The period from Palm Sunday to Easter is known as Holy Week. And every year, when Holy Week comes around, we have special services. We have a Maundy Thursday service and we have a Good Friday service. If you add in the Wednesday night Lent service we have in Gettysburg, that’s five services that we have in an eight-day period.
But even though we have all those special services, there’s still a lot that happened during Holy Week that we never seem to quite get to. We tend to jump right from Palm Sunday to Jesus meeting with the disciples for the last supper in the upper room on Thursday night. Those are both important things, of course, but Jesus did and said a lot of things on Monday, Tuesday, ad Wednesday, too. So, as we do this sermon series on the earthly life of Jesus, we’re going to try to cover some of those things.
Jesus is in the temple courts. He’s talking to a crowd, teaching them. The two biggest Jewish religious groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, were there, too. They were watching Jesus. They were listening to what he was saying. And they were not happy about it.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees and the other Jewish leaders thought they needed to do something about Jesus. He was a threat to them. He was a threat to their whole way of life. In fact, they looked at Jesus as a threat to their whole society. And yet, they did not dare just walk up to Jesus and arrest him in broad daylight, because they were afraid of what the crowd around Jesus might do. So, they came up with a plan. They would trap Jesus with his own words. Then, everyone would know that Jesus was a fraud and they’d be able to get rid of him.
Four times they tried. First the Pharisees tried with a question about paying taxes. Then the Sadducees tried with a question about marriage at the resurrection. Then another Pharisee, this one an expert in the law, had a go, asking about the greatest commandment in the law. And finally, the Pharisees talked to Jesus about whose son the Messiah must be.
Four times they tried. Four times they failed. At first, Jesus seems a little annoyed at this, calling them hypocrites for asking the question. But by the end, Jesus seems to almost be toying with them. He knows they cannot trap him. They cannot trick him. The Pharisees and Sadducees were trying to make Jesus look bad with their “clever” questions, and instead all they did was give Jesus the chance to make them look foolish. Which Jesus did.
So what’s the lesson from all this? What are we supposed to learn from it?
Well, last week we talked about how, as Christians, we need to stop being lukewarm about our faith. We need to stop trying to just have the minimum amount of faith necessary to get to heaven. We need to have full and complete faith. We need to go from being lukewarm to being hot. We talked about how the only way Christianity is going to grow, whether we’re talking about growth in the United States or growth right here in our own community, is by the actions of Christians who are willing to go beyond just being “good people” and do whatever it takes to love our neighbors, make disciples, and follow Jesus wherever the road may lead us.
If we take that seriously, if we actually try to do that, if we actually go from being lukewarm to being hot, we’re going to run into some resistance. If you and I actually try to put our faith in Jesus Christ into practice in every aspect of our lives, there are going to be some people who look at us kind of funny. If we truly allow our faith in Jesus Christ to change our lives, there are people who are not going to like that very much.
And it’s not necessarily because they’re opposed to God or opposed to Jesus or anything like that. We may run into some people who are, but I don’t think it’s most. But the thing is, if we really take our faith seriously, if our faith really is involved in each and every part of our lives, there are people who are going to look at us as a threat. Because we’ll be different. We’ll be both different from them and different from who we used to be.
And that can be hard for people to deal with. There are some who’ll feel like we’re judging them because we’re different. We may not be actually judging them, and in fact we should not be, but they may still feel that way just because we’re living differently now. And sometimes, people feel threatened by people who are different.
And then too, if our faith in Jesus Christ changes our lives, we won’t be that same person they thought they knew any more. Some people probably won’t be happy about that. And they’ll try to get us to go back to the way we were.
And it can be hard to resist that. It takes a lot of courage to be different. You know, we talk about peer pressure in regard to young people a lot, but young people are not the only ones who face peer pressure. Most of us do. Most of us have a desire to fit in. Most of us have a desire to go along. There are very few people who really enjoy being the outsider, who enjoy being the oddball, who like having people think of them as different. The desire to be liked, to be accepted, is very strong. Most of us feel it. I know I do. And most of us, to one degree or another, are tempted to compromise so we can be liked and accepted. I know I am. And sometimes I give in to that temptation. Maybe you do, too. It takes courage to be different.
Jesus had that courage. He was able to resist the temptation to compromise. Jesus knew the things he was saying were not going to make the Jewish religious authorities happy. In fact, he knew this was just one more step on the road that led to him dying on a cross. If Jesus had just tried to fit in better, if he’d just gone along, if he’d just compromised with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, things would’ve been so much easier for him. He probably could even have avoided his death.
I don’t know whether Jesus felt the temptation to go along, to fit in. But if he did, he had the courage to resist it. He had that courage because he knew it was coming, just as we know it could be coming. And because Jesus knew it was coming, Jesus was ready for it.
So let’s look at the specific examples. In the question about taxes, he knew it was not an honest question. So he did not treat it as one. He knew the person asking did not want his opinion, but was just trying to start an argument. No matter what he said they were going to disagree. So he did not fall into the trap.
There’s a lesson for us right there. If we really live our faith out, if we really are different, people are going to have questions. And that’s okay. We should welcome honest questions. But we need to know when someone is asking an honest question, and when someone is just trying to start an argument. Jesus would answer honest questions as long as people wanted to ask them. We should, too. But you and I should not fall into a trap when someone just wants to start an argument. It’s not going to help.
In the question about marriage at the resurrection, the Sadducees tried to set up a false premise. And Jesus refused to accept it. There’s a lesson for us, too. People will try to do that, too. “If God loves you, why did you get sick?” “If God loves you, why did you lose your job?” If God loves us, why does God not make it rain?” The false premise is that if God loves us nothing bad should never happen to us. That’s never been true. The greatest heroes of the Bible had all kinds of bad things happen to them. But they kept the faith and were ultimately rewarded for it. So will we be. So when someone sets up a false premise, you and I should not accept it. We should challenge it.
That’s two principles we can learn from Jesus. Here’s a third: don’t get bogged down in insignificant details. Stick with the basic principles. Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment in the law. There were any number of commandments he could’ve chosen from. Some of them were pretty detailed, and some of them were considered pretty important. But Jesus went to the basics, to the first principles. Love God and love your neighbor. That’s what you and I need to do, too. Don’t get hung up on every last detail. Stick to the basic principles.
And there’s one more principle we can learn from Jesus, and that is not to be defensive about our faith. After they’d asked Jesus all these questions, Jesus turned around and asked them a question. And when they gave the answer he expected, he turned things around on them.
Too often, as Christians, we start to feel like we need to be defensive about our faith. We don’t. I’m not saying we should be obnoxious about it. We should not go around pointing fingers in people’s faces or anything. But we don’t need to be defensive about our faith, either. We don’t need to try to hide it or keep it a secret. We can and should be upfront, open, and honest about what we believe and why we believe it. Our Christian faith is not something to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of. If we’re proud of our faith, we should act like we are.
Following Jesus, having the kind of full and complete faith that we’ve been talking about, is not always going to make us popular. It’s going to make us different. And again, it takes courage to be different. There will always be people who tempt us to go along, to fit in, to go back to the way we used to be. There will always be people who want us to compromise our faith. And sometimes it’s very tempting to do that.
Jesus was able to resist the temptation to compromise. He had the courage to be different. He had that courage knowing full well where it would lead him--to the cross. You and I can resist the temptation to compromise, too. We can dare to be different for Jesus. We can be open, honest, and proud of our faith. We may not always know where it will lead us. But we know that, if we follow Jesus, we’ll always be going in the right direction.