Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who Do You See?

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Matthew 21:23-32

Feelings are often confused with compassion. Feelings are good. God created us with feelings. But feelings are not compassion. You can have compassion on someone even if you do not have strong feelings or no particular feelings for that person. Likewise, you can have strong feelings and actually not act compassionately toward a person because you are acting on feelings rather than doing what will actually help the person.

Feelings are good, but we can’t rely on them. They are wonderful, but they don’t always help. We’d all agree that we need to be compassionate. That it’s wrong not to have compassion. We look favorably upon compassionate people. We trust our leaders to be compassionate rather than rule with an iron fist.

The religious leaders in Jesus’ day were charged with the spiritual care of God’s people. We’d expect them to do that with compassion. One thing they understood was that you cannot be compassionate as a leader without authority. You yourself must submit to authority and must exercise authority over those you are leading. If your feelings are your guide then you’ll be all over the map. Not a sound way to be a leader. There are times leaders don’t feel like being compassionate. But if they are truly good leaders they will do what’s best for the people. If there is an outside solid authority they’re going by then they’ll be being compassionate on the people they’re to serve, even if at times they don’t particularly feel like helping them.

The religious leaders of the Gospel reading knew this. They knew that the crowds were excited about this guy Jesus. Were the people just going on their feelings? Was Jesus playing to their feelings and that’s why He was so popular? The religious leaders cut to the chase: by what authority are You doing what You’re doing? Because we see through You—You’re not falling in line under our authority. We’re the ones charged with the spiritual care of God’s people and You’re doing all kinds of things to undercut our authority.

They were right—He was undercutting their authority. But there’s the problem. They had taken the authority God had given them and took it for themselves. They even asked Jesus, who gave You this authority? They rejected it, but the answer is the same Person who gave them the authority to lead God’s people. Namely, God. The difference is that Jesus used the authority God His Heavenly Father had given Him in service to God His Heavenly Father. The religious leaders became full of themselves and didn’t use it in service to God’s people but for themselves.

Jesus wasn’t doing what He was doing for Himself but for people. The very people He created were the very people He was serving. That’s what authority is all about for God. Serving us. Loving and helping us. His compassion is not in addition to His authority, it is His very Authority carried out. Delivered to us.

The Christian Church has always stood on the authority of the Word of God. But even in the Church people can tend to think that it’s compassionate to go on feelings rather than the authority of the Word of God. One church leader put it this way: “I think sometimes we get bogged down and feel that people of faith all feel a certain way, and that’s so far from the truth.” Well here is the real truth: what we feel is not the basis for authority. God’s Authority determines what is right and wrong, what is good and evil—that’s why He gave us the Bible.

So the religious leaders were carrying out their duty of making sure that what was being taught in the temple was legitimate, but actually they weren’t doing that at all. In their discussion among themselves they were determining what they would do based on the reactions of other people. Their authority was themselves.

When they saw Jesus they saw someone getting in the way of their authority. Someone standing between them and their own self-proclaimed rightness. Jesus was getting in the way of their power and their very comfortable lifestyle. They were right where they wanted to be. They were holders of authority and had molded it into authority of themselves. They had come to convince themselves that God was pleased with them because of who they were. They didn’t need some Jesus coming in to straighten out their lives and tell them that all their secret sins had to go.

When you look at Jesus who do you see? Do you see the Lord over all and the Lord of your life? Or do you see a man who has a place in your life alongside all the many other important things to you? When you are confronted with the words of Jesus, what do you make of them? Do you submit wholeheartedly to them acknowledging that what He has to say is true and what is best for you? Or do you pass them off as another opinion among the many that may or may not apply to you personally? When you look at Jesus do you see Him for who He is or do you disregard the authority He holds?

If you’re honest you will admit that your feelings aren’t always reliable. You will conclude that you like yourself being your own authority because then you don’t have to deal with God and His Word telling you that you can’t do everything that makes you feel good. That though you often say yes to God you really have no intention of conforming your life to His holy will. And if by the grace of God you come to this knowledge you will see something else. You will see that you have changed your mind. That it’s a joy to serve the Holy God.

Because you will see that God’s holy will is not met in your feelings or your self-convinced rightness. It is met in the One who was given authority by His Heavenly Father and used that authority to be beaten and bloodied on a cross. He used that authority to submit Himself to be subjected to the damnation you and I and the religious leaders and the tax collectors and everyone else deserve. Jesus doesn’t give moral lessons. He gives you righteousness. He gives you Himself. He doesn’t tell you to be good, He gives you His Body and Blood and in so doing forgives you all your sins and strengthens and preserves you. He doesn’t tell you you must submit to His authority or else—He freely and joyfully gives up His life so that you may freely and joyfully live under His gracious and compassionate authority. When you want to know what God has to say or what He thinks about you, who you need to see is Jesus, the one who is your life and salvation. Amen.


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