Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My last sermon of 2017. So a Happy New Year to you all and I pray that 2018 brings you happiness and peace.
Sermon No 66
Holy Family: A Jewish tale
Holy Family Sunday
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 31st December 2017 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on 2 Samuel 7:1-11,16, Luke 1:46-55, Romans 16:25-27, and Luke 1:26-38)
Good morning. Well you have made it! A week since Christmas Day and here we are today remembering the Holy family that caused all that stir some two thousand years ago.
Well traditionally Holy Sunday is a time that we reflect on that family unit consisting of Mary, Joseph and the boy Jesus, and to think of it as a model family on which we might all wish to emulate in our own lives in their faithfulness to God.
Now there are many aspects to this family model to which I might refer, some even considered being quite controversial and exclusive in today’s western society, where anything seems to go!
However, what I would like to do this morning is to widen the parameters in what we might generally view Holy Family Sunday to be about and to concentrate our thoughts and minds on the Jewish lineage of that family, to mix that up with a bit of prophecy and relate that in turn to our current time and the middle east, in particular around Israel and the City of Jerusalem. Quite a challenge for around a 10-minute sermon! But here goes, let’s see what we can do?
Now some of what I may mention this morning, might be things that you may not have considered before in the past, which is good of course, for one of the jobs of an evangelist and preacher is to hopefully open eyes to what might not hitherto been considered.
It is also the prerogative of a preacher to speak on what is on his or her mind, which if the preacher has listened correctly, is hopefully what God is wanting him to speak about, however difficult or controversial that message might be?
So, if you were awake during our readings, apart from the fact they were different to those in the pew sheet, you will have realised that there are several things going on, but as usual, these themes are all interwoven. We have in our Old Testament reading from second Samuel, an event documented which we refer to as the ‘Davidic Covenant,’ (recorded between 1105 and 971 BC) which sets the scene really for this whole season of Christmas, as it infers that the Messiah will come from the line of King David and from the tribe of Judah.
But our other readings also connect us with that covenant.
Our gospel reading tells us of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that her son will be that Messiah and how He will sit on the ‘throne of His father David’, where ‘He will reign over the house of Jacob forever’ (Luke 1:32-33)
The New Testament canticle from Luke is filled with Old Testament allusions too and teaches us something about how Mary who saturated with the Word of God, was able to understand just how God worked (Luke 1;46-55)
And our New Testament reading from Romans, alludes to Jesus as ‘the mystery kept secret since the world began’ (Romans 16: 25) again a link to that Davidic covenant, an event in history foretelling what would be revealed at a later time
However, whatever links that can be found between the readings, what we can be sure about, when we look closely, is that all that was revealed on that day when Jesus the Messiah became flesh, was written and spoken about hundreds of years before. And that Jesus was the fulfilment of prophetic events.
And so, at this stage I think it would be useful to briefly remind ourselves about the content of this book of faith that we claim to follow, which we call the bible.
It is a collection of 66 books in all (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament in most protestant bibles) but the vast majority of the Old Testament tell us about the Jewish Nation and its history,
So, bearing in mind that the majority of this book records that Jewish history, as far as I am concerned this big part of the bible should be taken really seriously in trying to understand and interpret our own Christian faith. And failing to do, so would only give us a partial knowledge of our faith. So, any time spent in the Old Testament is worthwhile and will bear spiritual fruit.
But the first big point to get right in any understanding of New Testament texts is that Jesus was a Jew, His mother Mary was a Jew and his earthly father Joseph was also a Jew. The Holy family that we remember today were Jewish. And lived amongst other Jews
They were not a Christian family that went to church every Sunday, for churches did not exist at that time. Neither was Jesus’ surname Christ. Christ is a title taken from the Greek word ‘Christos’ meaning ‘Saviour, or redeemer’
So, our reading from second Samuel sets that scene when God enters into an agreement with David through his prophet Nathan to build a temple (also recorded in 1 Chronicles 17) and that the house of David would be ‘established forever’ (2 Samuel 7:16) But covenants of course were not new, God had entered into agreements before, with people such as Abraham and Noah.
And these covenants between God and His people are really worth looking at in context of the wider picture to which I am covering today, because when God enters into a covenant with His people He doesn’t go back on His word. When God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, that is what Abraham became. When God gave Moses the Law, He again was setting the Hebrews apart with a divine law. And when God spoke to Noah and told him that He would never again destroy the world by complete flooding, he meant it and left a rainbow as a reminder!
And, so although by having faith in Jesus prevents us from being under things such as the Law of Moses, it doesn’t mean that those laws are no longer relevant, because they all form part of our shared history and lineage. Our faith in Jesus is shaped by that which went before and although we do not call ourselves Jews we are linked in spiritual terms to that faith, we are in effect, one family.
In-fact Jesus endorsed this fact when speaking with John as He hung dying on the cross, for when asked by His disciple John, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ Jesus replied, pointing to his disciples, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers’ (Mathew 12:46-50), implying that it was faith in Him that bound them together and not anything to do with birth, for the disciples would of course been familiar that their Jewishness could only be inherited from mothers that were Jewish.
So, the Jews, and the Jewish nation are important in our own story and although for Jews today that might not recognise Jesus as their Messiah it does not prevent their nation from playing a pivotal role in what is yet to come.
For if we believe in the prophetic events foretold in the Old Testament being made true by the birth of Jesus Christ, then we have to seriously take notice of what the other implications are in how things might play out in the days to come.
Now this is where it becomes trickier because bible prophecy is, at the end of the day, all about interpretation, and there are many differing opinions on how future events might unfold.
However, for most Christian scholars of what we call eschatology, (that is the study of end times) they are generally all in agreement that the Jewish race will be central to any return of Jesus in His second coming and this is where a little biblical Jewish history is particularly useful in understanding what that might mean in light of current world events.
But let me summarise, for the purpose of this talk, some of the more pertinent Jewish historical facts to you, so we can try and understand what might be going on? The Jews have thus far had two Temples in Jerusalem. The first was King Soloman’s Temple (who was the son of David) which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586BC, and the second temple built by Herod in 516 BC which was destroyed by Emperor Nero and the Romans in 70AD following the Jewish revolts.
But regardless of those temples it may have harboured in the past, Jerusalem as a city, might well be seen as perhaps the most important city in the world, but don’t just take my word for that, after-all look at its history, it is a city that has been attacked 52 times, it has been recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times and completely destroyed twice, no other city can make similar claims to that!
Now since the destruction of the second Temple the Jewish nation as a whole has been exiled from their own land and scattered around the four quarters of the Globe and have consistently faced persecution throughout the centuries, most recently in the Holocaust at the hands of Hitler in the second world war, where over six million were killed. And their own ancient language of Hebrew, that had been spoken for centuries, had all but disappeared from the face of the earth.
Yet on the 2nd November in 1917 something quite miraculous happened that has changed the middle east ever since, and that was something called the Balfour declaration, a public statement by the British government announcing support for the establishment in Palestine of a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people. And so on the 14th of May 1948 that statement of intent made by Balfour came to fruition and the first Jewish state was formed in 2,000 years.
But these miraculous events did not stop there as others tried in vain to prevent the state of Israel from prospering, in 1967 a six-day war took place in Palestine where just 2 million Jews threatened with annihilation defeated 40 million Arabs, which in military terms was nothing short of miraculous on its own!
And since 1948 there has been a steady return to Israel for the scattered Jews from around the world.
Now of course there is an argument and sympathy for the current Palestinian cause, especially over land and apparent unlawful evictions, but I am not going to enter into that debate today! The point I am making this morning is that the Jewish nation, which was instrumental in bringing our saviour to earth amongst us, will be once again central to what is to come because of biblical prophecy and by virtue that they are the race that God has chosen for the task. (Deuteronomy 7:6)
So, what is yet to come? Well, our New Testament says that Jesus will return once more, and He will ‘come like a thief in the night’ when for some He will not be expected! As recorded in 1 Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:2)
But for many biblical scholars, this event cannot happen until the Temple of Jerusalem is re-built for the third time, for all that remains of the old Jewish temple on the Temple Mount is the western wall. (Yet even then there is differing opinions of the actual site of the original temple, with many saying that the original Temple was sited in the Old City of David and not on the Temple Mount itself)
And interestingly, for the observant Jew a prayer called the Amidah which is recited no less than three times daily, prays for that Holy Temple and its services to be restored.
So, what I am encouraging you to consider in all this, is whether through the power of the Holy Spirit we are standing on a precipice of time when we might yet actually see a third temple built in Jerusalem, which may in turn set the scene for the return of Jesus for the final time.
And for those that doubt that such a miraculous event might occur, it is worth just to look to our own most recent world events and see how they are influencing seismic changes. Donald Trump, I must mention once again I am afraid, is a man who all the world scorned and laughed at, saying that his rise to presidency would never happen, yet, there he sits in the White house, as the most powerful man in the world.
And it is Donald Trump that shortly before Christmas defied the rest of the world and dared to proclaim what previous world leaders were too scared to contemplate; he publicly claimed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with other countries like Guatemala and Honduras following suit.
Now I am not claiming that Donald Trump is the Messiah in the way we might perceive him to be, for we have to understand that the Jewish understanding of Messiah slightly differs from what we interpret it to mean. For the Jews, the title Messiah, is taken from the Hebrew word ‘Hamashiach’ meaning the ‘anointed one’ but although like the term Christ it requires that the holder of such a name will also be born from the paternal Davidic line, the difference for Jews is that he doesn’t need to be a ‘saviour’ figure claiming divinity, but he can simply be a man sent to prepare the way for God.
So, it won’t surprise you to know that, following his widespread support for Israel, there are people currently attempting to connect Donald Trump to that ancient lineage. So, whether that link is found remains to be seen, but Jerusalem is now currently once again at the forefront of the world stage.
And regardless of any Trump influence, there are presently Jewish societies already in Jerusalem that are making plans for the building of that most sacred third temple (based on the prophet Ezekiel vision, Ezekiel 40-47), including such things as training priests (eg.The Temple Institute), breeding specific cattle and creating the necessary decorations to furnish that temple.
Now what I am saying this morning in terms of prophetic witness is nothing new, so I don’t want you to be unduly alarmed that Donald Trump is about to declare himself God or the world is imminently about to end. For there have always been preachers that have sought to highlight to their listeners a more prophetic and apocalyptic message.
But I do believe any preacher of the gospel, which is good news after-all, should encompass at some time an eschatological or ent time message, for it is at the heart of Christian theology that we all will be transformed through death by having faith in Jesus.
But my desire for us this morning, is to simply be aware of our spiritual connection with that wider Jewish family, that Holy family and to be open minded to world events that are happening right now, and how they may or may not fit with what has already been written in our ancient scripture?
I suppose too, I want to get you interested in biblical prophecy and to seek out your own interpretation of what the scriptures say? For I have no doubt that the more interested you are, the stronger your faith will become. And with a strong faith you also will be impatient to tell the world about that Jewish man called Jesus and His family
So, embrace your spiritual Jewishness fervently, for it will enrich and inform you of wise things.
Remember that Jesus or ‘Yeshua’ means, the ‘Salvation of God’ and we are truly part of that Holy Family.
So, let us all pray that through our Holy family of Mary, Joseph, our Lord Jesus and our affiliated Jewish heritage that Jesus will return once again soon.
Shalom and Amen