The Setback for a Setup

Matthew 22:15-22


            Ever feel like the world is out to get you?  Like no matter how hard you try, you find yourself on the bottom, you find yourself beat up and tired?  No matter how hard you try to get ahead in life, bam, the car breaks down or a storm damages your house or your water heater springs a leak and rots out the floor.  And as soon as you get one thing fixed, bam, something else happens and its yet another major expense which almost empties the bank account.  Or maybe you just got over being sick and you’re told your cancer free only to have it show up again months later.  Or maybe you get done with one knee surgery only to find out months later you need to have the one worked on now.  It’s like we keep serving up these great ambitions, ideas, goals, and dreams of life … only to have them spiked down at us and knocking us off of our feet.

            After reading through the Gospel of Matthew these past couple of months, I get the impression that this is how Jesus has to be feeling.  Throughout Jesus’ entire ministry, the Pharisees and others are challenging Jesus and his teachings.  At first it doesn’t seem to be harsh.  They are just questioning Jesus because what he is teaching the people is different than what they were teaching.

            But when the Pharisees and others start to see that people are leaving them and flocking to be with Jesus, they start to get hostile.  They go from no longer questioning Jesus to see what his teachings are about but to questioning him so that they can find some way of catching him in his words so that they can get rid of him.

            We heard this a couple of weeks ago when I preached on Jesus’ parable of the tenants on LWML Sunday.  Remember after Jesus gets done telling the parable, Matthew tells us, “when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet” (21:45-46).

            Even this morning.  Look again at what the opening verse of the gospel lesson says.  “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him {Jesus} in his words” (22:15).  To show how desperate they are, Matthew goes on to say, “They sent their disciples to him {Jesus} along with the Herodians” (22:16).  It is easy to just pass right over this and jump to the part where Jesus talks about paying to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods.  That’s where most attention is placed.  But I want to stop here and look at this part this morning.

            You need to understand that the Pharisees are a group of religious people who wanted to establish political independence for the Jewish people, get out from under the rule of the Roman Empire and restore the dynasty of King David from the Old Testament.  The Herodians are a sect of Jewish people who too wanted to establish political independence and get out from under the rule of the Roman Empire but, but they wanted it for an entirely different reason.  They wanted out in order to restore the Herodian dynasty to the throne.  The Herodian dynasty remember is that one which wanted all babies under the age of two in Bethlehem killed in order to try to eliminate Jesus.  So anyway, these two groups of people don’t normally get along with each other.  One wants a descendant of King David on the throne and the other wants a descendant of King Herod on the throne.  But even though they don’t get along with each other, they both have a common goal … let’s get rid of Jesus.

            So here they are working together to try to trap Jesus in his words.  Jesus though knows what’s going on.  This isn’t his first rodeo with either one of these groups.  Knowing what they want, Jesus answers them in such a way that they when they heard his answer, they’re marveled, they’re amazed and because of this, they left him and went away (22:22).

            But just because they left him doesn’t mean that the fight is over.  Oh no!  That round may be over, but the fight isn’t.  After they leave, in the verse right after the end of our reading, it says this, “That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question” (22:23).  You can imagine what they are going to be asking about.  This approaching Jesus and questioning him continues for the rest of chapter 22 and all of chapter 23.  On top of the relentless questioning we have heard about the past couple of weeks and what is to come … this is all happening on the same day.

            Countless times throughout Jesus’ ministry, not just these few chapters, but countless times, the Pharisees and others tried to test, trap, and trick Jesus, thinking he would suffer a setback in his ministry.  But time and time again, Jesus in his divine wisdom and teaching would instead turn these setbacks into a setup for teaching about many things regarding life on earth and about the kingdom of heaven.

            This happens to us too.  We face times of testing, trapping, and tricking.  We obviously aren’t facing them from the Pharisees but we do face them from this world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh.  Because of this we often face setbacks.

            And it may seem like we are in a midst of a setback right now.  The Call Committee put forth a recommendation for Pastor Jason to serve as our next senior pastor and we issued him the call.  After visiting with him and his family, we were all very optimistic and maybe a little too confident that he would accept the call and that this would be a very short vacancy.  God however had other plans.  God had plans for Pastor Jason to stay at his current church, a church which was a hurting and broken when he arrived and with God’s help, Pastor Jason has helped that church heal and revitalize.  But his work there isn’t done yet.

            Our sinful selves, my sinful self, got a little too confident in the idea and plans which we had.  I know and I have reiterated it over and over at different call committee meetings, Elder’s meetings, and in our prayers here on Sunday morning that this call process is in God’s hands.  He knows exactly what it is that we need and exactly who it is that we need.  When the timing is right, God’s plan will happen. 

            As much as we would like for God to tell us who the person is who will help lead us, like he did with the Israelites in Babylonian exile that we heard about in our Old Testament lesson … God doesn’t work that way anymore.  As much as we would love a billboard message, a text, snap, or an e-mail from God saying, “Choose this guy!”, that isn’t God’s style.  The writer to the Hebrews puts it pretty clear for us in the opening verses of his book, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a).

            Now in these later times, in these last days, it is wise for us not to do those things which set us back, but instead we should turn to the one who sets us up.  We turn and continuously turn to Jesus, the one who has set up for us forgiveness, mercy, and a new life through his very own life, death, and resurrection.  It is wise for us to continuously turn and put our trust in the one who promises to never leave us or forsake us.  Rejoicing in God’s grace shown to us, we respond to His love by faithfully doing what God has put us here to do … to love him above all else with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are a place, we are a church where friends become family and we are a resilient group of God fearing people who, when we get knocked down, get back up again and continue to love God and love each other.  We do so because even though Jesus got setback by the Pharisees as he was severely punished and nailed to a cross, it was all to set up his rising from that cold dark grave, it was all to set you and me up for a life with him here and now and also later in his eternal presence.  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our ever present Lord and Savior, now and forever.  Amen.


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