Talk: Big Day
September 12, 2021
TALK 1: Prophet vs. Provocateur
TODAY, I want to preach the message, “God wants to restart your life.”
In the Jurassic era of the 1990s, I bought a “homemade” owner jeep.
In one sense, it was “brand new”. And yet in another sense, it was as old as when General Douglas
MacArthur returned to the Philippines in 1944. It was brand new because it was newly assembled by Manong in his talyer. But it was as old as MacArthur because every spare part came from scrap vehicles, dating back to World War II.
But if there was one thing I was proud of my jeep, it had strong air-conditioning (AC). I asked Manong to enclose my jeep with doors so I could have it air-conditioned. I specifically told him, “Make my AC really powerful.”
And that’s what he did. The air-con he installed was huge. So, it was freezing inside. And because my jeep was painted All-White, I called it Ref.
But alas, the air-con was the only good thing about it. Everything else was a disaster. The engine itself was so old, my top speed was 40 kilometers per hour (kph). If I went above that, the jeep’s body would shake so bad, little bolts and rusty bits fall off as I drove. I may not get caught for speeding— but littering.
Even the jeep’s brakes were bad. Three times, I pressed on the brake and nothing happened. I had to step on the road a la Flintstones. (No joke.)
Trivia: The Flintstones is an American animated situation comedy (sitcom) produced by Hanna Barbera Productions broadcast on television by ABC from September 30, 1960, to April 1, 1966, and became popular in the Philippines up to the 1970s.
The show is a comical version of the Stone Age combined with technologies in America’s 20th century. The lead family, the Flintstones, and their rival neighbor, the Rubbles, live in a town called Bedrock. They have cars made of wood and rock— with no fuel. The drivers make the car move by running while inside the car.
Somehow, like my jeep! I kept bringing the jeep back to Manong for repairs every other week. So, I actually funded the college education of his four kids.
I felt my jeep had self-esteem issues. Matampuhin siya. Whenever I’m driving and see a modern, super car, and tell myself, “I should have bought a car!” At that moment, my jeep’s engine would just stop. I had to pat the dashboard and say, “Joke lang. I really like you…” for the engine to come back to life.
But one day, I had it. I was pushing the jeep more than driving it, my biceps and calf muscles were getting extra-large.
I brought the jeep back to Manong and asked, “If you owned this jeep, what would you do?”
He motioned me to walk 50 meters from his talyer.“Why are we talking far away?” I asked. He said, “Baka marinig ng jeep mo yung sasabihin ko…” (I knew it.) He said, “Brother Bo, kinokonsensya na ako. Inaabuso na kita sa kaka-repair. Hindi niya kailangan ng repair, kailangan niya, posporo…” He then smiled, “Tsaka nakagraduate na yung bunso ko, kaya okay na. Tenks, ha. Brother Bo, bili ka na lang ng bagong kotse…”
There are times repairs won’t do it.
You Need a Restart
Friend, are you frustrated now because you’ve been trying to fix this thing and that thing in your life, changing this habit and that habit, repairing this area and that area—but so far, you’re still stuck? Like nothing is happening? And you feel very discouraged right now?
I’ve got good news: God doesn’t just want to repair— He wants to restart your life. He wants to give you a total replacement. A total overhaul. A brand new you.
Today, He is telling you:
I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
–Ezekiel 36:26 NLT
Dear friend, God wants to restart your life.
OH, it’s sooooo good to go back to our very deep exploration of Matthew’s Gospel. After 21 months, we’re reading Matthew 21 today.
Today, we enter a new section we’ll call The Clash. The word is familiar with millennials who followed the television series, Clash of the Titans.
Our talk is about clashes– the aggravating events that led to the crucifixion. And which is why the Talk today is called Prophet vs. Provocateur. Because Jesus provoked. A lot.
Why not do it gently? Because God didn’t want to repair— He wanted to restart.
In today’s key passage, Jesus did three dramatic actions.
All these actions are connected.
If you study the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, it’s Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem. And in Chapter 21, He finally arrives. And what an arrival! Talk about a grand entrance!
This was in stark contrast to His “hush-hush” attitude in the past chapters. When Jesus healed the leper, He said, “Don’t tell anyone.” (Matthew 8:4). When He healed the two blind men, He said the same thing, “Don’t tell anyone.” (Mt. 9:30). When Peter declared He was the Messiah (Mt 16:10) and when He was transfigured (Mt 17:9), He said the exact same words.
Bible scholars call this the “Messianic Secret”.
For three years, Jesus didn’t want to attract the attention of the authorities.
But in Jerusalem, there was no more hiding. The gloves were off.
Meaning? This was all prearranged. All intentional. Jesus wanted to ride a donkey. Also, I looooove the “code” Jesus gave: “The Lord needs it.”
Next time you feel unworthy to serve Him, and you feel like a donkey, tell yourself, “The Lord needs me.”
As illogical as this may sound, God humbles Himself to need us. Isn’t that wild? Shout, “The Lord needs me!”. (I’m getting goosebumps just saying it.)
‘By The Way Guys, I’m King…’
Check out what happens next:
Note that in ancient times, kings rode horses and donkeys. A horse, if a king rode to battle, but a donkey, if he rode in peace. Jesus was coming as the King of Peace. But a King nonetheless.
By riding on a donkey, He was saying, “I’m King. And I’m building my upside-down Kingdom…” And what a crazy day to make this announcement. Jesus came at Passover, the most important Feast in the Jewish calendar. According to historians, ancient Jerusalem had around 30,000 residents, but during the Passover, it swelled to 180,000.
Let’s keep reading: Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Red carpet!) 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (v.8-9)
If you were an ancient Jew, you’d be connecting the dots. You’d remember stories in the Old Testament where similar things happened, like what happened to King Jehu in 2 Kings 9:13 and Simon Maccabaeus in 1 Maccabees 13:51. Jesus was really proclaiming Himself as King.
Can you imagine how this provoked the religious leaders and the Romans? No wonder they crucified Him.
Jesus didn’t only proclaim Himself as King, He acted like one.
Question: Did Jesus have a temper problem?
Not at all. Modern people won’t get this. But this was “Prophetic Street Theatre”. Street theatre was a standard tool in a Prophet’s Toolbox. The great prophets– Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea — used this in proclaiming their message.
Let me give you one example. Read Isaiah 20, and you’ll see how the Prophet Isaiah walked around naked (with briefs, I hope) for three years to emphasize a specific message. I thank God I’m not Isaiah.
Jesus cleansing the Temple was also prophetic theatre. As King, Jesus was going against the corruption happening in the Temple. Example? It says Jesus turned the chairs of those “selling doves”. Doves were used, mostly by the poor, as sacrifices. But doves sold in the Temple market were sold 15x higher. And guess who owned the stalls? The priests and their families.
Which brings us to the next dramatic act…
Warning: You won’t understand this story unless you connect it with the cleansing of the Temple. We read:
Honestly, when I first read this, I didn’t like it.
Why did Jesus do this? Was He in a bad mood? How could Jesus be so petty? This story sounds more like the Greek gods who were emotionally volatile and who used their Divine power for their selfish ends.
But all this was symbolic. Because every Jew knew that the fig tree was a symbol of Israel. And Israel was no longer bearing fruit. Just leaves.
The two dramatic actions—the cleansing of the Temple and the cursing of the fig tree—had the same message. Israel had a lot of religious activities. It had a beautiful Temple. It had great feasts like the Passover where thousands of people came. But they were all leaves. It was all appearance.
There were no real fruits.
And that’s why you can’t repair Israel. You need to restart it.
Israel needed a new King and a new upside-down Kingdom where the poor and broken and sinners are loved.
Extras vs. Essentials
Remember Bro. Bo’s jeep story? He was so happy his jeep had a strong AC, forgetting there were more important things in the jeep. Like the engine that kept conking out.
But just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we make the same mistake with our faith. We get so preoccupied with the extras, we forget the essentials. Our religious activities are wonderful. They’re like the AC. Bro. Bo said, “You see, 99% of the time, I drive with the AC on. But if my engine is not working, the strongest AC is totally useless.”
In the same way, all my religious activities are useless if I don’t bear the fruit of God’s Love in my life. If I am selfish, all my religiosity is garbage.
The New Kingdom of Jesus
The Kingdom of God demands an overhaul of our purpose. A total transformation of why we wake up every morning: Instead of living for ourselves, we live for others.
And that’s why this demands a miracle. Because only God can restart your life. And that restart can only happen through the Cross. Jesus died so that you can rise to a new life.
That is why Paul says:
God wants to restart your life.