9 am, April 24, 2013 – Mahmudur – a textile worker in Savar, Bangladesh – Wal Mart and /Benneton felt a jolt and shudder go through the 8 story building that housed his company. He moved quickly twd the staircase but not fast enough…he said it felt like an elevator going down… as the entire building collapsed around him. When the collapse ended he was stuck in a sweltering cave of debris with only a few feet around him. He survived but over 1100 did not and over 2500 were injured in the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history.
What happened? Shoddy construction on top of a poor foundation. The building was constructed on top of a swampy reclaimed trash heap.
Images of Savar building collapse
The foundation could not hold up the building.
You’re a building – what is holding you up?
What is your foundation? …strength? Your trustworthy support? On what does your life rest?
What forms the groundwork upon which your hopes and dreams are laid?
Upon what have you staked the lives of your family?
Your possessions? Please…here today – gone tomorrow
Your income? Please…you and I know that can be gone in the blink of an eye.
Your health? Ask Kara Tippetts
· your healthy – what else matters?
Love? What happens when even that goes away?
Seriously? what holds you up? …when the storms blow, when the pain resurfaces, when the economy tanks, when the unthinkable comes knocking…what holds you up?
Can I show you the only thing capable of holding you up for the rest of your existence?
These are the words of God:
You are living stones and you are being built into a house. I have laid a stone at the base of that house…one I chose… one that is precious to me. I have laid for you a cornerstone and if you entrust yourself to him you will never be confounded. I Peter 2:4-6
He will hold you up.
Christ Jesus himself is the chief cornerstone. Ephesians 2:20
Cornerstones have been through the ages a crucial element in construction. Or at least, structurally they used to be.
Images of Cornerstones
Back in the day they had to be strong and had to be straight.
· it and the rest of the stones of which it is the model form the solid foundation of a building
· and it forms the pattern/the plumb around which the rest of the building is measured. If your cornerstone is out of plumb imagine the rest of the building.
So, when these words were recorded by Peter they represented a crucial aspect of building.
They were also quite mystical in importance…
o in ancient times cornerstones were so mythical and mystical that animals and even human beings were sacrificed and embedded with the cornerstone to provide good luck
o later in a bizarre practice builders would measure the shadow of a person and embed the measurements in a cornerstone.
Jesus is the cornerstone … the one upon which you can and should build your life.
· strength, surety, unfailing,infallible,unerring,assured,certain,inevitable; trustworthy
And such is Jesus – the chief cornerstone.
· he is the only one in history to be able to hold up the weight of the world
· he is the only one in this world capable of holding the weight of your life
· his life and his teachings are the only true plumb line of holiness and reality
· you cannot build your life on anyone or anything more accurate or sustaining.
He is the cornerstone - He is the same - never ending, never bending.
He is the cornerstone - He is unmovable – never shifting, never failing
He is the cornerstone -He is precise – never warping, never wavering
He is the cornerstone - He is solid – never collapsing, never falling
He will hold you up. He is the cornerstone. Upon him you can and should build your life.
Jesus is the cornerstone … and there is no other name.
King of the Jews – Barry Rodriguez
In the 1960’s, archeologists were excavating the ancient palace of Herod the Great, when they came across a jar full of date palms seeds. Radiocarbon dating confirmed that these seeds had, in fact, been placed there during Herod’s time, 2000 years ago. They had been perfectly preserved by the dry desert air.
Well, in 2005 some inquisitive scientists decided to try planting some of these seeds to see what would happen. To their complete surprise, one of them sprouted, and then grew.
They had just brought back a species of date palm that had been extinct for more than 1800 years. So of course, they named the tree Methuselah (Meh-tu-sheh-lach), after the oldest character in the Bible. Today [BR1]it’s growing well on a kibbutz in southern Israel, and may even bear fruit by 2022.
I think it’s pretty cool that they were able to pull that off, but I also think it’s awesome that there is something alive today that links back directly to a person in our Bibles: King Herod.
The timing of talking about him today is good, too, since Herod, or “Herod the Great” as he liked being called, is just about to make his annual appearance as a relatively minor character in our Christmas story.
To be honest, we often just leave him out entirely in our rush to get to the idyllic nativity scene we’re so fond of. But the more I’ve studied about the man, and looked at how Matthew uses him in the story, the more I realize that Herod the Great is a crucial component in understanding who Jesus is.
He’s the foil for our narrative protagonist.
Herod first shows up in our story when the magi come to town. These magi (wise men, astrologers) from the east came to Jerusalem looking for the messiah. In their study of the stars, they had seen a supernova or a comet or a rare planetary alignment (we don’t know), and had taken it as a sign that Israel’s promised king had been born.
After a long desert journey, they pull up to Herod’s palace, parallel park their camels at the curb, and head in to ask the current ruler of the Jewish people where this new king was.
Well, I imagine that they were not too familiar with King Herod. If they were - if they had heard stories about the guy - they probably would have gone a different direction.
You see, King Herod was… a bit of a jerk. [BR2]
The people living in Israel at the time were not exactly fans of the guy.
First of all, his life story reads like an epic Roman drama. Assassination attempts, political intrigue, murder, exile, war, poison, togas…
While his Jewish citizens were focusing on how to live holy lives, Herod was obsessing over how to maintain power at any cost.
He used secret police to monitor the people. He violently quashed protests. He murdered members of his own family, including some of his own wives and sons. Herod was ruthless.
Plus, he was massively paranoid. Get this. When he was on his deathbed, Herod was worried that nobody would grieve. So he ordered a bunch of distinguished Jewish leaders to be killed when he died, so there would be public mourning on the streets. (Thankfully, that plan was stopped by his son, but still…)
On top of all that, Herod’s parents were foreigners, and there was a real question about whether he was even Jewish at all.
But it wasn’t the Jews who put Herod in power. This wasn’t a democracy. His power came from Rome. In 37 BC the Roman Senate appointed Herod, quote, “The King of the Jews.” Whether the Jewish people liked it or not, Herod was their king.
So. Fast forward to near the end of Herod’s reign. This ruthless dictator has held onto power with threats and poison and betrayal and sheer military force. Then he gets a visit from a group of Magi from the East. They ask him,
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Matthew then tells us that when King Herod heard this, he was “disturbed.” It’s not hard to imagine why. Herod was no dummy. He knew the Jews believed in a coming messiah, a ruler who would usher in a kingdom that would never end.
So when he hears that the Magi are looking for someone else called “the King of the Jews,” Herod knows exactly what this is: a threat to his power.
While the magi leave the opulence of Herod’s palace and head down to this tiny, backwater village to bow down to a little baby, Herod starts to scheme. Eventually, he orders that all baby boys under the age of two in Bethlehem be put to death. There could be only one King of the Jews.
Herod had no place in his kingdom for a rival.
And that’s pretty much it. Jesus’ parents escape the slaughter, the magi slip out the back door and avoid him.
That’s essentially the last we hear of King Herod in our Bibles. He died a couple of years later, his kingdom was divided up between his sons, and Herod the Great became nothing more than a footnote in our history books.
So why are we talking about the guy? Why does King Herod matter? For that matter, why does Matthew include the story of the magi visiting him? Is it just to spice things up a bit? To raise the stakes?
No. I believe we have this story because it provides one of the clearest possible juxtapositions of the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God. Matthew contrasts two different leaders who happen to have the same title.
Herod was the King of the Jews - an ethnic group defined by geographical boundaries. Jesus is the King of the Jews - the chosen people of God defined by unmerited redemption - God’s instruments in his restoration of the world. A category which, I might add, now defines the global Church. Herod and Jesus. The kingdom of man and the kingdom of God.
This stark contrast would have been immediately apparent to Matthew’s original readers, who had all heard the horror stories of Herod’s ruthless reign.
Look at how different these two kings are. Herod, in his luxurious palace - born to royalty - an army at his beck and call… and Jesus, a helpless baby, born next to a goat in some no-name village to some no-name parents.
Herod - who murders his enemies and leads through power. Jesus - who loves his enemies and leads through surrender.
Strength and servanthood. Might and meekness. An iron fist and an open palm.
There’s no reason why Christ’s upside down kingdom should be successful. And yet, its inexplicable growth is a threat to earthly powers.
Never was this more apparent than at the execution of this kingdom’s leader. As Jesus was being hung on the cross, a shameful warning to all other upstart revolutionaries, they pasted a sarcastic slogan on a board above his head[BR3]. “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
The title that accompanied the peasant baby was there at his execution. A poetic bookend for a would-be king whose shameful death mirrored the humility of his birth.
In that dark hour as Jesus died, the kingdom of man was victorious, and the Herods of our world maintained their grip on power.
Jesus wasn’t defeated by death. Three days after perishing on the cross, this humble carpenter emerged from the grave with more power than the world had ever seen.
Death, the ultimate weapon in the hands of human kings held NO POWER over the one true king, the king of kings, the king of the Jews, Jesus Christ.
From the moment of his resurrection, Jesus has ruled a kingdom of redemption that has swept across the globe and across human history. The kingdom of man has been in retreat ever since.
God’s chosen people, servants of the king, are agents of this kingdom’s subversive restoration. Hope for the hopeless. Fathers for the fatherless. Dignity and peace and joy and love. It may have all begun with a helpless baby, but the hope of the gospel is living and active and changing the world
What is still alive from King Herod’s reign? A date palm.
Jesus is the King of the Jews, and there is no other name…
Lamb of God – Tim Ayers
One of the most familiar of all of the names of Jesus, a name that we hear in sermons and songs and even see in art is The Lamb of God. This name is so common that for most Christians calling Jesus the Lamb of God is a part of the fabric of our faith. Here is a case in point: if you’ve ever traveled I65 to Chicago you may have seen where someone has set up a cross along the highway and then placed a life sized model of a sheep next to it. Most Christ followers know exactly what this display means. But, I’m also sure that people with no background in Christian things wonder why someone would place a figure of a sheep next to a cross. Yes, the Lamb of God is a well-known name for Jesus, but something most people don’t realize is that Jesus is only called the Lamb of God one time… in one verse… in the whole of the Bible AND from all that we can tell the people who actually heard Jesus called the Lamb of God that one time were probably as confused by the name as some may be when they see that cross and sheep display along I65. That one time that Jesus is called by this name is found in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. That chapter tells us that the prophet John the Baptist was creating a huge stir in Israel telling everyone that the Messiah, God’s savior, was coming… coming soon… and they’d better get their lives in order... soon! Well, one day John the Baptist happened to see Jesus walking towards him and even though Jesus hadn’t even started his ministry yet, when John saw Jesus he shouted out, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world.’ (John 1:29) Now, if you know the whole of the story of Jesus’ life that makes perfect sense. But, on that day when John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world it would have been about as strange a statement as he could have made. Here is why: while it is true that the Old Testament is full of sheep and sacrifice stories (and nearly every Jew would have known all about these stories) there was almost no connection in Jewish thinking between lambs and sacrifice and the forgiveness of sin. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean: The first Old Testament story that connects sheep and sacrifice is the story of Abraham, the father of all of the Jews. Abraham had been ordered by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac and while I know that it is difficult to fully understand why God would demand this of Abraham, this story ends with God, right at the last minute, providing a ram to take Isaac’s place. To the Jews the lamb in this story was always a picture of God’s faithfulness and provision to those who trust him; it was a really important story but it had nothing to do with forgiveness of sin. Then there is the story of the Jews escape from Egypt and the sacrificing of the Passover lamb… in that story each Jewish family was told that on a certain day they were to choose a one-year-old lamb that had no physical defects, they were to take special care of that lamb for four days and then in the early evening of that fourth day they were to sacrifice the lamb and paint its blood on the door posts of their houses. We’re told that during the night, after that sacrifice, God brought great judgment on the Egyptians by putting to death the firstborn male in each household in Egypt that didn’t have lamb’s blood painted on the doorway. The Passover lamb came to mean a lot of things to the Jews: it represented protection… safety… freedom… the lamb stood as a sign of being members of God’s family… but no one ever thought of the Passover lamb as having anything to do with taking away sin. And there are numerous other sacrifices in the Jewish law that include sheep, even lambs, but if you look closely at those sacrifices most have to do with things you either didn’t mean to do or didn’t even know you’d done. Plus, most of the time the sheep for those sacrifices were to be female. And the Jews never associated a lamb’s sacrifice with forgiveness of sin you’d knowingly committed, what was called ‘sin of high hand.’ That kind of sin was only forgiven by the sacrifice of a bull. And then there was the passage in Isaiah 53 that said that God’s suffering servant would be silent as he was led like a sheep to the slaughter, that he would suffer for other people’s disobedience, and that his suffering would eventually lead to great healing. But, truth is, no Jew in the first century, or many now in the twenty first century, believed that Isaiah 53 was written as a prophecy about the Messiah. They had their thoughts about Isaiah 53, but they never expected or believed that their Messiah would be lead like a sheep to the slaughter.
I could go on and on with lamb references from the Old Testament but none of them would have made sense of John’s proclamation about Jesus being the Lamb of God. There just wasn’t any context for people to think about a man… who was like a lamb… that belonged to God… who could take away the sins of the whole world. Now, we do know that the man that wrote down this account of John the Baptist calling Jesus the Lamb of God is the same man who had the amazing vision that became the last book in the Bible, the Book of the Revelation. His name was also John and he was one of the original 12 disciples. And this John tells us that during his great vision he saw a lamb in heaven standing before the throne of God who looked like he’d been slain … now, I know that this is an odd picture, a living lamb that looked like it had been slain… and it’s even odder when you add in the fact that he says this lamb had 7 horns and 7 eyes… but from everything we can tell the ‘lamb’ in this vision was Jesus. John says he heard thousands upon thousands and 10,000 times 10,000 angels calling out, ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise for ever and ever.’ (Revelation 5:12) And I can’t think of anyone who would deserve this kind of praise besides Jesus… but this lamb in John’s vision is never called the Lamb of God and John didn’t have this vision until at least 35 years after that one time John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God... So, what we have is a multitude of pictures of lambs throughout the Bible each representing something very specific, but not once does any of these lambs make a direct one to one connection to what John the Baptist called Jesus: the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. And then I came to this realization… there doesn’t have to be a one to one connection any place… Is Jesus like the lamb provided to Abraham? Is Jesus a picture of God’s faithfulness to us and his provision for us? Yes, he is! And is Jesus like the Passover lamb? Is he our protection and safety? Does he give us freedom and does he make us a part of God’s family? You bet! And is he like the suffering servant? Like him? He is him! And is he worthy of all power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise for ever and ever? Yes, he is. And is it true that he has taken away the sin of the entire world? Yes, it is true! So, I’ve come to the conclusion that John the Baptist in his great moment of prophetic declaration simply gave us one more view of the grand picture of all that it means to call Jesus the Lamb of God. His first hearers may not have fully understood what John the Baptist was saying but John the Disciple knew that we needed to know about this moment so that we could connect all of these various ‘lamb’ dots and be able to come to the fullest possible understanding of what it truly means to call Jesus the Lamb of God… Jesus, our savior, Jesus, our protector, our healer, our defender… the one who takes away our sin… Jesus is the Lamb of God and there is no other name.
We felt that an appropriate response to thinking about Jesus as our cornerstone, our king and the lamb of God… was to take communion together… communion is a meal of thanksgiving: it is the time when we as God’s family together remember all that Jesus has done for us through his life, his death and his resurrection. It is a time when we can together as a family take stock of our own hearts and in solidarity proclaim we are servants of the King. Servers, would you come and begin passing out the elements… the bread which represents the body of Christ which was broken for us and the cup which represents the blood that Jesus shed to give us forgiveness.