Epistle Lesson: Philippians 2:1-13
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 23-32
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, “From heaven,’ he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, “Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, “I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Let’s see, where are we today in the Gospel lesson. Jesus has just entered into the city of Jerusalem, the same week that the festival of Passover was in Jerusalem where thousands upon thousands were going to be entering the city, the same week that he is going to be arrested, tried, convicted, crucified, and raised from the dead. Yesterday, in the chronology of events, Jesus has just overturned the tables, cleaned the temple, and have told the people making money from the temple that they have made the house of God, the house prayer, into a den of robbers. And so here we are, Jesus has returned to the Temple, the very same temple that Jesus had made a scene in the day before, and it says that he was teaching. I suppose that is one way to get the attention of new students, come in make a huge scene and then the next day offer teachings as to why you had done such a thing. I bet Jesus had quite a crowd listening to him after the scene he had caused the day before. People were probably certainly intrigued by this guy Jesus. I mean, this is nearing the end of his 3 years of ministry, his name has gone around as someone who spoke with authority. The elders and chief priests must have been a little shocked to have seen Jesus the day after such a ruckus, but yet here He is, Jesus is among the people in the temple again. So they come to him, as he is teaching and the chief priests and elders ask him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus as was characteristic of Jesus answers this question with yet another question. Jesus says that he will answer their question, if first they answer his question. Almost sounds like we have a challenge of riddles going on. But Jesus asks, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Now you see, Jesus places a very hard decision on these Chief Priests and Elders, one where they will either answer truthfully, for they know the truth, but it would mean they would have to swallow their pride for they did not listen to John OR it would mean they would have to claim that it was not from heaven and risk the crowd rioting that is around Jesus in temple, for they all saw John as a prophet. You see at this time, John has already been beheaded, and for many in the area of Jerusalem, as his believed stomping grounds were not too far from Jerusalem, probably understood and viewed John as a martyr for the cause of the kingdom of God. Oh what a predicament for these chief priests and elders. What do they do? You see, our pride is no easy thing to swallow. Especially as we are placed in positions of authority, it makes the task of admitting fault or being wrong that much harder because we expect our leaders to know everything and how to do everything right. Even more so when those leaders are our religious leaders do we expect perfection from them. The other day, although said as in a joking manner, the chief at Burnt Chimney Fire House was commenting on how I as a pastor could do no wrong. Although said in a joking manner, our jokes and sarcasm often come from some bits of truth. There is an understanding or feeling that leaders within the church can do no wrong. Let me tell you that this is by all means a false understanding, just ask my wife. I will never tell you all that I have the answers to life’s toughest questions, nor will I ever presume to give you the impression that I know it all. However, as we, pastors climb the organizational ladder, it does become more and more tempting to not acknowledge our own faults for our prides sake. In this narrative, these are the chief priests and Elders of the Temple in Jerusalem. Let me say that again, because that carries A LOT of weight that we who are displaced 2000 years do not understand. These are the CHIEF priests and Elders of the Temple in which God himself resides in Jerusalem. They have climbed the organizational ladder, they are at the top of the top as the chief priests and elders. And they, who are on high, are asking by what authority is Jesus, this lowly Rabbi teaching in the Temple? And Jesus, in response, subvertly challenges them by having them answer a question that will require them to swallow that pride or deal with a riot of thousands of people during the festival of Passover, a festival that is to be a celebration and not divisive. So what do they do? They answer, “We do not know.” Their pride blocks them one way, and their fear blocks them the other. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew normally uses the priests, the Pharisees, and the elders as people to be warned about, to use them as an example of what not to do. Instead of focusing on what not to do, I would challenge us to focus on what we should do.
Our other lesson today comes from Paul who teaches us in this letter to the Philippians of what we should do. Paul teaches us about what it means to be the opposite of prideful and that is to be humble. Paul says that we should, “Do NOTHING in selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, think of others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” This my dear brothers and sisters is what I understand as another reality of God’s kingdom. God working in our lives, teaching us to be humble, and not letting our pride be in the way of our decisions. Paul goes on to show how Jesus took on the form of humility, as an exemplar of the kingdom. Jesus, although he was in the form of God, he never took that highest authority and abuse it. It was not something he showed off, it was not something that was used as prestige. But rather, Jesus emptied himself, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, washing the feet of his disciples as the lowliest of servants. While at the clergy retreat, we talked about what it meant to empty yourself. An example was used about a sponge that was being placed under water. We were asked if that sponge would soak up any more water if you left it there for 60 seconds or 2 days? What do you all think? Do you think it would soak up any more water? (No) Why not? (Answer) What would you have to do for it to continue to soak up that water? (You have to squeeze it, empty it, and then you will gain more). Jesus emptied himself, he humbled himself and he became obedient to the will of God to the point of death, even death on a cross. Which son was Jesus, the one who said he would and did not, or the one who said he would not and did? Jesus DID the will of the Father, to the point of death on a cross for you, for me, and for his Father’s will. And because Jesus did his Father’s will, God exalted his Son. I want to point something out here. We do not exalt Jesus. We do not lift up Jesus, God has already done so and for us to believe we could do better than God is just foolishness. But we do respect that exaltation, and give glory to God and confess Jesus as Lord in our lives, everday, everywhere, in all aspects of our lives. Thanks be to the Almighty, Eternal ruler over heaven and earth, and to his Son who although was ruler, showed us the way of humility, and to the Spirit who unifies and transforms within us. Amen.