Luke 20:41-21:4

Sun, 29/07/2007 - 10:45 -- James Oakley

Luke chapter 20 is an absolutely shocking chapter. I don’t know how much you’ve felt this as we’ve looked at it over the past few weeks – Jesus says some absolutely outrageous things! Have a look at verse 16. “When the people heard this, they said ‘May this never be!’” They couldn’t believe what they had just heard. Outrageous! You can’t say that!

So what’s Jesus talking about that is so scandalous? The leaders in Jerusalem are about to kill Jesus, God’s son, would you believe it? And 40 years later, God will throw the Jews out of Jerusalem, and give his precious promises and blessings to others. It’s outrageous! Absolutely shocking!

As we’ve seen, Luke wrote this chapter to warn us, that as the new tenants in God’s vineyard, we could easily repeat their mistake. We, too could easily reject Jesus’ authority in exactly the same way. That, too, is a scandalous suggestion!

Then in the passage we looked at last week, Luke gets even more offensive, as he starts to unpack how we might do this. And do you believe it, we are most likely to undermine Jesus’ authority because of our desire to be good citizens of our country. And even more appallingly, we are most likely to undermine Jesus’ authority because of our desire to be people of the Bible. Luke says that a very common way to try and make Jesus disappear is to quote the Bible at him.

Unbelievable! Surely we wouldn’t do such a thing! Surely we wouldn’t want to do such a thing!

Well the short passage we are looking at this morning gets right to the heart of things. 2 weeks ago, Luke told us that we might reject Jesus’ authority. Last week, he told us how we might reject Jesus authority. Now he tells us why we might reject Jesus’ authority. Luke’s background was as a doctor. Here we see the master physician at work, as he diagnoses the heart of the problem, and tells us what the matter is deep down. Luke the medic tells us what it is in the human heart that makes people who are blessed by God send God packing!

Luke tells us that deep down, in our hearts, we love two things very deeply. Two things that rival Jesus as the Lord of our lives. We human beings love religion and we love ourselves. And so Luke this morning tells us two things we need if we are to treat Jesus as the Lord that he is.

Our religion must serve Jesus, rather than Jesus serving our religion

First, if Jesus is to be Lord, then our religion must serve Jesus, rather than Jesus serving our religion. Our religion must serve Jesus, rather than Jesus serving our religion.

Let me read verses 41-44 again.

Then Jesus said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ David calls him ‘Lord’. How then can he be his son?”

Jesus turns the tables. They’ve asked him several questions to try and catch him out; now it’s his turn to ask the questions. In Jesus’ day the Jews have been waiting for a Christ to come, a Messiah, and when he comes he will be descended from the great Old Testament king, David.

Why are they waiting for a descendant of David in particular? Because of what God promised in 2 Samuel chapter 7.Let’s turn there. If you have a Bible, please turn to 2 Samuel 7. ...

King David has just brought the ark of the covenant into the newly conquered city of Jerusalem. But then he reflects for a moment, and realises that it’s a bit of a cheek for him to live in a lovely wood-panelled mansion, whilst the ark still lives in a mobile tent. And so David plans to build a splendid house for the ark, a temple. And God sends Nathan, a prophet, to tell David to hold his horses and to give him a wonderful promise.

Let’s pick it up, then, half way through verse 11: The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

David wants to build God a house. But God will build a house for David. God will give David a son. And two things about this son are significant for us this morning. First, that son will build a house for God – he, not David, will build the temple. Second, that son will rule forever. And sure enough, David had a son called Solomon. Solomon built a temple for the LORD, and his kingdom was magnificent without rival.

But Solomon died. His sons were unfaithful to God and were expelled from the land. The temple was torn down by the Babylonians. And in Jesus’ day, there was still no king in Jerusalem, and the rebuilt temple was a shadow of the original. So the Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for God to keep his promise to David. They were looking for God to raise up a descendant from David who would be their king and who would restore God’s temple. And they were right to do so, for this was what God had promised.

But in Luke 20, Jesus turns to Psalm 110. A Psalm where David is the speaker. A Psalm where the Lord God speaks to the chosen king and tells him that he will rule until all his enemies are subdued. And Jesus draws attention to one little detail in the Psalm. When David speaks of this chosen king who is to come, he does so using the phrase “my Lord”. And so Jesus asks: “David calls him ‘Lord’. How then can he be his son?”

You see, in their day, no father would call his son, “my Lord”. So Jesus asks them: What kind of son is this then? And they are stymied. The answer, of course, is that he is a greater son. What these leaders want is David’s son to turn up. What they’ve missed is that David’s lord will turn up.

Half way through my time at secondary school, we had a new headmaster. Quite a lot of things changed. Whenever you get someone new in charge, things change. Get a new superintendent at a police station, things will change. Get a new vicar in a church, things will change. Get a new home secretary, things will change at the home office. And wise people working in these institutions will realise it. They haven’t just got a new colleague; they’ve got a new boss!

These scribes did not realise that this was what was happening under their noses. They wanted David’s son, but they didn’t want him to be their lord. Actually, Jesus was an even bigger arrival than that. The man in front of them wasn’t just their boss; the man in front of them was David’s boss.

So it’s not so much a new headmaster in the school as the chief inspector of schools becoming your headmaster. It’s not so much a new superintendent at the police station as the chief constable taking over the day to day running. It’s not so much a new vicar in the church, as the bishop moving into the vicarage. And it’s not so much a new home secretary as the prime minister himself picking up the reins.

David’s lord is the person that David obeys, not someone who obeys David. David did some pretty great things, but all he did was what his boss asked him to. These scribes looked forward to the arrival of David’s son, David’s son who would carry on David’s work, and get the temple licked back into shape.

But Jesus is the Messiah. He didn’t just come to apply a bit of Brasso and Windolene to David’s temple. Rather the temple itself is only a shadow of what Jesus himself came to bring. Jesus has come, so the shadows fade away and the real thing can arrive. That’s what happens when David’s lord steps onto the scene. And all they want, is David’ son, to prop up the system for them.

So there is part of Luke’s diagnosis. These scribes love their religion. So they want Jesus to serve their religion; they aren’t willing to allow their religion to serve Jesus. So if we would have Jesus as the Lord that he is, then our religion must serve Jesus, rather than Jesus serving our religion.

So how might we today end up loving religion too much? How might we end up constraining Jesus so that he serves our religion, rather than ending up with a religion that serves him?

Well our passage gives us one very precise way that we might do this, and that is if we expect Jesus to mend the temple in Jerusalem. Quite a few Christians today want Jesus to be a son of David, who will prop up Jerusalem and its temple. But to expect Jesus to do that is to fail to realise that he is David’s Lord as well. He is now the temple. He has built himself as a new temple. And he is not on earth, not even in Jerusalem. He is in heaven. Jerusalem no longer has any significance of that kind.

That’s very specific. But there are plenty of other ways that we can tie Jesus down so that he serves our religion. Everything we do when we come together – the time we meet, what we do when we meet, the songs we sing, the prayers we say – are all things we do to serve Jesus as Lord. But if we get too obsessed with our religion, it’s easy to want him to serve it rather than it to serve him. And then our religion gets in the way of Jesus being Lord, because it takes on a life of its own and takes priority.

I think it’s done us a lot of good to have to meet in the theatre like this. I think there’s a friendlier atmosphere, and I think it’s made us work out which bits of what we do on Sunday we really need, and which bits are trappings that we can do without when we are forced to do so. The interesting time will be when we move back into St James. Will we simply snap back into all our old ways, or will we carry across some of what we’ve learnt from not having a church building?

18 months ago I suggested we rethink the way we use the part of our service we call “the peace”. We had a PCC meeting earlier in the month, at which we had a good discussion on the way in which we celebrate Palm Sunday and other fixtures in the church’s annual calendar.

This is not the place to open up these issues. But it is noteworthy how much of what we do is how we’ve always done things. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. But doing things because that’s how we’ve always done them can become wrong, if our determination to do things the way we always have done creates such a loud clamour that it drowns out Jesus’ voice.

So that’s one thing that can stop Jesus being our Lord, our love of religion. If Jesus is to be our Lord, then our religion must serve Jesus, rather than Jesus serving our religion.

We must serve Jesus and others, rather than wanting others to serve us.

The second thing that might stop Jesus being our Lord is our love of ourselves. Which means that if Jesus is to be our Lord, then we must serve Jesus and others, rather than wanting others to serve us. We must serve Jesus and others, rather than wanting others to serve us.

Jesus goes on to warn his disciples about the scribes. They love being popular. While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets”.

These people love their popularity in three spheres of life. In a social setting, the market-place, they love the way everyone knows their name and talks to them. In a church setting, the synagogue, they love the fact that they have the best seats in the house. And in other settings, like a private banquet, they get to sit nearest to the host. Socially, in church and elsewhere these men are popular – and, says Jesus, they love it that way.

They love to be number one. They love to be first. They love to be noticed. Their love is for that…, not for God. How do we know? Verse 47: “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” We know because of how they treat widows. We don’t know exactly what they were doing that devoured their houses. The basic point is clear; their piety is a pretence.

Then when Jesus comes along, he demands their allegiance. He’s God. The trouble is that he is going to recast the temple radically, and their status in society is all wrapped up in the temple. Their desire for status in society trumps their allegiance to God, so they don’t want to know Jesus.

And so we can see what is behind their rejection of Jesus as Lord. If Jesus is to be our Lord, then we must serve Jesus and others, rather than wanting others to serve us.

And then we get the story of the destitute widow, who only put in two small coins. But Jesus said that she put her very life into the temple collection, compared to the rich who put in their spare thousands. She shows the scribes up nicely.

I can’t decide whether she’s a contrast to the scribes or one of their victims. The scribes take everything they can because they are number one; how refreshing to see a widow give everything she can. The scribes deprive the poorest of their livelihood – like this widow. She should be looked after by the temple, but she ends up giving her life for it.

For these scribes, one barrier to Jesus being their Lord is their religion. The other barrier is their love of their own standing. So if we would avoid rejecting Jesus’ authority in the ways that they do, we had better examine our own hearts to see if our love of our own standing might trip us up too.

This was the week when Harry Potter book 7 came out. Who’s read it yet? I’ve not even read book 6, so please don’t spoil it for me! The book came out at midnight last Saturday. ASDA said it had sold 450,000 copies by 4pm that day. That’s 7 a second!

One of my favourite characters from Harry Potter is Gilderoy Lockhart from book 2. Remember him? Played by Kenneth Branagh. Utterly obsessed with himself. Signed photos everywhere. Written numerous books. All self-promotion. For the first lesson he took, he set the class a test – on his own autobiography.

When he had handed out the test papers he returned to the front of the class and said, ‘You have thirty minutes. Start – now!’ Harry looked down at his paper and read:

1. What is Gilderoy Lockhart’s favourite colour?

2. What is Gilderoy Lockhart’s secret ambition?

3. What, in your opinion, is Gilderoy Lockhart’s greatest achievement to date?

On and on it went, over three sides of paper, right down to:

54. When is Gilderoy Lockhart’s birthday, and what would his ideal gift be?”

J K Rowling said something very interesting about Lockhart: “I have only once set out to depict somebody I have met and, unlikely though it might seem, the result was Gilderoy Lockhart. I assure you that the person on whom Gilderoy was modelled was even more objectionable than his fictional counterpart. He used to tell whopping great fibs about his past life, all of them designed to demonstrate what a wonderful, brave and brilliant person he was. Perhaps he didn’t really believe he was all that great and wanted to compensate, but I’m afraid I never dug that deep.

You might think it was mean of me to depict him as Gilderoy, but you can rest assured he will never, ever guess. He’s probably out there now telling everybody that he inspired the character of Albus Dumbledore. Or that he wrote the books and lets me take the credit out of kindness.”

We laugh at characters like Lockhart. We’re meant to – he’s a caricature. But we’re laughing at ourselves because he’s a caricature of each and every one of us. There’s something of Lockhart in us all.

So we need to make sure that our love of our own standing in social circles does not get in the way of Jesus being Lord. Insofar as we have friends, who like us. Insofar as we are popular and get invited to things, we’re going to find ourselves thinking: What if they knew what I really believed? Would they still like me if I became a Christian? Which wins out: Loyalty to Jesus, or our popularity with our friends.

The marketplace, and then the church. Believe it or not, we can love the status we have in church circles enough for that love to push Jesus away as Lord. If you’re anything like me, you like it when people recognise that you have a part to play and know your name in church. Which means we won’t want to lose that. So the more involved in church life we are, the more that involvement can tempt us to resist Jesus being Lord. Sadly, you’d be amazed in how many churches the barriers to growth come from the office holders in the church.

Now I’m not about pointing fingers here, because this is something that affects us all. So I don’t want to mention any specific areas of church life where this can be an issue. I’ll leave that to you. What I can do is talk about myself, and how this affects the clergy. I have to say that I think we have a super vicar here, in Peter, so as I say I’m only talking about the pressures I know I feel

Jesus talks about the long robes these scribes wear; many clergy are attached to their dog collar or their robes because it gives them recognition. Many clergy are bottlenecks in the life of the churches they serve. We are supposed to keep the wheels oiled, but it’s too easy to clog them up. How? A combination of mistrust and being a control freak. By being unwilling to trust others to take things forwards. Unwilling to relinquish some of the control we have on things, some of the ways in which church life appears to revolve around us.

As I say, I can only speak for myself. But Luke is saying that such a love of status is in all of our hearts. We all need to ask how this affect us. And the more power or influence we have in church, the more we are not going to want to let it go.

Social circles. Church. And we could apply this to our standing at work too. Will we get recognised and liked at work if we conduct our business in the ways that Jesus would want? Would being known as a Christian give my reputation a knock?

So what happens when our hearts are captured by a love of our own status? Well according to Jesus, the results can be seen in the way that the needy get treated. We end up with a social environment where those who don’t fit our social type end up uncared for? We end up with a church where people’s needs are not met because we only meet the needs of those who suit the programmes in which we feature. Following the widow in chapter 21, we’d end up with a church that is funded by those least able to do so. We end up with a work-world where people get trodden down by others on the way to the top. That’s the kind of world we consign ourselves to if we allow love of status to drive out submission to Jesus.


These Jews are about to kill of God’s own son. How can they? We could reject his authority to. How can we? The answer is: We could do so very easily, once we know our own hearts. We love our religion and we love our place in society. And to people who love these things, Jesus is a threat.

The answer, of course, is not to pull up our socks. The gospel is about a God who offers heart-surgery, which is wonderfully good news. God promises to write his law on the hearts of his people, so that we grow and grow in love for him. So will you join me in praying that God will turn us into people, turn us into a church, that doesn’t love religion or love status, but loves Jesus Christ? If God does this for us, then we will gladly receive him as our Lord.

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