What do you think of when you think of babies? Crying? Laughing? Dirty Nappies? Crawling? Strollers? I would imagine all sorts of things come to mind.
We all have predetermined expectations, or “boxes”, about pretty much every subject we can think about; babies, education, God, and so much more. Sometimes we experience things within a subject that don’t fit into the “boxes” we’ve created for them. This is often where both humour and fear comes from; which are both possible options of how you will react to watching this.
Today, I want to talk about some of the “boxes” we have. Specifically, I want to talk about the size and shape of the boxes labelled “Messiah” and “God” for us and the vast majority of the Jews living at the same time as Jesus walked and talked around Israel, and how Jesus tells us that God’s reality is always bigger than our expectations.
This is what he says in Luke 20:41-21:4,
Then Jesus said to them, “Why is it said that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’
David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?
While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
There are two things going on at the start of this passage as Jesus quotes from Psalm 110. To begin with, Jesus challenges the teachers of the law that their box labelled “Messiah” is wrong to be only human shaped, and not big enough to include that the Messiah is God himself as well. And at the same moment he crushes their image of the Messiah only being a king, and not also a priest.
In the Jewish society that Jesus lived in, and throughout its existence, ancestry was considered massively important. In many ways, you could only be as good as those who came before you. When you start to think about it, it is a pretty dismal way to look at life because it means that each generation is on a downward spiral from greatness, or worse! Even though our individualistic society can barely grasp the concept of this, it is true nonetheless. So, when it was prophesied that the Messiah would be a descendant of the great king David himself, many interpreted that as there is no way he could be better than David, because sons were never greater than their fathers.
However, the truth is that God’s reality is much bigger than their expectations of the Messiah.
So, Jesus opens up Psalm 110, a passage commonly accepted to be about the coming Messiah, and shows how David refers to the Messiah as his “Lord”. The Messiah, as a descendant of David, could only be David’s Lord if he was no mere mortal, but God himself as well.
Jesus is saying that God’s reality of the Messiah, who is both fully human and fully divine, is much bigger than their solely human expectations.
But there is another layer to this passage from Psalm 110. It goes on to declare that the Messiah was “in the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek was the king of Salem that Abraham meets after rescuing his nephew Lot. However, Genesis 14 also tells us that Melchizedek was “a priest of God Most High.” Both king and priest. The thought of a king also being a priest would alarm any good Jew of Jesus’ day, because throughout their history they’ve been trying to keep those two positions separate (despite the fact that king David often performed priestly duties).
Jesus is saying that God’s reality of the Messiah, who is both a king and priest, is much bigger than their solely kingly expectations.
Luke tells us that Jesus doesn’t stop there because, “While all the people were listening,” Jesus carries on to warn about the teachers of the law. However, what Jesus is really doing is beginning to reshape the box labelled “God” that the people listening to him have. Over time they have been convinced by the teachers of the law and other religious leaders that people’s prosperity is a sign of God’s favouritism and others’ poverty is a sign of God’s punishment. However, Jesus says that despite their wealth, flowing robes, and important seats, the teachers of the law are going to be punished severely by God because he knows their hearts and knows how they got to where they are.
Jesus is saying that God’s reality, caring about our hearts and integrity, is much bigger than their prosperity expectations.
And, as we often see throughout the gospels, Jesus’ timing is perfect; because a “real-time” illustration has just occurred in front of them all as the wealthy and a poor widow put their offerings into the temple treasury. Because the people had been convinced that prosperity is a sign of God’s favouritism, they also believed that the more you were able to contribute to the temple of God the more you had God’s favouritism and blessing. However, for Jesus, it’s not the amount that really counts, it’s the cost that matters to God. Because of the sacrifice it took for the widow to give her entire wealth to the temple, her gift was seen as much more than the masses of gold coins that represented the rich’s pocket change.
Jesus is saying that God’s reality, the cost counts more than the amount, is bigger than their monetary expectations.
Part of the point of all this “box” conversation is that if the size and shape of our box labelled “God” or “Messiah” or “Church” or “Christian” or “Gospel” doesn’t match its reality, then we don’t find what we really need to. When we look for God what we find isn’t God, but false gods, because he doesn’t fit our box. When we seek out salvation what we find isn’t Jesus, but false saviours, because he doesn’t fit out box. When attempt to be a part of a church family we end up as lonely wanderers because we aren’t looking for the right things. When we work at living as a Christian we fall into legalism or relativism because we aren’t allowing the true gospel to shape what our view of ourselves is.
So I guess the question we are left with is, what boxes do you have that God’s reality needs to replace your expectations? Maybe it’s time to realize that God doesn’t wander off and abandon you like Gandalf or Aslan; he is always with you, no matter what. God isn’t bitter or resentful or holding your sins against you like some sort of wrath in the clouds; he’s forgiven you through the blood of Jesus. As a Christian you take the presence of that God with you wherever you go, so it does matter how you live, what you say, what you watch, how you behave. You do have a responsibility to share the gospel and offer the same healing you’ve experienced to anyone and everyone broken that you come across.
Maybe it’s time we let God’s reality shape our expectations of himself, ourselves, church, and every other part of life instead of allowing our expectations to shape what we think is reality.
May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ interrupt you today, and reshape all of your boxes to his reality.
If you want to listen to my sermon from today (it will be posted later in the week) about all of this you can do that here.
I also spoke on this same passage last June at Christ Church in Woodbury, Devon; and you can listen to that sermon here.