Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
October 1, 2017
“Taking A Stand”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Millions of Americans are angry with the National Football League and its players. Last weekend hundreds of NFL players did not stand during the National Anthem. Many folks felt that their actions were an action of disrespect to the flag, our country and to the many folks who have defended our rights, some sacrificing their body and mind to injury and even death. The reaction of our country to folks taking a knee, instead of standing, has been quite loud. We’ll see if they have heard.
Taking a stand, not just during the National Anthem, but in every aspect of life, takes courage. Taking a stand in matters concerning your heart, matters of faith, takes everything you have. Our text from Matthew is all about taking a stand. I think our event happened on Tuesday of Holy Week, two days after Palm Sunday. Jesus had received the praise of the large crowd, He had gone to the Temple and had thrown out the money-changers, flinging their coins everywhere and turning over all their tables. Birds flying, coins scattered, people running for cover, I suppose. (Sounds like the mayhem of a Broncos-Raiders game!!)
After seeing the praise of the people and the anger of this peasant from Galilee, they came right to His face and put their finger in His nose and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23b) “Who are you? You have no right in getting all this attention and in telling us that we’re running our religion incorrectly!!”
But Jesus doesn’t answer, at least not directly. He asks His question – “John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” (Matthew 21:25). Now John hadn’t made many friends among this group that had confronted Jesus. He called them a bunch of hissing snakes. They hadn’t listened to him. They hadn’t repented – changed. So they got together in a little huddle and whispered among themselves, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’ – we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” (Matthew 21:25b-26)
“So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’” (Matthew 21:27a) What cowards!! William Barclay, a commentator of this said, “Then they gave the lamest of all lame answers.” “We don’t know!!” We can’t say. We have to stay on the fence on this. They didn’t want to make a decision. But their indecisiveness wasn’t just about John, it was about someone much greater than John, about the one who accepted the praise of the children, who had just called Him the “Son of David” – a title of divinity. They had to come to some conclusion about Jesus – “Was all this from heaven, from God, or from men?” “We can’t say! We don’t know! We’ll have to get back to you on this one!”
Jesus demanded that they take a stand. Jesus demands that we take a stand – you, me. He demands that the world – everyone that you know and the billions that you don’t – take a stand concerning Himself. In this same gospel Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) A chapter later – “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)
The Old Testament has some great accounts of people having to take a stand. Look at David and Goliath. No grown man would answer the challenge of Goliath for a fight, but then a little boy named David stepped forward. He would stand against a man twice his height and about four times his weight and say, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.” (I Samuel 17:47)
Also in the Old Testament – Elijah was on Mount Carmel in Israel and he came face to face with Jezebel and the prophets of Baal and their sacrifices of infants. But Elijah also confronted the people of God, the Israelites, “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.” (I Kings 18:21) Wow!! It sounds just like our text, “So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’” No backbone. No courage. Spineless. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus speaks to one of the churches in Asia Minor (Laodicea) and rebukes them, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)
Jesus can’t be secondary. He isn’t a person that you can put off. Sometimes everything but God are the most important things of life. For far too many people matters of the soul, matters of faith, who Jesus is, where someone is going to spend their eternity – in heaven or in hell – are matters that will be taken care of when the time is convenient. Maybe sometime later, but not today. Usually never. Too many folks, maybe you, are like folks in Elijah’s day, “But the people said nothing.” Or, the people in Jesus’ day, “So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’” Indifference, apathy or procrastination are feeble responses to God’s insistence that we take a stand about Jesus.
We must take a stand about God because God has taken a stand for us. The passage from Philippians is a classic. It is one of the foremost passages about the divinity of Jesus, you know, “the God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God” stuff. But it is also the passage about His humility and sacrifice. You’ve heard it today, but listen again. Take it in. Listen to how God has taken His stand for us. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under then earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
Jesus has taken a stand for us. He is ever faithful to us. He stands with us in life’s darkest times. He stands with us not wanting our faith to fail. He stands with us as a Savior from evil and as the Lord who rules over all things.
This whole question from Jesus asking His opponents to take a stand came from the question of His authority. “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” Authority is a word for having the right or the power to do something. People were amazed that He spoke with authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (See Matthew 7:28-29) With authority Jesus cast out demons and raised the dead.
With authority Jesus still takes a stand with us. Jesus wanted to know what they thought about John’s baptism, “Is it from heaven or from men?” Is it divine or worldly? Is it something sent from God, or have we just made it up? The same questions can be asked today. It will determine where we stand. Here are the questions that tell where we stand:
v What about Jesus? Is He merely a man, or is He true God?
v What about Holy Baptism and Holy Communion? Are they simply church traditions, created by man or are they actually God’s work? Is it God’s water that can wash away sins, the bread of heaven that can make us whole?
v What about the Bible? Is it from heaven? Is it inspired, God’s very Word given to us, or is it simply the writings of men – made up stories, myths or legends?
v Is heaven real? Does Jesus really go to prepare a place for us there, or when we die do we simply cease to exist?
Jesus has taken His stand with us. He died for our unbelief and doubts and being double-minded. His has given us His word and it is true. The Bible can be trusted, it is God’s holy word. Jesus is fully Savior and Lord, our Savior and Lord. He truly forgives sins and declares us complete in the work of Jesus. In Baptism and Communion He gives us the fullness of His redemption. And our eternity? We can only imagine what He has prepared for those who love Him!!
Jesus asked for faith that day. “Was this from heaven, or from men?” And they said, “We don’t know.” They took a knee. Now, He asks the same of us. Will we take a stand? Are all these things, gifts from My hand – Me, My death, My resurrection, My forgiveness, My promises, My Spirit, My eternal hope – are they from heaven or from men? Are they true, or false? They are fully, completely, without reservation true!!
Faith takes a bold stand. It trusts in the truth of God’s promises. Take that stand with Jesus everyday!! Amen!!