Summary: "No one ever spoke the way this man does." That was the assessment of the temple guardians who had been sent out to arrest Jesus. His speech left a lasting mark on their minds and hearts. What was it in Jesus' speech that transformed these men?
[Sermon preached on 7 October 2018, 21st Sunday after Pentecost / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
I am sure you must have heard the term “fake news” a good deal lately. As long as mankind has lived on this planet, people have been manipulating information in order to misguide others for their own benefits. And not just people. Serpents have done that just as well. At least one serpent—“the” Serpent—Satan in disguise.
In the third chapter of the Bible, Genesis 3, we read about the Serpent misinforming and misguiding Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden. His purpose was to sow conflict between mankind and God, and between man and woman. He twisted the words that God had spoken earlier to Adam and Eve to take on a different meaning. He made Adam and Eve doubt whether what God had said was true, and whether God had the power and the authority to impose his will and his discipline on them—and to punish them, if they disobeyed him. In the end, Adam and Eve believed the Serpent more than God. They rebelled against God. They freed themselves from their relationship of dependence, aiming to be their own gods—with catastrophic consequences.
The manipulation of information has always been a vital part of the struggle for power and wealth. In warfare, it was called propaganda. In trade, it is called advertising. There were times when the information at our disposal was quite limited and manageable. The most powerful manipulation of information was to withhold it from us. But in recent years, particularly with the rapid spread of internet and social media, we need to deal with virtually unlimited flows of information that come to us in ever more dazzling speed. And what is especially frightening: we don’t necessarily know any longer where the information is coming from or what it is intended to achieve.
US president Donald Trump popularized the term “fake news” in the past two years. Before that, we were warned of “trolls” from Russia trying to brainwash us—or at least to confuse us—in social media. Even some of the major news channels try to control our minds and opinions. By now, most of us are very well aware that we cannot trust any source of information by default. Every piece of information, every bit of commentary, needs to be assessed for truth and validity. But unfortunately, very few of us are able to do that well except perhaps when it comes to things, regions, or fields of expertise that we happen to be very familiar with.
It may surprise you to know that the situation was no different in the time of Jesus. The Gospel text puts us in the middle of a huge dispute over who Jesus really is and what should be done with him. Jesus made his own claims concerning his identity and his mission. He called upon the people to recognize him for who he claimed to be, and to follow in his footsteps. But not everybody was convinced. And his way of life and his teaching—however impressive and extraordinary—also raised a lot of eyebrows.
There were two sides to the debate.
Many people saw in Jesus a man of God. He exercised unusual and unnatural healing powers. They liked him. Some of them said he could be the Prophet that God had promised to Moses to follow in his steps. Others thought he was the Messiah, the descendant of king David, who would follow him up as king of Israel and establish a kingdom that would last forever.
But there was a lot of fierce opposition as well. The leaders of the Jewish people were sure that Jesus was a con. They had two substantial arguments against Jesus. The first was that he was from Galilee. Galilee was not where men of God would come from—no prophets, and certainly not “the Prophet. They also knew for sure, that the Messiah, the Son of David, would come from Bethlehem, not from Nazareth.
But for them there was more crucial evidence against Jesus. Certainly, Jesus did some very good things, like healing people and driving out demons. But he did them on a Sabbath, when God’s Law forbade the Jewish people to work. So, they concluded, a man from Galilee who constantly breaks the Sabbath command cannot be a man of God. Full stop.
In order to bring back law and order, the Jewish leaders sent armed temple guards to arrest Jesus and bring him to them for cross-examination and a quick trial. They wanted to prevent that the Romans, who occupied the land, would get alarmed and intervene in the internal affairs of the autonomous Jewish nation. And after all, Jesus was teaching in the Temple, where they called the shots.
But can you imagine the surprise and indignation of the leaders when the temple guards returned empty-handed!? When the leaders demanded an explanation, they simply said,