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“From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,  25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.  26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.”  30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

          31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.  32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.  33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.  34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.  36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.  37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” – Mark 7:24-37

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Our scripture reading from Mark today is a little unusual, and likewise will the sermon be. The working title for our sermon today is:

Jesus and the Gentiles
==OR==
An Adventure In Which Jesus Crosses International Borders
Without Proper Paperwork or Vetting

The entire scripture reading today takes place outside the borders of Israel; and while Jesus is not a refugee, he might have been mistaken for one – if he wasn’t already famous.

Jesus came to Tyre needing of a break. At the beginning of Mark chapter seven Jesus got into a heated debate with the Pharisees over the subject of purity. Specifically, the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of sin and impurity because they didn’t wash their hands before they ate. (Have you ever felt like you were being nitpicked to death? I think that’s how the disciples felt!)

Nowhere in the Law of Moses does it say people have to wash their hands before they eat; but around the time of King Solomon the priests in the temple were commanded by God to wash their hands before eating any gifts of oil, wine, or wheat. These gifts would have been brought by the worshipers, and it made sense to wash hands before eating things of unknown origin.

But the Pharisees extended this law to ALL people everywhere at ALL times, and wrote the law into the Talmud (the teachings of the rabbis). So people were now obeying religious ‘laws’ that God never commanded in the first place.

Jesus answered the Pharisees by quoting the prophet Isaiah:  “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me… their teachings are merely human rules.” (Isaiah 29:13)  Jesus then used this confrontation to teach the people crowding in around them what it really means to be ‘unclean’. Jesus says:

“Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them” – things like “adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” and so on. (Mark 7:14-15, 21-23)

Having said this, Jesus illustrates the point by going away from the people who claim to be ‘clean’ (that is, the Pharisees) and going to visit people the Pharisees considered to be ‘unclean’ (that is, the Gentiles).

So all of this sets the stage for our reading today. Jesus and the disciples walk around 200 miles to get away from the Pharisees (and also from King Herod who was looking to stir up some trouble).

Tyre

Modern-day Tyre

As our reading opens, we see Jesus and the disciples entering a city called Tyre, which today is in the country of Lebanon. Tyre was – and still is – a beautiful port city on the Mediterranean Sea, with gorgeous coastlines and legendary hospitality. It’s a great place to get away to for a long weekend, and Jesus seems to be looking forward to doing just that.

It’s important to acknowledge that Jesus needed time off now and then. To be human is to need rest, and that includes all of us.

Jesus tells the disciples “don’t tell anyone where I’m going, and don’t tell anyone where I am.” When you’re famous it can be hard to travel secretly (remember the Beatles).

So Jesus and the disciples slip quietly into Tyre: a city big enough and busy enough to get lost in. They find a quiet house where they can stay and not be bothered, and they quietly settle in.

Except somebody has been tracking them: somebody ready to make the most of the first opportunity. That somebody was a local woman whose daughter was suffering from demon possession.

This woman knew she was taking a big risk. Back in those days, approaching Jesus directly was a gutsy move. From the disciples’ point of view this woman had three strikes against her already: she was a Gentile; she was a foreigner (to Jesus, anyway – mind, they were in her country); and she was an unaccompanied woman approaching a man. Just like today in Afghanistan, a woman alone approaching a man was in a very vulnerable position.

But this woman was driven by love for her demon-possessed daughter. (By the way, we aren’t sure exactly what was meant by ‘demon possession’ in this case. It could have been mental illness, or addiction, or a chemical imbalance, or indeed something to do with the occult; we really don’t know.) The bottom line was, only Jesus could heal her. And based on what the woman had heard about Jesus, she knew he was a kind man and a powerful miracle-worker.

So she found her way to where Jesus and the disciples are staying. And she approaches Jesus, falls at his feet, and begs him to heal her daughter.

Jesus answers her with one of the most troubling quotes in scripture. He says:

“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)

Why on earth would Jesus say this? We don’t really know. People have made some guesses, and I’ll offer some of the more popular ones here for you to choose from:

First possibility: Jesus might be reminding her that he is sent to the people of Israel. He is Israel’s Messiah, and his mission is to them.

…which is true as far as it goes. Jesus once told the disciples that he was “the true vine” and the people of Israel are “the branches”, and that the Gentiles are “wild grapes that have been grafted in” (that includes you and me BTW).

Theologian Elisabeth Johnson points out: “For those of us who are used to having a place at the table, perhaps we need to be reminded that none of us has any right or privilege whatsoever… with God. We all come as beggars to the table, and it is solely by God’s grace that we are fed.”

So that’s the first possibility.

Second possibility: Jesus is making fun of the attitude of the Pharisees, and his comment is meant to be satire. (I tend to favor this one myself.)

Third possibility: Jesus is giving this woman the ‘textbook’ cultural Old Testament reply, complete with standard cultural prejudices, to see what she will do with it – how she will reply.

Whatever Jesus’ reasons were, the woman gives a brilliant comeback. She doesn’t disrespect him, and she disagrees so gently we almost miss it. She says: “Yes Lord; but even the dogs under the table eat children’s crumbs.”

Translation: I’ve heard about you, Jesus. I’ve heard about how you love people. I’ve heard about your miracles. I know you can do what I’m asking. And what I’m asking for is just crumbs to you, but it would mean all the world to me.

Can’t you just see the smile on Jesus’ face when he hears this?

And he answers simply, “Go home. The demon has left your daughter.” (In Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus says a little bit more: he says, “How great your faith is! Your request is granted.”)

Jesus came to Tyre looking for refreshment, and he finds it in this conversation with a Gentile woman. Jesus is now rested – because this is his kind of rest. (Remember John chapter 4.) Bringing the kingdom of God to people who need it, and bringing people into the kingdom, is exactly the refreshment Jesus needs.

And in the strength of that joy, Jesus and the disciples travel to the Decapolis.

The Decapolis is on the far side of the Sea of Galilee from Tyre: on the southeast corner, in the region we would think of today as sort of Israel/Palestine/ Jordan. It was (and is) a debated area, and Jesus is still in Gentile territory.

Again, Jesus is approached and asked to heal someone: another Gentile, this time a deaf man with a speech impediment. This time Jesus doesn’t bring up his being a Gentile. He takes man aside, probably to avoid attracting a crowd. He sighs deeply, in empathy with the man’s years of suffering. And then he speaks one word: “Ephphatha!” – “Be opened!”

This single word sounds a lot like Genesis chapter one, when God says “light, be made!” and light is made. Whatever God says is done; whatever Jesus says happens! God’s word is active. With one word the man is healed. Welcome to life in the Kingdom!

Then Jesus says to the witnesses: “tell no one about this”. (Theologians call this the “messianic secret”, this keeping a lid on the truth of Jesus’ messiahship.) This isn’t the only place in the gospels where Jesus says “don’t tell anyone.” Most likely the time just wasn’t right yet.

The final words of this passage, spoken by the witnesses, read like the chorus of a song. They say:

“He has done everything well;
he even makes the deaf to hear
and the mute to speak.”

DoneAllThingsWell

Contrast these words of the Gentiles with the complaints of the Pharisees a few verses back, and we begin to understand how the last will be first and the first will be last.

I always like to leave us with a few thoughts to take home and mull over. Today there are four:

  1. Recalling the Pharisees and the way they twisted God’s law to mean something it was never meant to mean: watch out for theologians and preachers who do this even today. There are still Pharisees in this world, and Jesus’ warning to avoid their teaching still applies. Always test what you hear against the scriptures, and see that it agrees with the Word of God.
  2. Jesus loved foreigners. We see this as he visits people of other nations and ministers to them. Jesus also loved the people who were on the fringes of society – which in his day included Gentiles, women, and handicapped people. And Jesus calls all of us, as his disciples, to do the same.
  3. The time to stay silent about Jesus’ miracles is over! When Jesus said “don’t tell anyone” that was a temporary thing. Today – tell everyone! Any prayer that is answered, any miracle that you witness – share it! Let people know what the King can do.
  4. Give praise to God. Like the people in the Decapolis, say it out loud: “He has done everything well!”

God bless this word to our understanding and our living. AMEN.

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 9/5/2021

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The same day some Sadducees came to [Jesus], saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”  Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching. 

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”Matthew 22:23-40

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Proof text political questions: we’ve been hearing a lot of them lately. If you’ve been watching the debates you can’t miss them. I won’t give examples because proof text questions are meant to put people on the defensive, and that’s not why I’m here today!

What we really need in days like these is a breath of fresh air: some faith and hope and love. And our scripture passage is going to take us there today. But first let’s take a look at what’s happening in the conversations in this passage.

A proof text question is a question people ask, not because they want information, but because they think they already know the answer – and the answer is something they think YOU need to know. In my experience these assumptions are often mistaken…

…and that’s what we see happening in the 22nd chapter of Matthew. Jesus is being asked proof-text questions designed to intimidate, or to put the questioners one-up over Jesus, or to cast doubt on Jesus’ integrity.

In today’s reading we heard two proof-text questions: one being asked by the Sadducees and one being asked by the Pharisees. Immediately prior to today’s reading there was a third question: it was asked by the Pharisees and it had to do with paying taxes: “should we pay taxes to Caesar?” Last week’s sermon was on this passage so I won’t preach it again, but Jesus’ answer to that question is one of my favorite passages in scripture. He says: “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.”

The question “should we pay taxes to Caesar?” was a proof-text question back then. It was a hot potato issue, the kind of question that would get family members arguing over the holiday dinner table. And the Pharisees were really good at coming up with questions like these.

So were the Sadducees. The Sadducees and Pharisees couldn’t stand each other, and both of these groups were always throwing questions at each other. The Sadducees were the educated elite; the Pharisees were specialists in the law of Moses – educated but not necessarily elite – and they were popular with the people.

Jesus frequently criticized both groups. And in this passage we see Jesus being confronted by both groups.

The Sadducees came first. Their big hot-button issue was resurrection. The Sadducees thought the whole idea of life after death was silly. To make this point, they created a proof-text question that went like this:

The law of Moses says if a man dies without children his brother is to marry the widow and have children for him so his name doesn’t die out. This is true: this is what the law of Moses taught. As an aside: this could be a costly law to obey – financially costly – because the brother who married the widow provided food and clothing and housing for the widow and any children she had – but anything they had was not part of the second brother’s estate… whatever they owned belonged to the dead brother and his widow.

There’s an example of how this worked in the love story between Boaz and Ruth in the book of Ruth. You may remember it: at one point in the story we see Boaz saying to Ruth’s closest male relative “you are the inheritor; you have the right of redemption – if you want to redeem the land that belonged to Ruth’s dead husband land you may do so – but Ruth comes with it.” The relative at first said “yes” to the idea of inheriting land, but when Boaz said “and Ruth comes with it” he answered “no I can’t afford that” – which is exactly what Boaz was hoping he would say, because he wanted to marry Ruth. So redeeming a widow was an expensive thing to do, and it was a very selfless act of mercy and love towards family members who otherwise would have nothing.

But the Sadducees, with their proof-text question, made it into a joke. Their question went like this: there were seven brothers. The first gets married, and then dies, and his brother marries the widow. And the second brother dies and the third brother marries the widow, and so on until all seven brothers had married the widow. They all died, none of them had any children, and finally the poor widow died. Therefore, in the resurrection (the Sadducees asked) whose wife will she be? Because she had married all seven men.

In the minds of the Sadducees this was an absurdity. They thought their question proved how silly the idea of  resurrection was. It was totally unworkable. It would pose too many logistical problems for God to work out.

Jesus immediately points out the flaw in their question. He says: “You are wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” (What a thing to say to your nation’s religious leaders! You can imagine their reaction.) Jesus continues: in the kingdom of God, people don’t marry. People will be like the angels.

This is new information – we don’t find this anywhere else in scripture. But Jesus knows it’s true because he’s been there. He came from heaven so he knows how people live there.

What it will mean for us to become like angels – we don’t know right now. You might as well try to tell a caterpillar what it’s going to be like to be a butterfly. All we know is the next life will be different – beyond our imagining at this point.

But then Jesus says something we can all recognize and relate to. He says: as for resurrection itself, God introduced himself to Moses in the book of Exodus as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” – and God is not the God of the dead but of the living.

So Jesus teaches resurrection from the scriptures, from the Law of Moses, in a way the people have never heard before. And the crowd is astounded.

God is the God of the living. For any of us who have lost loved ones in this life – fathers or grandfathers, mothers or grandmothers, spouses or children – knowing that God is the God of the living is the very best news.

The Sadducees are silenced. They had nothing more to say. And according to the Gospels, they never questioned Jesus again.

The Pharisees took note of this. And they thought maybe Jesus might be useful if he could be coaxed over to their side, so they gave him one of their proof-text questions. This particular question was not an either/or question but it was designed to find out what a person’s priorities were. They asked: “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” That is, which one takes precedence? Which one is the most important? In today’s world it would be kind of like asking: ‘Do you support pro-life or pro-choice?’ ‘Do you support letting immigrants in, or do you support building a wall?’ It was a way of asking ‘whose team are you on?’

Jesus went directly to the Ten Commandments, to the very first commandment, and he said: “love the Lord your God will all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. And the second is like it: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’.” This second law is not found in the Ten Commandments but it’s found in Leviticus chapter 19 where it sums up other commandments that have to do with bringing justice and mercy into our personal relationships with others.

Jesus says “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, do these two, and you’ve got ‘em all covered!

These two commandments are not easy… in fact they’re just about impossible… but I find Jesus’ words very helpful, because there are so many things scripture says to do and to not do. It seems impossible to remember them all, let alone do them all. In fact that’s what the Pharisees were trying to do: they spent their lives studying and memorizing the Old Testament, picking it apart for all the possible meanings, to the point that (for example) when they talked about tithing, they gave to God 10% of everything they owned right down to the spices in their spice racks! And Jesus pointed this out once: he said ‘you tithe your spices, but you neglect the weightier matters of the law, like justice and mercy and faith.’  (Matt 23:23)

So I find Jesus’ summary very helpful, because rather than trying to memorize every last detail of every last commandment, I can ask myself: does this action show my love for God? Does this action show God’s love for others through me? And if the answer is ‘no’ then I need to ask forgiveness and make some corrections.

Jesus’ words lead us away from that list of rules – all the ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’ – and leads us into a living relationship with the living God.

So in these answers to proof-text questions, Jesus gives us hope for the future, which is a resurrection life with God – and hope for the present by summing up the law in the words “love God and love each other”.

That’s where the passage we read this morning ends. But immediately following this passage, Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. It sounds like a proof-text question but it isn’t. The question is this: “Regarding the Messiah – whose son is he?”

The Pharisees answer “David’s of course.” One of the names for the Messiah in the Old Testament is “son of David.” Jesus then asks: “How is it then that David calls him ‘Lord’? for David says ‘the Lord said to my Lord, ‘sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

The Pharisees couldn’t answer that one. Or maybe they didn’t want to. They knew the scriptures. They knew the Messiah would be greater than David – greater than the greatest king Israel ever had. The Messiah’s authority and power would be greater than David’s.  And if Jesus was the Messiah, as he claimed – the Pharisees had been putting themselves above him, and that would have to change. Because Jesus isn’t just a nice guy, he’s also the king of kings and lord of lords.

The Pharisees never answered Jesus’ question. And after that they never asked Jesus any more questions.

For us today, Jesus’ words in this chapter give us great hope. In answering the Sadducees, Jesus gives us proof of the resurrection and the life that will one day be ours.  In answering the Pharisees, Jesus shows us why love is more important than memorizing all the laws. And in questioning the Pharisees, Jesus shows he has the power and the authority from God to make this love and this resurrection a reality in our lives.

This is why we’re here today in worship – to say ‘thank you’ to God for these truths. AMEN.

~Preached at Fairhaven UMC and Spencer UMC, 10/25/2020

 

 

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The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him.  Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”  So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. 

Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law– they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” Then each of them went home… John 7:32-53

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Today’s reading picks up in the middle of last week’s saga – and refers back to it in a number of places – so let’s fill in the missing parts first. To set the scene: as the story opens we are in or near the Temple in Jerusalem, about half-way through the Festival of Booths: a religious holiday which coincidentally happens to be going on this week IRL so wish your Jewish friends a blessed Festival! The festival is a harvest celebration mostly featuring food and giving thanks to God for his blessings – kind of like Thanksgiving only religious in nature, seven days long, and celebrated outdoors.

John begins this section of the story saying, “The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering things about Jesus” – things like, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

The people are starting to suspect that Jesus is the Messiah. 

Truth is, the chief priests and Pharisees have been suspecting the same for some time, but they don’t want the people to know this, so they send the temple police to arrest Jesus.

But Jesus isn’t arrested. Instead, he says something mysterious. He says: “I will be with you for a little while longer, and then I’m going to the one who sent me, and you won’t find me, because where I am you cannot come.”

From our perspective in the 21st century we know Jesus is talking about returning home to God the Father. For Jesus’ contemporaries it wasn’t quite so clear, except for one thing: Jesus says “where I AM you cannot come” – which uses the name of God: “I AM”. So in this one short sentence Jesus makes it clear who he is.

But Pharisees start asking “where is he going to go that we can’t find him? Is he going to go to the Greeks (that is, to the Gentiles)?” Jesus actually is the “light to the Gentiles” but that particular part of Isaiah’s prophecy isn’t coming true just yet.

Then on the last day of the festival Jesus cries out, “anyone who is thirsty come to me.”  These words have great meaning in the context of the festival: every day during the festival, the priests go to the pool of Siloam and bring water into the temple. On the last day of the festival, the priests with the water circle the altar seven times and pour it out with great ceremony as an appeal to God to provide water for the people in the coming year.

It is in this context Jesus says anyone who thirsts should come to him. Jesus is taking God’s part and offering what God offers – in this case, much-needed water. Jesus adds, “as the scripture has said, ‘out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Two things to notice here: (1) Jesus is claiming to be the Source of life; and (2) this is the same thing Jesus said to the Samaritan woman he met at the well a few chapters back. The promise Jesus gave to the Samaritans, who received his words with faith and joy, is now being offered to his Jewish countrymen and women. 

The apostle John adds a third meaning: Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit, which all believers in Jesus will receive – but not yet, because Jesus is not yet glorified. (Jesus himself remarks in another passage how he feels constrained, or held back, until the Holy Spirit is given.)

The people, hearing all this, are becoming more and more convinced Jesus is who he says he is. But then they start arguing over where Jesus is from – because (they say) he’s from Galilee, and the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem.

Jesus speaks with a northern accent. But if anyone thought back thirty or so years, when the old King Herod was on the throne, and he heard a rumor about a baby king being born in Bethlehem – and because of it, Herod had all the babies two years old and under murdered – people wouldn’t forget an event like that. It would have stuck with them like 9/11. But somehow the people didn’t put two and two together.

Meanwhile in verse 45 the temple police return to the chief priests and Pharisees empty-handed, and the religious leaders ask: “why didn’t you arrest him??” And the police answer:

“Never has anyone spoken like this!”

Can you imagine this happening today – maybe in one of the cities where protests have been going on? If the police were sent out to arrest a certain rabble-rouser, and they came back to the precinct saying “you should hear this guy speak! He’s amazing! I’ve never heard anything like it!” Can you imagine the reaction?

It was pretty much the same thing back then. The Pharisees say, “Don’t tell us he’s deceived you too!!! Do any of us believe in him? This crowd is under a curse!” (How quickly the Pharisees turn on the average everyday people, the very people they’re supposed to be leading and teaching!)

And then we hear one calm, steady, reasonable, intelligent voice, saying:

“Our law doesn’t judge people without giving them a fair hearing…
does it?”

It’s the voice of Nicodemus, who we met back in chapter three, and to whom Jesus said possibly the most famous verse in the Bible: “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Nicodemus was the first person on the planet to ever hear those words.

Of all the characters in the Bible, I think Nicodemus is the one I’d most like to meet (next to Jesus). Nicodemus is gentle, steady, smart, trustworthy, honest, and willing to take a stand for the truth. And he does it knowing he’s risking everything.

The other Pharisees answer him: “You’re not from Galilee too, are you?” – which is a regional slam. In ancient Israel the educated and sophisticated people lived in the south near Jerusalem, and Galilee was sort of a northern backwater. So they insult him – or at least they try to – and then they add, “no prophet is supposed to come from Galilee.”

Which is a lie, and they know it. The Pharisees spent their entire lives memorizing scripture, so there’s no way they could have missed the verse from Isaiah that said, “in the latter time [God] has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations…

“The people who walked in darkness
     have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
     on them has light shone.”  (Isaiah 9:1-2)

…which is the beginning of one of the most beautiful and powerful prophecies of the Messiah we hear every year during Advent. The prophecy continues and in verse five:

“For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
     and every garment rolled in blood
     will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
     to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
     and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5-6)

The Pharisees would have known this prophecy very, very well. But Nicodemus was the only one with the courage to stand up and stake his life on it. Some of the other Pharisees would come to faith eventually but Nicodemus was the first.

And that was the end of the conversation. “They all went home for the night…”

…and that’s where chapter seven ends, right in the middle of the sentence!

We will read the second half of this sentence next week. In the meantime it’s my hope that the word of God in this chapter – and the revelation of the Messiah that’s in it – will be an encouragement during these dark days. AMEN.

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