Allen Jackson - Tale of Two Cities - Part 2
It's an honor to be with you again. We're going to conclude our study today, "A Tale of Two Cities". It's a comparison between the city of Nineveh and the city of Jerusalem. Nineveh repented and God showed them mercy. Jerusalem stood in their stubbornness and their rebellion, and experienced the judgment of God. I don't want to do that. I'd like to just plant a seed if I could. You know, it's been popular in many segments of the Christian church through the centuries to say that the Jewish people rejected the Savior, the Messiah, and therefore God rejected them.
Well, that is really in clear contradiction to the message of the New Testament, particularly what Paul wrote to the church at Rome. God didn't reject the Jewish people, certainly we've rejected Jesus frequently enough that we don't want him to reject us. That idea has been at the root of so much of the hatred of the Jewish people. Let's not carry that forward. They gave us the scripture, the prophets, and the Messiah, we are deeply in their debt. We're not angry with them.
I want to come back to the question, the choice between those two cities, and I would submit to you that saying "Well, we're coming to church on a frigid evening, what do you want"? And I would submit to you the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, "We're the covenant people of God, and we keep kosher, and we go to the ritual bath, and we pay the temple tax, and we do our Torah readings on Shabbat, what do you want from us"? And I believe the answer is the same thing he said to the people of Nineveh, we have to repent, because on our watch, ungodliness has flourished. On our watch, we've sacrificed the children. On our watch, we've redefined marriage. On our watch, the most basic biology of our lives we call confusing, and God is not the author of confusion. On our watch, we said we don't want Jesus's name mentioned in the public square.
We don't want those prayers before our children play sporting events, and we don't want those prayers in our official gatherings of our leaders, and it's our watch. You can say, "Well, I'm not doing that". Well, I promise you there were godly people in Jerusalem, there were righteous people in Jerusalem, there were righteous people in Jerusalem in 587 when the Babylonians destroyed the city. You know some of them, Daniel and his friends. But they lived their lives as slaves in a foreign country. Within about 40 years of when Jesus spoke those words, the Roman legions encircled Jerusalem and did exactly what they said. He said they built siege ramps against it, they destroyed the city. They tore down the temple.
There was another rebellion in 130 that historians tell us by that point, the Jews were so plentiful in the Roman slave markets that they were almost worthless. Which city will we be? Our problem isn't because of the wicked. It's not the political party that you don't like, stop. It has to start with us. We're the salt and light. We're gonna talk about some responses, but I want to be certain we understand what's in front of us. An election isn't gonna fix us. An election isn't gonna fix us. Eighty-million of us voted for what's happening. You say, "Well, I didn't". Well, somebody you know well did. We're a very divided group.
Now, I'm gonna come back to those two cities, but I want to take a brief detour 'cause I want to give you a bit of the rest of the story from what Jesus said. It's still being played out on our world, those words that Jesus spoke on the Mount of Olives that day. It's still unfolding around us. In Matthew 21 Jesus makes a pronouncement over the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish people. And I'll tell you what it is before we read it, because I want you to hear it in his words. He places them under interdict. It's not a word we use a lot, the simplest definition, it's a ban that prohibits participation. You're not gonna be able to participate anymore, he said. The opportunities you've been given are gonna be taken away from you. You treated them shabbily. You presumed upon them. In your arrogance and your unwillingness to humble yourself, you have forfeited the right to the freedoms you've had.
Does it have your attention? He has mine. Listen to what he says, Matthew 21:43, "'Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.' When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus's parables, they knew he was talking about them". There weren't chief priests, there weren't Pharisees, the Pharisees were responsible for the synagogues and the teaching of the people in the synagogues, Nineveh didn't have those offices. They knew Jesus was talking about them. "They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet".
Your privileges are gonna be removed, he said. And the truth is, after 70 A.D., a series of Gentile empires and rulers held authority over the city of Jerusalem, from 70 'til 1948 with the city of Jerusalem until 1967 in the Six-Day War. In John 18, Jesus is talking to Pilate and he said, "'You're a king,' then Jesus answered, 'You're right in saying I'm a king,' and with that, Pilate went out again to the Jews and said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him, but it's your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release the King of the Jews?' Pilate, fully expecting them to say yes".
He believes Jesus is innocent. He understands he's standing in his judgment chamber because of the jealousy of the leaders. But now he has a crowd of people before him, "And they shouted back, 'No, not him, give us Barabbas". Barabbas was a murderer, a violent man, and God gave them a series of people with the Barabbas spirit in them to rule over the city of Jerusalem for almost 2.000 years. We have a choice to make. In Acts 3, this is Peter responding to the lame man that's been healed when the crowd gathers. It said, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers has glorified his servant, Jesus. You handed him over to be killed and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go".
Did you hear that? Pilate would've let him go, but he was inconvenient for us. We had lives to lead, and plans were made, and vacations were scheduled, and he was intruding on it. "You disowned the holy and righteous one and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this". Tragically, those passages have been used to incite antisemitism, the hatred of the Jewish people.
The greatest perpetrator of antisemitism through the centuries has been the Christian Church. That's lost on most of us, we don't know the history. But I assure you it's the facts, and if you sit in a classroom at Hebrew University, it's a very awkward fact to have to wrestle with, because they're very aware of it. The average Israeli on the street today is more comfortable with the Muslim world than the Christian world. They trust them more, because the Christian church has been responsible for the death of far more of the Jewish community. God didn't abandon them, he simply said you're gonna be prohibited from having the freedoms and liberties that you've had for a very long time, because you have treated them shabbily.
Again, he has my attention. We have had tremendous freedoms, and liberties, and opportunities, generation upon generation, and we lead presumptive lives. We make our plans based upon the trajectory we can see from our grandparents, and our parents, and ourselves, and we look at our children and our grandchildren, and we assume, we presume. The final chapter of this, it's worth noting, and I'll do it quickly, 'cause I wanna move someplace else. Ezekiel chapter 37, some of you may know that chapter, it's the valley of dry bones. The prophet's taken to a valley, and it's filled with dry bones, and he's asked a question. The Lord asked him a question, "Can these bones live"? And Ezekiel said, "Lord, only you know," and he gives him a message to speak to the bones, and the bones begin to come together.
This is kinda the bit of the punchline in verse 11. It said, "He said to me, 'Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say our bones are dried up, and our hope is gone, and we're cut off, and therefore prophesy and say to them, "This is what the sovereign Lord says. 'O my people, I'm going to open your graves and bring you up from them, and I'll bring you back to the land of Israel.'" Then you my people will know that I am the Lord, and when I open your graves and bring you up from them, I'll put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land, and you will know that I the Lord have spoken and I have done it.'"
Anytime the Lord says you will know I have done it, you will know it couldn't be done unless God did it. And in 1948, the modern nation of Israel was created in a day. There have been many, all the nations of the Middle East were, almost without exception, were drawn after the end of World War I, but Israel, the day they became a nation, there were five surrounding armies, standing armies, that declared war on them, and inexplicably they survived, but God. And they continue to flourish in the midst of that world. God is fulfilling his promise to Ezekiel. When we read the closing chapters of our New Testament in the scene just before the Lord returns, the Jewish people have stepped back to the forefront of the proclamation of the gospel.
The good news about Jesus is that as the age comes to a conclusion, it's not going to, that initiative is not gonna be led by the non-Jewish community, it'll be led by the Jewish community. That should make you smile. In Luke 21 and verse 24, it's Jesus, it's the parallel passage to Matthew 24. It's Jesus's lengthy prophetic discourse about the end of the age. He said, "They, the Jewish people, will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles".
Gentile is the New Testament word for everybody that's not Jewish. In the New Testament, there's two people groups, the Jewish people and everybody else. And he said Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled. There'll be a season when the Gentiles will have authority over this the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish people, but that season will come to a conclusion. And what follows after that is an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the Jewish people, them having a revelation of Jesus as Messiah, and becoming the most remarkable advocates for the kingdom of God that our world will have ever seen. God isn't finished with the Jewish people. I hope you pray for them on a regular basis.
I want to come back to the question, the choice between those two cities. I won't ask you to answer out loud, but I want you to live with it a bit this week. The response you see taking place in our current culture, does it look more like Nineveh or more like Jerusalem? Are we maintaining clinging to our routines, and our habits, and our status quo, thinking our status is good enough, we've got it worked out? Are we humbling ourselves in very visible ways, disrupting our lives in pursuit of God? Do we recognize that the only possible future for us that's acceptable will come from the hand of God, or do we imagine we're pretty good? What will we choose?
I would submit to you that biblically we're instructed to have a concern beyond just our salvation. I think it's been pretty destructive that we've posed the discussions of Christianity in terms almost exclusively in terms of personal salvation. I believe in that, and I don't want to diminish that, but that's the entry point. It would be like describing the human experience as being born and showing everybody pictures of that newborn in the hospital. That's the beginning point, but that's not the epitome of the journey. We have an assignment beyond just the new birth. In Acts 26, Paul's been arrested in Jerusalem, he's been transported to Caesarea, he's been imprisoned because he's been falsely accused, and he has an opportunity to defend himself. He's on trial for his life before King Agrippa, and he uses the opportunity to try to influence Agrippa to choose Jesus. He's not nearly as interested in his own freedom and liberty.
In fact, by the time he's done, Agrippa said, "You know, if you hadn't made some other decisions, you could be free". It's Acts 26 and verse 28. "Agrippa said to Paul, 'You almost persuade me to become a Christian.' And Paul said, 'I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.'" You almost persuaded me, Paul. How many of you were on trial for your life would be witnessing to the judge? We chuckle because it's uncomfortable. We know the reality of it. He might not like your message. We understand there's antagonism to Christianity, and a lot of resistance to Jesus, and would you put your life at greater risk by advocating for Jesus as the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and the greatest opportunity presented to a human being?
The overwhelming answer is no, we wouldn't do that, but Paul did. Depends on the translation you read, this is the New King James, he said, "You've almost persuaded me". In some translations they use it to say, "Did you think in such a short time you could persuade me"? Both of them connote the same thing, Paul's making an all hands on, all out attempt to get Agrippa to give his life to the Lord. In Acts 2 and verse 36, it's the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Peter is closing his message, and it said, "'Let all Israel be assured of this, God made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.' When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'What shall we do?'" Some people say, "You know, we shouldn't talk about current events at church".
Peter stood on the streets of Jerusalem and said, "A few weeks ago, you murdered the Messiah". Might be a bit inflammatory. He didn't mince words, he didn't say you were deceived or confused. He didn't blame the Roman governor, he said you did it. You know what the liberal apologist will say? That the New Testament was written by Jewish authors that wanted the approval of their Roman overlords, so they made the Jewish people the bad guys. There's a Greek word that describes my opinion about that school of thought, bologna. It means I strongly disagree, and it's not really a Greek word, but if you fry it, it's really... never mind, that's another discussion. "The people were cut to the heart, and said, 'What shall we do?' And he said, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you'll receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.' With many other words, he warned them and he pleaded with them".
Again, they have a much more emotional presenter than Nineveh had. He warns them, he pleads with them, "'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, 3.000 were added to their number that day". Folks, we have an assignment beyond our salvation. We've gotta stop this. We have got to humble ourselves over this arrogant, presumptive, "Well, I'm born again, it's not my problem". Excuse me, who told us that? What has caused us to accept that deception? In Acts chapter 5, "They called the Apostles in and they had them flogged". It's a fancy word for beaten. "They ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and they let them go". Very clear they'd been deplatformed, they'd been canceled. "They left the Sanhedrin rejoicing, because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus".
I've read that most of my life and I always thought they left and were thanking the Lord that they were worthy to suffer physically, but that's not what it says. It says they suffered disgrace, their reputation has been sullied. The most powerful organization in the city of Jerusalem, the ones that orchestrated Jesus's execution have cast doubt upon their character. They've arrested them, they said, "Don't you speak again". The messages is out. Don't listen to them. They're persona non grata. Take them off your invitation lists. Take down their channels for receiving income, they're disgraced. And the disciples's response was to celebrate that they were worthy to have that opportunity. We'll do almost everything in our power to avoid that position. We'll go dumbly silent. We'll look at the floor. We'll avoid settings where we have to publicly identify Jesus.
"Well, it could cost me a job, a friend, an invitation". It very well could. Folks, what we've been doing is not enough. I like the next verse, it's the punchline. "Day after day in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ". The temple courts were like these big public meetings. Every day they never stopped having public meetings. They'd been threatened, they'd been beaten, they never stopped. And then from house to house, every day, they kept telling the story Jesus is the Messiah. Which city are we gonna be? What's our response? I'll give you one verse and then I'm done. Whoo, I really am done.
Colossians 4 verse 5 says, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders. Make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt". When you talk to outsiders, your conversation is supposed to be seasoned with your faith, "So that you may know how to answer everyone". You say, "Well, I don't know how to answer everyone". Well, you can't wait to start until you got all the answers. You won't have the all the answers 'til you get to heaven and you'll have missed the opportunity. We're gonna start in the midst of our brokenness.
Now, I brought your prayer, I want you to stand with me. How many of you will be willing, if the Lord gave you an opportunity, to have a faith conversation with somebody? Look at y'all, you know what that would happen to our community? I'm expecting more people for Easter celebration than we've ever had anytime in our history. We're gonna mobilize. I mean, it is not about the sermon, folks, it's gonna be about the resurrection, who knew? It'll be because we make the effort.
But Easter is not about us, we know the story, we want to help those people who don't know. And if they don't wanna come to Easter, maybe they'll choose another week, or another week, or another week, but we're gonna begin to have some faith discussions in this community in ways we've never had before. And I believe if we'll give our heart to this, there'll be other communities take note, and we'll be able to help them do that. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could ignite a faith discussion from coast to coast and border to border? Thank you for that enthusiastic response. Folks, I'm lookin' for a Nineveh response. I brought you a prayer. I built it out of our Bible reading for the day, it's from the book of Colossians. I adapted it a bit, but let's read it together:
Heavenly Father, we humble ourselves in repentance. We need your help. Open our hearts to receive spiritual wisdom and understanding, that we might know your will. We ask this that we may live a life worthy of the Lord, and please you in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power that we might have patience to complete our assignment and ultimately to share the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light, amen.