Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for being here today.
Today is the one year anniversary of when the COVID-19 lockdown began. I can still remember so clearly what it was like that day. People were frightened. Nobody was sure how the virus was spread.
People were panicking and emptying the stores. Things like hand sanitizer and toilet paper were completely bought out. The schools were going to close. Businesses and churches were shut down. It was a really scary time.
Nobody foresaw how long it was going to last. I remember that first Sunday we closed worship. I came in here with my wife at 11:00, we sat down in one of the pews, and held hands, and just prayed.
We have come through this period of incredible hardship, amazingly well. We have survived. We’ve done many new things that we never imagined.
After that first Sunday, we started making videos every week, of Bible study and the Sunday message. They’re still going out! Every week, people who can’t be here in person, are watching and participating and praying at home.
The support of everyone in the meeting has been tremendous. We’ve stayed in touch, and stayed connected. We have sent out materials to families with children and people who are homebound, and to our college students.
We have tried to keep things as normal as possible, in a year when nothing is normal. After a few months off, monthly meeting for business is back up and functioning again. We have worshiped online. We have worshiped outdoors. We have worshiped indoors, with modifications to make it as safe as possible for everyone.
People love the Lord, and we’re hungry for that spiritual connection. We have found a way, where the way seemed blocked and broken.
And a year later, we’re still here. We are open again. We are building for the future. I thank God, and I thank every one of you, for your faith, for your support, for your willingness to try new things, and for your unfailing love, for each other and for Springfield.
We are really getting close to Easter now. And today we’re going to turn to three stories from the gospel of Mark. They aren’t usually done together, but I realized that these all happened within a day or so of each other. Here’s the first one:
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and he wouldn’t allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
And as he taught them, Jesus said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill Jesus, or they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.Mark 11:15-19
When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
If you watched our Bible study this week, this is one of the stories we were looking at. Jesus was really ticked, because he came to the Temple, expecting it to be a house of worship, a place where people came to worship in spirit and in truth.
But instead, he found the Temple a place filled with noise and chaos and corruption.
When you came to the Temple at Passover time, you always brought a sacrifice. You remembered the time when God had saved the entire nation, when the angel of death came to Egypt, and all the first-born in every family died.
The first Passover was a nightmare time, with cries and screams going up all night long from every house in Egypt. No one was spared, from Pharaoh on down.
The people of Israel, who were all slaves, huddled in their homes, terrified by what was going on. They did what Moses told them – each family sacrificed a lamb, and ate it, and wiped the blood on the doorposts of the house.
Moses told them to pack their bags and be ready to leave the very next day, because God was going to set them free. They hardly believed it. But they obeyed, and it saved their lives.
Fast forward: for almost two thousand years, the people of Israel remembered the Passover. They celebrated it every year. Jesus arrived, on Passover week, and he expected to see people celebrating, remembering how God had saved them.
Everybody had to bring a sacrifice. And by “everybody”, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and visitors in town. People were sleeping on the sidewalks, sleeping on the roofs.
The sacrifices all had to be perfect, without any blemishes or spots or injuries.
You could bring your sacrifice from home – that was the original idea – but over the years, the priests had put inspectors by the entrance of the Temple, to check all the sacrifices.
Somehow, they always found something wrong with the ones people brought from home. And wouldn’t you know, just inside the gate they had vending booths, where you could buy a guaranteed perfect sacrifice at a tremendous markup.
It was a racket, and the racket was controlled by the high priest, who owned all the vending booths and staffed them with his relatives.
The noise, the people pushing, the people doing business, the cart loads of animals being hauled in, all day – the chaos was incredible. It was about as un-worshipful an atmosphere as you could possibly imagine.
And Jesus called it for what it was: a den of robbers. God’s house, turned into a marketplace and a temple of corruption.
That was one of the reasons that Jesus was killed. He called a spade a spade. He told people on the spot and to their face what he thought they were doing. After Jesus spoke up like that, and after he physically drove the vendors out, they were just looking for a way to get rid of Jesus.
Here’s story #2:
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herod’s people to Jesus to catch him in his words.
They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you’re a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
Tell us: is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”
They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”Mark 12:13-17
And they were amazed at him.
OK, we also looked at this story during Bible study this week. Every Jew, man or woman, from the age of 12 or 14 on up, had to pay annual dues to support the Temple.
But because the Temple was God’s holy place, they didn’t allow you to pay the tax with pagan money. All pagan money had the face of some ruler, stamped on it. And all pagan money proclaimed that the ruler – Caesar or somebody else – was divine.
The Jews believed that there is only one God, the God of Israel. So, even to allow a pagan piece of money into God’s temple, would be sacrilege. And the idea of using pagan money to make your annual gift to God’s temple was unthinkable.
So, they had moneychangers there, just inside the entrance to the Temple, who would exchange your pagan money for special Temple coins which could be used inside. The moneychangers charged a huge markup for the exchange.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the moneychangers also rented table space from the high priest, and most of the moneychangers were also his friends and relatives.
The people who came to Jesus tried to put him on the spot. They wanted to trap him, in public, into saying that using pagan money was an offense against God. That way, they could charge Jesus with rebelling against the Roman rulers, and get rid of Jesus that way.
Do not ever try to get one up on Jesus. No matter how smart you think you are, you can never trick Jesus. Not then. Not now. It just doesn’t work.
Jesus just smiled and said, “Show me a Roman coin.”
I don’t know who dug down into their pocket and got one out. You weren’t even supposed to carry pagan money into the Temple. Carrying a Roman coin with a picture of a pagan God, stamped on it, inside the Temple, was a huge offense against Jewish religious law.
But people shuffled around, and somebody held one up.
Jesus didn’t touch it. He asked, “Whose picture is that?”
Somebody in the crowd said, “Caesar’s!”
Jesus said, “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give to God what belongs to God.”
Like I said, don’t ever think you can outsmart Jesus. He’ll put you on the ground, every time. And that doesn’t just go for money. This is really about hypocrisy – about the way people everywhere, show one face at church or in public, and a totally different face the rest of the time.
Jesus said some very similar things, not just about money, but about prayer, and forgiveness, and respect, and healing.
He said, “Don’t be a hypocrite, and show off your prayers in public. If you pray to try and make other people think how holy you are, that’s all the reward you’re going to get.
Go, pray passionately in secret, to your Father in heaven. Let God hear your prayers, and God will reward you.”
He said, “Forgive each other, just as you have been forgiven yourself. The same yardstick you use on other people, will be used on you.
“God has already forgiven you so much,” Jesus said. “You need to forgive other people, for all the things they’ve done, which are so little by comparison.”
Jesus said, “When you go to a wedding, don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t act like you’re the guest of honor. Don’t barge your way up to the head table. Go to the lowest place. It’s a lot better,” Jesus said, “to be asked to move up, than to be told to go sit at the back.”
People tried to make Jesus put on a show, and heal people to entertain them. Jesus said, “It’s not a show. It comes from prayer, not posturing. That’s hypocrisy. Healing is about faith. It’s about God’s love and mercy.”
The third story today, says the same thing, even stronger.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.
But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”Mark 12:41-44
This is such a touching story. We all know people who make sacrifices like this. Their gift may not be much in money. Plenty of people give thousands of times more. But she gave all she had, while the hypocrites gave for show.
A lot of people ask me, every year, why Jesus had to die. Why he was killed.
And part of the reason, of course, is that it was God’s plan to save the world. But part of the reason, also, is that Jesus spoke out, very plainly, against hypocrisy, masquerading as holiness. And he would have said the same thing about hatred masquerading as holiness.
Jesus was killed, because he said that the games the leaders were playing, and the corruption that made leaders rich, were nothing that God has a part in.
And they killed him for it. They arrested him, and tried him, and tortured him, and hung him up to die.
Hypocrisy will do anything to defend itself. That’s true in every time and place. They were willing to put the Savior to death, and mocked him as he died, rather than admit their lies, and turn their lives around, and do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
I don’t want anyone to feel bad about all this. I don’t want anyone to feel sad, or guilty. But this is why Jesus was killed. These three stories tell us why.
And we have to remember that Jesus knew all about this. One of Jesus’ last acts, on the cross, was to forgive.
Easter means that God’s life is stronger than death. Truth is greater than lies. Good is so much greater than evil. Love and mercy are what Jesus came here to share.
If we remember that, then Easter will mean something to us.