A “synagogue sermon” which scandalizes both exclusivists and inclusivists
John 1: 6 There was a man named John
who was sent from God.
7 John came as a witness
to testify about the light,
so that all would believe through him
8 John was not the light,
but John came to testify about the light.
I Corinthians 15: 13 But each in his own order:Christ, the first fruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when Christ abolishes all rule and all authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be abolished is death
The age to come has now come, the age to come has not yet come. The day of recompense to come has not yet come, and this explains the discontinuity between the old covenants and the new covenant. Some of us focus on the unbelief of the disciples and John the Baptist, and others of us notice their lack of understanding of the meaning of Christ’s kingdom. The age to come which has now come with Christ is not the same as the ages of the old covenants but it is also not the same as another age to come after this age. That day will be a day of vengeance and recompense. As usual I want to notice what tends to get skipped or not commented on some famous texts
Isaiah 35—The wilderness and the dry land will be glad;
the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.
2 The land will blossom abundantly
and will also rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon.
They will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
steady the shaking knees!
4 Say to the cowardly:
“Be strong; do not fear!
Here is your God; VENGEANCE IS COMING
GOD’S RETRIBUTION IS COMING; God will save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy,
for water will gush in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the parched ground will become a pool of water,
and the thirsty land springs of water.
In the haunt of jackals, in their lairs,
there will be grass, reeds, and papyrus.
8 A road will be there and a way;
it will be called the Holy Way.
The unclean will not travel on it,
but it will be for the one who walks the path.
Even the fool will not go astray.
9 There will be no lion there,
and no vicious beast will go up on it;
they will not be found there.
But the redeemed will walk on it,
10 and the redeemed of the Lord will return
and come to Zion with singing,
crowned with unending joy.
Joy and gladness will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee.
Isaiah 61: The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim LIBERTY to the captives
and FREEDOM to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s FAVOR,
and the DAY OF OUR GOD’S VENGEANCE
to comfort all who mourn,
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify Him.
6 But you will be called the Lord’s priests;
they will speak of you as SERVANTS of our God;
you will eat the wealth of the nations,
and you will boast in their riches.
7 Because your shame was double,
and they cried out, “Disgrace is their portion,”
therefore, they will possess double in their land,
and lasting joy will be theirs.
8 For I Yahweh
will faithfully GIVE THEM RECOMPENSE
10 I greatly rejoice in the Lord,
I exult in my God;
for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation
and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness,
as a groom wears a turban
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth produces its growth,
and as a garden enables what is sown to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
When Jesus came to his own, his own received Him not. Instead they were SCANDALIZED by Jesus. They were OFFENDED by Jesus. The conservatives who liked the status quo thought Jesus was being too “political”. And those who wanted to overcome the Roman occupation thought that Jesus was being too “spiritual” (instead of political).
I often speak of “synagogue sermons” with contempt. By this I mean sermons which are not about Christ but about morality and charity, sermons which could be given to anybody, anywhere. My reference is to “sermons that think they are universal not sectarian” but which carefully exclude (or fail to attend to) anything which might possibly offend anybody. These are sermons that could be given in a mosque or a synagogue with the same (very little) effect. I hear these sermons in Christian churches, both liberal and conservative.
But there is one “synagogue sermon” which caused its hearers to be angry and to attempt violence against Jesus. Were they angry because they were atheists who did not believe in God? No. Were they angry because Jesus left off the part of the quotation from Isaiah which left out the part about the Day of Recompense? It’s not obvious that this was the case. Were they disappointed that the Age to Come they had expected had not yet come? Perhaps, but’s it’s not clear. Were they scandalized because Jesus talked about including Gentiles as well as Jews? I don’t think so. I think the main offense was that Jesus, like John the Baptist, talked about not all the Jews being included. Jesus was not “new perspective” nor was Jesus teaching a new gospel which was “more not less inclusive”.
Luke 4: 16 Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 Jesus then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down to teach. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus.21 He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
22 They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth….Jesus said to them, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.25 But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them—but to a widow in Sidon. 27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time, there were many in Israel who had serious skin diseases, yet not one of them was healed —only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged.29 They got up, drove Jesus out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Jesus over the cliff.30 But Jesus passed right through the crowd and went on His way.
Even though John the Baptist may not have been confused about the exclusion of some Jews from the kingdom, even John was bewildered and doubting about the nature of the kingdom age which had come with Jesus. What the old covenants had taught about the age to come seemed like it was all done at one time, not in two ages, with still another age to come. John the Baptist had already scandalized many, both Pharisees and Sadducees
Matthew 3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said:
A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
make His paths straight!
5 Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were flocking to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. 7 When John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the place of his water baptism, John said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
John the Baptist preached news about Christ as the one who had come to fulfill the law and the prophets. John pointed to Christ as the one who had come to bring the Day of Recompense. John the Baptist preached the law in order to point to Christ as the gospel.
Matthew 11: 2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, John sent a message by his disciples 3 and asked Jesus, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed,the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.6 And if anyone is not OFFENDED BECAUSE OF ME, he is blessed.”
7 Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? Look, those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. 10 This is the one it is written about:
Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You;
he will prepare Your way before You.
Chaplains of the status quo teach us that it was all a big misunderstanding, that some people think that the kingdom is political but it is not. Chaplains of the status quo wear soft clothes and live in king’s palaces. But John, in preaching the law, was negative about the chaplains and the status quo. John was positive about a coming day of wrath and recompense. Even though John the Baptist was wrong about the timing, John was not wrong about God’s law being satisfied in the future. God’s wrath is satisfied not only in Christ’s death which was ordained by God but which was organized by the Jewish political status quo. God’s wrath was shown in that age by the Roman destruction of the temple and will be shown in the destruction of all the non-elect in the Day to come.
But all these events , John’s preaching and even the synagogue teaching of Jesus (Luke 4) all happened before Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. All that preaching had more repenting in the message than it did “believe and you shall be saved”. Without saying that any one person needs to hear law before gospel, it does seem that for a time what is being heard is law as a preparation for the gospel. Do all the law and you will be saved. But you can’t do all the law, so you won’t be saved. Now you are ready for the gospel. But in some stores. it seems like nobody ever gets to the gospel, because everybody is stuck in law-mode, both those who know they are doomed because they can’t do the law and also those who think they do enough of the law and thank God for giving them the sincerity and ability to do the law, and to “at least” be better than those who killed John the Baptist.
Matthew 14 Herod had arrested John, chained him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 since John had been telling him, “It’s not lawful for you to have her!” 5 Though Herod wanted to kill John , Herod feared the crowd, since they regarded John as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday celebration came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. 7 So Herod promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 And prompted by her mother, she answered, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter!” 9 Although the king regretted it, Herod commanded that it be granted because of his oaths and his guests. 10 So Herod sent orders and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 John’s head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.
God does not teach all the law and gospel to any one person at all time, no matter what ‘”soundbite” they have landed on. God did not teach all the law to Adam or to Moses or even in the Sermon on the Mount. And God did not teach all the gospel to Adam or to Abraham or to David or to the disciples and John the Baptist.
Hebrews 2: We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. 4 At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will. For God has not subjected to angels the world to come that we are talking about.
7 You made him lower than the angels
for a short time;
You crowned him with glory and honor
8 and SUBJECTED EVERYTHING everything under his feet.
For in subjecting everything to Jesus, God left nothing that is not subject to Jesus. As it is, we do NOT YET see everything subjected to him. 9 But we do see Jesus
The age to come has not yet come.
Stanley Hauerwas—We say that the Psalm Sunday crowd got it wrong because they were wanting freedom in this world and in this age, and then we who either love the status quo or think nothing will change say that Jesus was offering only spiritual freedom, a kingdom after we die, and a death which is not really death. Instead of Passover and resurrection, we teach an inherent immortality that claims that all humans are eternal.
That way we can say the kingdom is in our hearts. Instead of obeying the King who was standing among the disciples and who is coming back to earth, we can say that the Sermon on the Mount is only for after we die, and now go out and buy our guns. All we need to do is be careful not to buy those guns as a church but as individuals.
Hauerwas—-“If Jesus is all about getting us to love one another, then why did almost everyone reject Jesus? They did so, I think, because when Jesus was told by the devil that he would be given the power to turn stones to bread, Jesus refused; when Jesus was offered authority over all the kingdoms of this world, he refused; when he was offered the possibility he would not die, he refused. Jesus refused these goods because God’s kingdom cannot be forced into existence using the means of the devil.
Hauerwas—Jesus’s refusal to play the devil’s game does not mean that the kingdom Jesus proclaims is not political. Jesus refuses to use the violence of the world to achieve “peace.” But that does not mean Jess is any less political or that Jesus is not about the securing of peace. His arrest is often thought to represent the apolitical character of Jesus because Jesus commands Peter to put away the sword Peter had used to cut off the ear of the priest’s slave. Jesus rebukes Peter, but Jesus does so because that is not the “cup” the Father has given him. But the cup from which Jesus must drink is no less political for being nonviolent.
Hauerwas—The character of Jesus’s politics is manifest in his response to the high priest who questions Jesus about his teachings in John 18.19-24. That Jesus is questioned by the high priest may suggest that his mission was “religious” rather than political, but such an account cannot be sustained for no other reason than Jesus’s answer: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”
Hauerwas—They tell me that you are the King of Jews. Is that true?” Pilate’s question is meant to see if Jesus is “political.” Jesus responds by asking if Pilate came up with such a view on his own or did others tell him such was the case. “I am not a Jew, am I?” replies Pilate.. “If my kingdom were FROM this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. ” This is a response used often to deny that Jesus was political. But Pilate rightly saw that Jesus’ denial that his kingship was not of this world is not the denial that Jesus is king. Jesus denied that his kingdom was just another form of Rome.
John Howard Yoder— the Constantinian shift the meaning of the word “Christian” changes. Prior to Constantine it took exceptional courage to be a Christian. After Constantine it takes exceptional courage not to be counted as a Christian. … After the establishment, Christians knew that God was governing the world in Constantine, but they had to take it on faith that within the nominally Christian mass there was a community of true believers. No longer could being a Christian be identified with church membership, since many “Christians” in the church had not chosen to follow Christ. To be a Christian is transmuted to “inward-spirituality.”
Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (2006)