February 14, 2016

        Caiaphas and Capone...

     This year Valentine's Day just happens to fall on a Sunday, and so became the inspiration for this morning's message.  And since I grew up on the north side of Chicago, the infamous St. Valentine's Day massacre also came to mind.  "Gang warfare ruled the streets of Chicago during the late 1920s, as chief gangster Al Capone sought to consolidate control by eliminating his rivals in the illegal trades of bootlegging, gambling and prostitution. This rash of gang violence reached its bloody climax in a garage on the city's North Side on February 14, 1929, when seven men associated with the Irish gangster George "Bugs" Moran, one of Capone's longtime enemies, were shot to death by several men dressed as policemen. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, as it was known, was never officially linked to Capone, but he was generally considered to have been responsible for the murders. (from History.com)
    A day that both celebrates love and commemorates the bloody killing of the threat to a gang leader's control - I bet you can see where this message is going!  Yes, the greatest love of all time was demonstrated through the brutal execution of someone who was a threat to the religious leaders' control almost 2000 years ago.    And of course, that someone is Jesus.
    For it was the religious leaders of Jesus' day that demanded his death.  He was a threat to their control, their power, and their honor among the Jews.  You see, just as a Capone's men were disguised as police officers, the Pharisees and Sadducees were disguised as holy men of God.  But Jesus knew who their true leader was, and exposed them for what they really were.  He told them to their face, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning." (John 8:44)  There was no fooling Jesus with a disguise.  And Jesus knew they wanted him dead.  And what did he do?
    Being the Son of God, he could have struck every one of them down, and claimed His rightful throne as King right there and then.  Instead, he allowed them to nail Him to a cross, with a sign mocking him as the king of the Jews.  Matthew wrote that while He was hanging there, "The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ˜He saved others,' they said, ˜but he can't save himself! He's the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, I am the Son of God.'" (Matthew 27:41-43)  But even then, while in intense pain, knowing His death was imminent if He allowed his crucifixion to continue, did He retaliate in any way?  No, not Jesus.  Instead He said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)  Had these power hungry leaders, blind to the prophecies in the Scriptures they knew by heart, known that Jesus was allowing them to do this out of His love for them - so they could be cleansed before God, and made righteous through the blood they had spilled - would they have still done it?  Only God can answer that question.  
    Regardless, He knew there would be some who would believe.  He had prayed, just shortly before Judas betrayed him, "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life”to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. O righteous Father, the world doesn't know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them." (John 17:1-3, 25-26)
    Do you know that God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for your sins?  Has Jesus revealed the love of God to you?  And is His love in you now?  Head knowledge is one thing, but heart knowledge is what counts.  The Pharisees and Sadducees memorized entire books of the Bible.  And yet they did not recognize Jesus as their promised Messiah.  They were hoping for someone who would destroy the enemies of Israel, and not someone who would destroy the enemies of their eternal soul.  So they stayed enslaved to death and the devil.  The ultimate love story to them was nothing more than the fiction of a few unimpressive disciples that followed around this so-called prophet from Nazareth.  And yet Jesus still loved them.  And He still loves all those whom satan has blinded to the truth.  He still reaches out His hands, the hands that bear the scars where the nails pierced them, to all who will accept His love.  He promises forgiveness and eternal life to all who will repent of their sin, and put their faith in Him for their salvation.  Look into your heart today.  Have you made room for Jesus?  
    What about some of us that have lost our 'first love', as the Spirit said to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-5?  "I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don't tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.  But I have this complaint against you. You don't love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don't repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches." I pray that the words the Lord gave to the prophet Jeremiah would apply to us instead, "I will watch over and care for them, and I will bring them back here again. I will build them up and not tear them down. I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly." (Jeremiah 24:6,7)  May this be your prayer as well.  Amen.