Measurements

Living Waters Church | March 3, 2024

Luke 20.41-47, Places of Honour

Listen to or watch this sermon here

Have you ever had that dream where suddenly you find yourself in front of a large group of people and you’re in your underwear? A dream like that draws out a sense of feeling exposed. There’s a lot of talk about authenticity and being yourself these days, but in my experience, I think we’re pretty afraid of exposure, while at the very same time longing to be truly seen.

We’re in the middle of some high drama in the Gospel of Luke, just a few passages away from Jesus’ arrest, death, and resurrection. To say things are heating up in the narrative would be an understatement, because things are being exposed, revealed. Things are coming to light.

People aren’t always transparent to each other. We’re often not very transparent even to ourselves. But in the gospels we’re seeing that people are pretty transparent to Jesus. It seems like has a kind of ex-ray vision, but he doesn’t live in a comic book, this is all historical record. So, folks can layer on all the camouflage they like, but in the end, when Jesus turns up, what lays hidden comes into light. 

This is part of what we’re seeing the gospel, because Jesus doesn’t only speak the truth, he is the truth personified (John 14.6,). So, as we heard in the passage today, Jesus is again speaking truth, seeing throughsome of higher-ups in the Temple and talking about what he sees in public! Dressed to the nines as the higher-ups may be, Jesus is about to do some dressing down of men who pray and pose in pride and pomp. Their attempts to expose Jesus, exposes them as they use their authority not to serve, but to be served.

But these scenes are about more than Jesus taking the higher-ups in the Temple down a peg or two, even if they are proving to be corrupt and idolatrous. These scenes depict how the truth is increasingly coming to light. Everything is being exposed. The truth about the higher-ups, but, more importantly, the truth about Jesus. And we’ve been hearing that the truth about Jesus has to do with his authority, and how much authority, exactly, Jesus really has. Interestingly, the more we learn about Jesus’ authority in the narrative, the more we’re discovering the truth about him. What does Jesus have authority over, and what does that say about who he really is?

And, when the truth about Jesus comes to light in the gospels, so does the truth about the people around him, and then they’re faced with some big decisions. It’s the same for us. Facing the truth about Jesus, will mean facing the truth about ourselves, and then we have some choices. And that’s part of what we’re hearing in the passage today.

Recently in the Gospel of Luke

Let’s take a moment, though, to consider the recent scenes in the gospel, which all seem to deal with Jesus’ authority, and are important to keep in mind as we look at our passage today.

  • Jesus rides in Jerusalem like a king with authority under the praises of the people (Luke 19).
  • He weeps over the city, condemns how the Temple is functioning, and begins to teach there daily (Luke 19). 
  • The Temple higher-ups begin plotting to kill Jesus, but they couldn’t figure out how because the crowds hung on Jesus’ words. (Luke 19) 
  • So, the Temple elite challenge Jesus outright on his authority, but he bests them in an exchange. Jesus then tells parable against them, and calls himself the cornerstone, the one whom all other stones will be set in relation to. (Luke 20)
  • The higher-ups want to arrest Jesus right then and there, but “they were afraid of the people”. (Luke 20)
  • The higher-ups then shrink back into the shadows, setting a political trap by sending spies to trick Jesus into saying something that would land him in hot water with the Roman authorities, or discredit him with the people. But Jesus bests them again by his response. Jesus’ opposition falls silent. (Luke 20)

 In all these scenes, then, we’re seeing Jesus’ authority increasingly come to light, and the authority of the Temple elite diminish or be tarnished. The writer is showing us that Jesus has authority in the Temple (a different authority than the higher-ups). And with the question of taxes to Caesar Jesus uses veiled resistance language to ask his listeners to consider to whose authority they ultimately will bow (Rome or God). God has ultimate authority in the Temple and over the Israelites (not the Temple elites) and God has authority over the world (Caesar pails in comparison). So, God has the real authority, Jesus continues to be revealed in unprecedented authority. And now we might be starting to connect some dots.

Last week we saw a few of the Temple higher-ups, some of the Sadducees, question Jesus on whether or not there will be a resurrection. As we heard, the Sadducees were among the ruling classes in Jerusalem and had control over the Temple. Scholars note that one of the beliefs the Sadducees held was that there would be no resurrection of the dead in the future. This may have been based on how they read the Torah (the first five books of the Jewish Scriptures), and maybe because of some errant thinking on these matters at the time, or even the fact that people who believe in a resurrection in the future may not weigh their actions in the present as heavily. There was a range of other groups in Jerusalem who wanted to throw off their Roman oppressors, so, as the power-holders in Jerusalem, the Sadducees had a vested interest in avoiding rebellion, the dire consequences under Roman authority, and ultimately the power and wealth they enjoyed from by being in bed with Rome.[i]

This particular group of Sadducees came to Jesus with a logic puzzle: if a woman is married several times in life, and if there is a resurrection in the future, whose wife will she be in resurrection? Apparently, the Sadducees liked using little puzzles like this to make their point about there being no resurrection, since a resurrection would make things like marriage pretty messy. Jesus’ response, like his earlier responses, is brilliant. He cites the Torah, showing that there is in fact a clear case to be made for a resurrection. He also makes clear that in resurrection there will be no death, so no need for marriage as we know it now in its primary function of continuing family lines. 

That of course raises a whole host of questions for us about the resurrection and of what eternity will be like. But for now, just consider how good life with God in eternity would be if there was no death, or anything connected to death. That is, of course, unimaginable to us now, a kind of goodness beyond comprehension. Will we know and be with our loved ones? Scripture would say yes, but resurrection life will be different than life as we know it now. And, just a word of warning here: if you are married and are thinking about how good the resurrection will be in direct correlation with not being married, I would advise against having that discussion with your spouse over lunch today. This isn’t about marriage being bad, but about how good the resurrection must be if we no longer have to contend with sin and death. As Dave made note of last week, the resurrection isn’t something we have a great deal of detail on, but something to be deeply hopeful about. So, God’s people can hopeful about being children of the resurrection, not because of the details they have on the resurrection, but because they have put their hope and trust in God and God’s goodness. We really are putting all our eggs in God’s basket – even when it comes to matters of life and death and life again!

Now, all that said, the question we might ask in this run of scenes in Luke’s gospel is why this story about the Sadducees and their resurrection logic puzzle is placed here in the narrative. You have to wonder about Jesus speaking in authority about Israel, about the worldly powers mighty Rome, and now here’s Jesus speaking with authority on questions about resurrection. Israel, the world, even resurrection – Jesus is speaking in authority about all these matters. Again, we may be starting to connect the dots. What exactly does Jesus have authority over, and what does that say about him?

Whose Son is the Messiah?

Now on to the next passage we read just a few moments ago. The debate about resurrection, along with the other debates about authority we’ve recently covered, all rush together towards a question Jesus now asks these same higher-ups. They’ve asked Jesus some pretty tough questions, which Jesus has responded to with ease, silencing their challenges. Luke tells us that “no one dared to ask him any more questions…”Now, Jesus is asking the questions, and it’s a big one:

41 Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? 42 David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:

    “Sit at my right hand

43 until I make your enemies

    a footstool for your feet.”’

44 David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

It’s helpful to know that at this point the people are hoping for a Messiah, a figure who will bring them liberation and rule with justice. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem like a king, the people had Messiah on the mind. However, the Temple higher-ups would have been wary of Messiah-like figures, because false Messiahs were a problem. You can imagine the Roman authorities in Jerusalem knew full well what the people were saying about Jesus, and that the Temple elite were worried what big brother might do in response. So, it was in the interest of both the Roman authorities and the Temple higher-ups to get rid of pretenders to the throne. And it’s not a stretch to say that the Messiah label was being applied to Jesus at this time. 

But here’s the kicker. Jesus takes the Messiah label and poses a baffling question to the higher-ups. He cites Psalm 110. If the Messiah is said to be the son of David (one of ancient Israel’s most celebrated kings), but David himself calls the Messiah “Lord”, what does that say about the one David is referring to in the Psalm? It’s admittedly a bit awkward for us to get our heads around, given we’re not ancient Israelite scholars, but effectively what comes through is this question: if David calls this Messiah figure “Lord” in the Scriptures, but the Messiah is meant to be in David’s ancestral line, how can someone’s offspring have lordship over them? And it’s at this point in Luke’s gospel that Jesus is standing centre stage and the spotlight hits him full on.

Messianic expectations were one thing, but what if Jesus was more than a Messiah? If Jesus has a special authority in the Temple, if Jesus is the cornerstone, if Jesus speaks with authority on matters of power and dominion in the world, and even speaks with authority about the resurrection, what does that say about who he might be? If Jesus has done all the stuff we’ve seen in Luke’s gospel so far, like cast out demons, control the elements, even raise the dead – is he just the Messiah? Or is Jesus something more? And it’s in moments like this in the gospels that a shiver might run down our spines. The ancient Israelites believed there was only One with this kind of wide-ranging authority. The people are comfortable with Jesus as teacher, or healer, maybe even with Jesus as Messiah. But Jesus is spilling over with an undeniable authority, he ticks more than just the Messiah box. So, there is Jesus standing in the Temple in front of some of the higher-ups and the all people, not just as Messiah, but as Israel’s God come into his Temple in authority. And the higher-ups don’t even recognize him, because they’ve become so blind with idolatry and envy. Jesus, however, appears to see them quite clearly. What does he see?  

45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Ouch. Jesus says, beware. Beware of these people because of how they handle power, and what they’ve done with power over you. Jesus exposes the elites for what they are in front of the crowds. The higher-ups have chosen power and status and wealth over, submission to YHWAH, to Israel’s God, and this leads them to pose and pretend and to take advantage of those in vulnerable positions. And Jesus says they will be dealt with severely. They have mismeasured Jesus, and now he’s measuring them.

It’s important to hear not only Jesus’ judgement of the Temple higher-ups, but see the contrast between him and them. In a few short scenes in Luke’s gospel, we’ll see how Jesus does power and authority. If he is Israel’s God among his people, what does God’s power and authority look like through Jesus? Like the higher-ups, will Jesus use his power to be served, to defend himself, to grip onto power not matter the cost, or will he do things differently?

Well, the cross is coming in Luke’s narrative, and it gives us the answer. With all authority and power, Jesus will lay down what’s in his hands to extend his hands in service of humanity by laying down his life in order to give us life. Luke’s gospel is not just about Jesus besting the higher-ups in their little logic puzzles, and political traps, but besting sin and death once and for all on the cross. And the cross is how God does power. How does Jesus defeat sin and death, and the evil power standing behind the scheming of the higher-ups? Not by coercing or scheming or exerting his power over others, but through serving, though offering up his life.


Implications

Well, that’s a lot to chew on, so we do want to ask why this matters for us now. It’s important not to just be impressed with the gospels, though they are brilliant, but to let them, to let Jesus, shape us -that’s the whole point of reading them!

So, what are we emerging with as we think about following Jesus here and now, in light of what we’re reading about his authority?

First, we’re being shown how crucial it is to see Jesus in his true light. Jesus isn’t some divine side-kick, and a fine moral example. The gospels are relaying that Jesus was God among us, so if we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. If there is a God and Jesus is our best look at God, then we had better pay close attention to what he says and does, and recognize not just his power in what he might do for us, but his authority over everything – the world, life and death, even our very lives. We’re being given the chance to welcome not just a good teacher, shepherd or king, but the true God of life, and over all things. So an encouragement today is for us to ask again: who is Jesus to us, and how is that influencing the shape of our lives?

That leads to a second point, which is rooted in what Jesus says about the higher-ups and how they do power. If Jesus was God among his people, if he is over everything now as Scripture says, how Jesus does power is crucial for us to attend to as his followers.

The gospels were written to be circulated among the first Christian communities. As these new Jesus-communities sprung up in the first century, do you think it was hard to do power like Jesus? Do you think it was tempting to look at how things were being done by Rome or the higher-ups in the Temple, or anyone else under the sun? Do you think it was hard to choose a way of using their power to serve, rather than to be served, when everything was running the other way? You bet it was! 

It’s probably not an accident that the gospels have plenty to say about how those in opposition to Jesus did power and the warnings against them. Note that in our passage today Jesus is said to have turned to his disciples saying “beware that way of power!” And those words can well be heard by us now.

When we don’t sit under Jesus’ authority, paying close attention to how he does power, we end up doing power in an ungodly way. When we misunderstand Jesus’ authority, we’ll miss his way of doing power with others. This is why the question of his authority and identity is so crucial. As Kirsten said a few weeks ago, if Jesus is just a buddy or life coach, and doesn’t hold ultimate authority for us, we can end up following other patterns. Ignore his authority, ignore his way of doing power, and we’re in trouble, especially those who have been charged with oversight or teaching. 

“Beware”, says Jesus, “how these higher-ups measure things”. They’ve not measured Jesus’ rightly, and they’ve not measured God’s authority, hence why they’re caught up in doing power wrong. Jesus is measuring them (their robes, their length of prayers, they’re treatment of the vulnerable). One scholar notes that there is a direct line between how we measure and come under God’s authority as seen in Jesus, and how we measure and apply our authority. In other words, what you think about Jesus and his authority will play out in everyday matters. We see in next week’s passage about giving in the Temple.[ii]

This is why we began talking about that common dream of finding yourself in front of a bunch of people in your underwear. Those who serve in our church to bring direction and oversight, we really do have to take that word serve seriously, because everything will come to light under Jesus.

And it’s hard. It’s hard because our world often does power so wrong, and there are many templates and patterns for power out there that look like they’ll help us out. But as a community, we should really only follow one template under one authority. We follow one another so far as each follow Christ. Positions and titles don’t carry weight in Jesus’ kingdom – character that looks like Jesus, founded on Jesus’ authority only, has to be our aim. As Jesus’ people, we’re meant to do power in his pattern, because we sit under an ultimate authority who did power in a truly godly way. And, confession time, we get that wrong every day. And it’s good to admit that. So we need to trust in Jesus’ mercy and patience as we deal with one another. That’s the other reality of the cross. Not just a picture of how God does power, but the endless possibility of forgiveness. In Jesus’-following communities, the cross always reminds us of the way of service and the way of forgiveness.

In a few scenes later in this gospel, Jesus will sit with his disciples for the Passover meal. Almost immediately following Jesus’ words about what the bread and wine now represent now under him, his disciples begin to debate about which one of them was the greatest. Who was the best disciple, they argued. Wow, can you imagine being so thick-sculled as to have been with Jesus for so long, seen so much of him and from him, and still trying to one up another person in conversation even as you share a meal in his name together? I can.

Jesus says, to his friends, don’t do that. That’s doing power the wrong way round. “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22.27). 

We don’t need to pray big prayers. We don’t need to pretend we deserve special attention if we have a bit of sway. We don’t subtly manouver ourselves into positions that look powerful. We don’t get drunk in praise for others. We pour out praise to God to whom we belong, and we serve one another. 

That’s the only power and authority we’ve got in Jesus’ name. If we don’t serve one another, as Jesus served us, we’ll end up using false, dangerous, anti-Jesus power. The higher ups loved their places of honour at a banquet or in church. But there is only one place of true honour, and it’s reserved for Jesus. And it’s now our honour to serve and love one another as he served and loves us. That’s the true honour of living in Jesus’ name. Loving and serving under his authority and example.


[i] Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone

[ii] Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone

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