebuke us, will suggest that it would just be safer to do things as they have always been done. Will we have the courage to rebuke the Satan?

The corporate and business world all around us has become ever more fixed on profits. Every quarter they are expected to show more and more growth. That is the way of the world in which we live, after all. Corporations and businesses exist only for one goal and that is to produce ever more profits for investors. It doesn’t matter who is suffering, or who can’t pay their bills or can no longer afford to pay the rents so long as the investors are happy at the end of the day.

Telling the Satan to Get Behind

Now profit, in itself is a good thing. It drives investment and can create security and prosperity for many. But the Satan today seems to be telling the whole world that it is the only thing that matters and that all other things must be sacrificed to it. And when profit becomes the absolute priority, we have a problem. Will we rebuke Satan and tell him to get behind us?

You see, it still keeps on happening. The Satan, the accuser is still at work and testing us in this world. Zechariah’s vision is played out over and over again, but the response is simple, and Jesus shows us the way. It is time to put the accuser behind us and to step out in faith, choosing the better over the good, choosing service over security. We can all choose to play our part in the greater work that God is doing in this world.

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