Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 23 April 2017

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The King at the Prayer House

 

After ministering in Galilee with great success (with huge crowds following him), finally, Jesus comes to the capital and rides into Jerusalem on a donkey like the king that he was. And this was deliberate. It was time:

 

Matthew 21:1-5: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, meek and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

 

According to the old prophecy, Jesus the king was coming into Jerusalemmeek and riding on a donkeyas he promised earlier – Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” He would soon accept martyrdom on a cross and willingly suffer for the salvation of the world but meekness in his dictionary did not spell weakness or resignation. Short of bearing arms, his entry into Jerusalem could not have been more provocative.

 

Samuel Meier: Meekness (Dictionaries – Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Meekness – http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/meekness/)

Late twentieth-century Western culture does not hold meekness to be a virtue, in contrast to the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world, which placed a high premium on it. This dramatic shift in values is problematic for contemporary biblical translation. Most modern versions replace the noun “meekness” by “gentleness” or “humility”, largely as a result of the pejorative overtones of weakness and effeminacy now associated with meekness. These connotations were not always predominant in the word, for ancient Near Eastern kings were not reluctant to describe themselves as meek in the same context in which they described themselves as mighty kings (Babylonian asru and sanaqu; Aramaic nh). What has prompted the discrepancy between the biblical and contemporary attitudes toward this virtue?

There are two essential components for this quality to come into play in the Bible: a conflict in which an individual is unable to control or influence circumstances. Typical human responses in such circumstances include frustration, bitterness, or anger, but the one who is guided by God’s spirit accepts God’s ability to direct events ( Gal 5:23 ; Eph 4:2 ;Col 3:12 ; 1 Tim 6:11 ; Titus 3:2 ; James 1:21 ; 3:13 ). Meekness is therefore an active and deliberate acceptance of undesirable circumstances that are wisely seen by the individual as only part of a larger picture. Meekness is not a resignation to fate, a passive and reluctant submission to events, for there is little virtue in such a response. Nevertheless, since the two responses resignation and meekness are externally often indistinguishable, it is easy to see how what was once perceived as a virtue has become a defect in contemporary society. The patient and hopeful endurance of undesirable circumstances identifies the person as externally vulnerable and weak but inwardly resilient and strong. Meekness does not identify the weak but more precisely the strong who have been placed in a position of weakness where they persevere without giving up. The use of the Greek word when applied to animals makes this clear, for it means “tame” when applied to wild animals. In other words, such animals have not lost their strength but have learned to control the destructive instincts that prevent them from living in harmony with others.

Therefore, it is quite appropriate for all people, from the poor to ancient Near Eastern kings, to describe their submission to God by the term “meek” (Moses in Num 12:3 ). On the other hand, this quality by definition cannot be predicated of God, and therefore constitutes one of the attributes of creatures that they do not share with their Creator. Nevertheless, in the incarnation Jesus is freely described as meek, a concomitant of his submission to suffering and to the will of the Father ( Matt 11:29 ; 21:5 ; 2 Cor 10:1 ). The single most frequently attested context in which the meek are mentioned in the Bible is one in which they are vindicated and rewarded for their patient endurance ( Psalm 22:26 ; 25:9 ; 37:11 ; 76:9 ; 147:6 ;149:4 ; Isa 11:4 ; 29:19 ; 61:1 ; Zeph 2:3 ; Matt 5:5 ).

 

Three dramatic actions declared Jesus’ intent to take over the capital – the seat of power for the entire country – and reign himself as king. Many a time, we Christians read the story in the Bible and think that Jesus only came to forgive people their sins so that they could hope for a better eternity. All of us, as we are experiencing how churches are pushed to the margin of culture in our own nation (http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/06/23/4031114.htm (2014): Secularists routinely claim that the major issue we face is the way the involvement of the churches in the public square, in the political life of the nation, threatens the civic freedoms of the non-religious. But the counter case can also be made that an aggressive secularist agenda is being advanced through the marriage equality and anti-discrimination movements, and this agenda is threatening to undermine the right to freedom of religion in Australia - a right that the Constitution was specifically designed to protect / Dennis Shanahan – The Australian – March 28, 2017: Two Christian charities have been granted official permission to keep their board members’ names secret on the grounds of “public safety”, after abuse and threats from gay activists forced an IBM executive to sever his links with a Christian education group.), we miss Jesus’ political intent to shape nations – his bold expectation (commissioning us with the royal demand) to bring entire nations and their culture into submission to his will.

 

Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”

 

Three dramatic and provocative actions declared Jesus’ intent to take over the capital – the seat of power for the entire country – and reign himself as king. (1) He chose to enter Jerusalem as a king, hailed by the people.

 

Matthew 21:8-9: A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 

The citizens of Jerusalem did not know him and were not prepared for his claims of kingship – over them:

 

Matthew 21:10 [MSG]: As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

 

(2) Immediately after entering Jerusalem as king, Jesus took over the temple area by force. With his own hands, he overturned tables and benches of the money changers and drove out all who were buying and selling there, and – if that was not provocative enough – he established his authority by healing the blind and the lame in the temple which made children sing his praises as king but caused resentment among the old guard leadership.

 

Matthew 21:12-17: Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buyingand selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”

And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

 

(3) The next day, Jesus cursed a fig tree for just producing leaves but no fruit, which most Bible commentators interpret as showcasing his curse on the old guard leadership that was religious but did not produce fruit for God in obedience to his will.

 

Matthew 21:18-22: Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

 

Matthew 3:8-10: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

Matthew 21:42-45: Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.

 

Can you see the picture? Finally, Jesus came to Jerusalem, the capital of God’s nation (the people who God chose first), and he meant business, and he didn’t care about upsetting anyone. But one thing seems wrong with the story. Can you pick it? If a king enters the capital – ready to establish his reign (with a triumphant crowd hailing his name) – where does he go? Where did Jesus go? A more regular king would go to the palace and take his seat on the throne there, but Jesus went to the temple, and put things in order there.

 

Matthew 21:12-13: Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buyingand selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

 

And who did Jesus provoke with his triumphal entry? Who did he target (from the beginning) about producing leaves only and no fruit? Who became upset at the temple, especially about the children praising the healing Jesus as king? Jesus challenged the religious leadership, not the political leaders (not Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of the province of Judea).

 

Matthew 21:15:  But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

 

This is interesting. Jesus did not come to Jerusalem to sort out those with political power, and – in general – advocated non-violent behaviour in the political realm.

 

Matthew 5:39-45: But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

 

But Jesus overturned tables and drove out those that corrupted the temple, the place of worship and prayer. And he threatened the religious leaders with judgement and destruction.

 

Matthew 21:42-45: Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.

 

Matthew 24:1-2: Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

 

Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

 

What is going on with a king that doesn’t go to the palace but the temple? Was Jesus only worried about people’s private faith and has given up on discipling nations?

 

Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”

 

Did Jesus confirm an understanding whereby the church is shut out from public life – passive and unconcerned about the fate of cities and nations, at least in the here and now?

On the contrary, Jesus knew that when the temple as thehouse of prayeris reestablished, cleansed from buying and selling (and modern materialism), the cleansing of nations will follow. If we have a church that knows how to pray, we will have a country that worships God and becomes obedient to his good will.

In the Bible book of Revelation, John received a vision which is probably the best illustration of the power of spiritual authority (even though the vision itself shows a picture of corruption) for the welfare and destiny of a nation [Show picture on slide.]

 

[I will not read the passage but describe the picture the congregation is seeing.] Revelation 17:3-18: One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: BABYLON THE GREAT / THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES

AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”

 

The angel took John on a study tour – Revelation 17:3-6:

 

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.

The name written on her forehead was a mystery: BABYLON THE GREAT / THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

 

According to this vision, there were two identities which were somehow connected: 1) The woman – (Babylon The Great / The Mother of Prostitutes) – was sitting on 2) a beast which had seven heads and ten horns. However, it was the woman that was drunk with the blood of God’s people. She seemed to be responsible. She was the one riding the beast.

John looked at the prostitute and the beast, was puzzled by what he saw and did not understand the vision – as we may not understand – but – immediately – the angel gave him more information. John received an explanation which is also going to help us – Revelation 17:6b-18:

 

When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”

 

I will not comment on all aspects of the angel’s explanation but the beast had seven heads which stood for seven hills. For John and his readers, this first reference served as a pointer to the capital of the Roman Empire – Rome, which famously was the city built on seven hills. My former teacher at the Seminary in Adelaide wrote in his commentary: “You didn’t have to be a genius to work out that the seven-headed beast is Rome” (John Strelan: Where Earth Meets Heaven, Adelaide: Openbook Publishers 1994, p279). Even before Jesus’ birth, Rome was also known as the Seven Hills”. (In Latin – the language of the Empire – the word is “Septimontium”.)

Then – and this illustrates the complexity of many of the visions in Revelation – the angel further explained that the seven heads did not only stand for seven hills but also seven kings. Furthermore, these seven kings were not all future kings but had been and were the leaders of the Empire now – Revelation 17:10-11: “[The seven heads] are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.”

Five of the seven kings were already in the past. One was reigning now. The seventh would be in power only for a little while and then give way to an eighth king – (represented by the entire beast rather than a single head) – but – at the time of the eighth king – (soon after the present king’s reign) – destruction would come on the entire beast.

Here – as clearly as we want it to be – we can discern that the book of Revelation was not about the distant future for John. He was imprisoned on the island of Patmos by Rome. This was part of the suffering and patient endurance of all Christians in the Empire but the powers that had locked him up – Roman power – would not last. After the reign of the present king, there would be the short reign of another and then with the reign of the eighth king the beast would be destroyed. This would not take long.

Who then was the prostitute? We know what would happen to her. Her ride on the beast was not going to end well – Revelation 17:15-18:

 

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns [ten more kings] you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire ... The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”

 

The beast – representing the Roman Empire – with the help of other kings – will hate the prostitute and destroy her with fire. Who was she? Here she was identified asthe great city that rules over the kings of the earth”? Who would this be?

The answer may be unexpected but biblical. The woman that was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls – the woman that was holding a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries – the woman that had a name written on her forehead: BABYLON THE GREAT / THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH – the woman that was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people – was none other than Jerusalem – God’s chosen people the Jews.

She was riding the beast of Rome and was the (hidden) power behind the throne – the spiritual superpower behind the political superpower – that waged war against those that believed in Jesus (and she would indeed be destroyed by the Roman beast in 70 AD). [Please understand that this is not anti-Jewish – anti-Semitic – propaganda. Jesus was a Jew. All the apostles were Jews. Every Bible book was written by a Jew. Jesus himself declared that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). We are grateful to inherit their history with God. In the same way, if you are an Italian, please do not take offense at saying that the Roman Empire was the beast of Revelation 17.]

From the beginning – God had declared to Abraham – the ancestor of all Jews and source of blessing for us all – Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” With this promise, God made Abraham the key to the welfare of the nations. He made him – and later the city of Jerusalem as the capital of his descendants – the ruler of the fate of the nations. Depending on their stance towards Abraham – and later Jerusalem – they would be blessed or cursed. There was power operating according to spiritual decrees.

For instance, when the Babylonians ransacked Jerusalem and deported the population, they reaped destruction for themselves. As they cursed Abraham and his seed, they themselves were cursed because God declared in the midst of Babylon’s wickedness towards Jerusalem – Jeremiah 51:49: “Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain ...” Thus, the tiny nation of Israel determined the downfall of the Babylonian empire. [See also Genesis 18.]

Today – Christians operate in the same power. Jesus said – Matthew 10:40-42: “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

In this way – Jerusalem exerted power over all the earth. She was meant to be the source of blessing for all – a holy people to God – but then the source itself became corrupted and passed on its corruption. Jerusalem perverted its spiritual leadership and turned out to be the fiercest enemy of God himself.

The Romans killed Jesus but – according to the Bible – they were incited and pressured by God’s own people – the Jews – Luke 24:20: “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.” Acts 2:36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” The first Christian that was killed was killed by the Jews in Jerusalem. At the time – the Christian that was about to be killed – Stephen – declared to them – Acts 7:51-52: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him.”

In Jerusalem, a great persecution broke out and Jews threatened the lives of other Jews who were Christians in other parts of the Roman Empire – Acts 8:1-3: “... On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria ... But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Acts 9:1-2: “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”

When Saul became the Christian Paul, he himself faced death in Rome because of more persecution by the Jews – Acts 24:1-9: “Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘... We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him ... ’ The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.” Acts 25:24-25: “Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome.’”

In the book of Revelation, the dominant Jews had reached a stage where the Bible identified them as synagogue of Satan” – Revelation 2:9: “... I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Revelation 3:9: “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”

There was the active persecution of Christians by Jews – with the help of the Romans – but there was also the pressure from the spiritual corruption which had made the dominant Jews asynagogue of Satan”. Their zeal for traditions and human law enforcements threatened to corrupt the message of salvation by faith through grace – apart from our own efforts:

 

Acts 21:20-22: When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come”

 

Acts 15:1-5: Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

 

Galatians 1:6-9: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Galatians 2:11-16: When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

Galatians 3:1-5: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

 

From Jerusalem – even from within the Christian church under the leadership of James – there was pressure to deny the gospel – justification by faith (not works) – and put one’s trust again in a long checklist of dos and don’ts. There was power coming from Jerusalem that was Jewish in origin – (ultimately human in origin) – and led to the persecution and also spiritual corruption of the church. The Romans and also Christians came under the spell of Jerusalem.

From this angle, the reference to the prostitute as thegreat city that rules over the kings of the earthin Revelation 17:18 can rightly be understood as a reference to Jerusalem – especially in the light of God’s declared favour on this city in the past: “... the city of our God, his holy mountain. Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth, ... the city of the Great King” (Psalm 48:1-2).

 

[However, there is more evidence which I want to present (because commentators disagree on this point):

 

1. Jerusalem is already identified as a great city in Revelation 14:8 and 11:8: “ ... the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.”

 

2. The prostitute was called “Babylon the Great” in Revelation 17:5. Thus, she was called by the name of an ancient enemy of God and – in the book of Revelation – it was Jerusalem that had already been collecting these kinds of designations: Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11:8). She was now the city that had inherited the combined wickedness of Babylon, Sodom and Egypt.

 

3. Jerusalem was the only “woman” betrothed to God; therefore only she could commit adultery against God (Revelation 17:2-5; Jeremiah 3:8,14; Hosea 2).

 

4. In the book of Revelation the great prostitute is set up in contrast to the pure bride of Christ which is the new Jerusalem that will come down from heaven – Revelation 21:2: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Once the prostitute – old Jerusalem – is destroyed, the pure bride of Christ – the new Jerusalem – can take its place.

 

Even in the very first chapter of Revelation, there are hints that what will happen soon is the destruction of Jerusalem – the prostitute riding on the beast of Rome according to Revelation 17:

 

Revelation 1:1: The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.

 

Revelation 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.

 

Those that have pierced Jesus will see him coming in the clouds and his coming will give cause for mourning because he is coming in judgement.]

 

If this interpretation of the vision of Revelation 17 is right, then we see that even the superpower of Rome was controlled by the superpower of God’s people. There are spiritual forces behind all political powers (in the church and the nation), but God’s people in thehouse of prayer” – for good or bad – “rideand influence the nation (irrespective whether there are other “beastly” spirits present). Jesus was right. We will disciple nations.

 

[From this perspective, we also understand the necessity of judgement on the old spiritual leadership in Jerusalem. The temple and temple worship with all of God’s promises on this centre of power had to be destroyed (completely) before the fullness of the new reign of the church could come forth.

I understand Revelation 5:1-10. The scroll sealed with seven seals had to be opened – judgement had to be unleashed on Jerusalem – for history to unfold and the Lamb that was slain to triumph.

 

Revelation 5:1-10: Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”]

 

Do you think that the church in Australia steers the nation (in the sense that what we do in the “house of prayer” blesses the nation and aligns us to the good will of God)? When Jesus cursed the fig tree, one day after riding into Jerusalem as king and cleansing the temple (declaring his intent to restore the “house of prayer”), he impressed on his disciples the absolute power of prayer.

 

Matthew 21:20-22: When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

 

I will give you one example from history of thehouse of prayershaping the history of a nation.

 

Show video clip of prayer meetings helping to bring down the Berlin wall.

 

Did a prayer meeting really bring down the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War?

By Peter Crutchley BBC NI Digital & Learning

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/24661333)

 

(Up to 70,000 protesters marched through Leipzig on 9 October 1989.)

 

The date 9 November 1989 is etched in history as the day the Berlin Wall came down. But was it actually a prayer meeting held exactly one month earlier that made the fall of the Wall inevitable?

Ignoring death threats and huge banks of armed police, thousands gathered at St Nicholas Church in the East German city of Leipzig on 9 October to pray for peace. The congregation then joined an estimated crowd of 70,000 on a protest march against the country’s communist regime.

It was the largest impromptu demonstration ever witnessed in East Germany, but this was no spontaneous flash mob. It was the culmination of years of weekly prayer meetings organised by Christian Führer, the pastor of St Nicholas.

So how did the church end up playing such a prominent political role under an atheist regime?

Disillusioned with the Berlin Wall, the physical fault line of the ongoing Cold War and the repressive East German regime, Pastor Führer began organising Prayers for Peace every Monday evening, beginning in 1982.

On many occasions fewer than a dozen people attended the prayer meetings. The East German government strongly discouraged its citizens from becoming involved in religious activities, but the meetings continued each Monday without fail.

 

Open to all

 

In 1985 Pastor Führer put an ‘open to all’ sign outside the church. Such a gesture was loaded with symbolism as the church provided the only space in East Germany where people could talk about things that could not be discussed in public.

Meetings were open to everyone. Young people, Christians and atheists all sought refuge there. Attendances soared as word of the peace prayers spread.

St Nicholas Church still has an “open to all” sign outside it

Momentum began to build in earnest during the summer of 1989, as Pastor Führer recalled in an interview with the BBC World Service programme Heart & Soul in 2009.

“On 8 May 1989, the authorities barricaded the streets leading to the church, hoping to put people off, but it had the opposite effect, and our congregation grew. There were beatings and arrests of demonstrators at protest rallies in Leipzig, Berlin and Dresden,” he said.

By this time the prayer meetings had led to a series of peaceful political protests in Leipzig and other cities which became known as the Monday Demonstrations.

For years the prayer meetings had largely been ignored by the East German authorities, due to the lack of numbers. As the scale of the gatherings grew, the pastor and his followers were threatened and pressure was put on them to stop the meetings, but they remained resolute.

 

Brute force

 

Things came to a head on 7 October 1989, the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic.

“There were hundreds of arrests made among the crowds in front of the Nikolai Church. Erich Honecker [the Communist leader of East Germany] had declared that the church should be closed. The police used brute force against the demonstrators and lots of people were beaten,” Pastor Führer recalled.

An article appeared in a local newspaper announcing that the counter-revolution would be put down on Monday 9 October “with whatever means necessary”.

People involved in the meetings feared a bloodbath, with the memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China that summer still fresh.

“The church was visited by doctors who told us that hospital rooms had been made available for patients with bullet wounds. So we were absolutely terrified of what might happen,” Pastor Führer said.

On 9 October 1989, as Leipzigers returned home from work, they saw the city fill with soldiers and police, increasing the sense of foreboding.

Leanna, a member of the group Women for Peace who helped organise the prayer meetings, recalled on the BBC Heart & Soul programme how she had already been harassed by police and reflected on the anxiety the protesters experienced.

“The over-riding feeling on the day was fear,” she said.

“I had lost custody of my children for a while and they even threatened to put my youngest daughter into a children’s home. The official documents said I was unfit as a mother because I was involved in extremist groups.”

 

We are the people

 

Up to 8,000 crowded into St Nicholas Church, including members of the feared Stasi (secret police) who had been sent to occupy it.

Other Leipzig churches opened to accommodate additional protesters. About 70,000 people had now gathered in the city.

After an hour-long service at St Nicholas, Pastor Führer led worshippers outside.

The nearby Augustusplatz was filled with demonstrators clutching lit candles. Slowly, the crowd began walking around the city, past the Stasi headquarters, chanting “we are the people” and “no violence”, and accompanied by thousands of helmeted riot police ready to intervene.

The tension was palpable.

But at the decisive moment the police stood aside and let the protesters march by.

Pastor Führer said: “They didn’t attack. They had nothing to attack for. East German officials would later say they were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer.”

The late Brian Hanrahan, former diplomatic editor for BBC News, reported and secretly filmed from Leipzig that night. Recalling the protest 20 years later, Hanrahan said he had since heard rumours that local communist officials had struck a last-minute deal defying Honecker by letting the march continue, as he reflected how close Leipzig came to a massacre.

 

Massacre minutes away

 

“It took great personal courage to confront a government notorious for its ruthlessness,” he said.

“There was a sense of foreboding that this was likely to end with a great deal of bloodshed. I found out just how close that came to happening - a massacre was just minutes away.”

This would prove to be a seismic moment. The fact they had been met with no violence meant the protest movement began to lose its fear. The dam had burst.

Footage of the march was widely broadcast, which inspired Monday Demonstrations throughout East Germany in the following weeks.

About 120,000 people took to the streets the following Monday. Erich Honecker resigned two days later. The dissidents became increasingly emboldened, with around 300,000 taking part in the protests on 23 October.

Exactly a month after the events of 9 October the Berlin Wall came down amid scenes of jubilation witnessed around the world.

This was just one of many monumental events in a year that saw the Iron Curtain torn down, the end of the Cold War and ultimately the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990.

The will of the people had triumphed through peaceful protest.

 

Atheist dictatorships

 

Pastor Führer was adamant the Berlin Wall would not have collapsed without the events in Leipzig.

“Things were happening in Leipzig that weren’t happening anywhere else,” he said.

“The people who came to demonstrate on 9 October came from all over East Germany. Without Leipzig, the Berlin Wall would not have fallen, let alone the reunification of Germany.

“What moved me the most was that people who had grown up in two atheist dictatorships - first the Nazis then the communist regimes - were able to distil the message of Jesus into two words: no violence.

“Without the church it would have been like all other revolutions before - bloody and unsuccessful.”

German historian and author Jens Schöne believes that while the importance of the prayer meetings cannot be overestimated, there were other crucial factors.

“The weekly prayers and demonstrations illustrated that people were fed up with the system and wanted fundamental changes.

“But in my opinion it was a chain of events that influenced each other and resulted in bringing down the wall, including the refugees in the different embassies and the events in Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig.

“The emergence of Gorbachev as the Soviet leader was also very significant in ending the Cold War,” Schöne said.

Dr Todd Weir, lecturer in Modern European History at Queen’s University Belfast, who was an exchange student in East Germany in 1988, cites the erosion of power of the East German regime as being decisive.

 

Huge crowds attended the prayer meetings in St Nicholas Church

“The inability of the state to prevent the exodus of East Germans via the Prague and Budapest embassies in the summer of 1989 was crucial,” Weir said.

But for Brian Hanrahan the importance of that night could not be overestimated.

Speaking in 2009, Hanrahan summed up the protest’s impact: “Honecker was gone in a week, the Berlin Wall in a month, brought down by the bravery of the Leipzig protesters.”

 

Legacy of St Nicholas

 

As for Pastor Führer and St Nicholas, the pastor continued his role in the church until his retirement in 2009.

The weekly prayers for peace continue at St Nicholas. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, St Nicholas went back to being a normal parish church.

But Pastor Führer said their actions had not been about boosting attendance figures in their congregation.

“We did it because the church has to do it,” he said.

 

Pastor Christian Führer (notice that the name translates “Christian leader”) said: “Without the church, it would have been like all other revolutions before – bloody and unsuccessful.” “They didn't attack. They had nothing to attack for. East German officials would later say they were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer.”

We are just one small congregation, but Pastor Christian Führer and his flock were not bigger than us. For years, they would meet weekly on Monday night, andon many occasions fewer than a dozen people attended the prayer meetings”. But ahouse of (real) prayeris powerful, and God honoured his people by listening to their prayers, and – finally – after seven years of praying (!) [40 years (!) after the establishment of East- and West-Germany], the wall came down without bloodshed (without what happened in the same year at Tiananmen Square).

Is this encouraging? Do you want to come to the next prayer meeting? And I want to encourage you that now is the time to take a fresh look at our nation and get involved. [At Living Grace, we are in a new season now. We have been focusing on church renewal but I think that God allows us to look beyond sorting out the church (as he did in Jerusalem) and disciple nations.]

Jesus is king. Australia is his nation and we serve him. And he is a good king who died for all people (no matter what they have done or how much they have lost their ways) offering salvation – a better life here on earth and a perfect life in eternity.

What would need to happen for us to grow in our understanding that we (as God’s people – the church) have the mandate to care for our nation? We are the city on a hill. We are the salt of the earth and light in darkness (when our “house of prayer is in order and we produce good fruit in obedience to Jesus). [After praying in church, we may also go onto the streets with something to say – non-violent and ready for whatever we may have to endure.]

Right now, Australia is discussing big issues and we have the privilege and mandate from Jesus to engage. We are God’s children. We matter – for this nation.

One newspaper article says:

 

Tess Livingstone: Church Leaders Rediscover Their Voice in Defending Traditions, The Australian – April 3, 2017: For too long, most Catholic and Anglican bishops and other Christian leaders in Australia have been practising “elected silence’’ in the public square. Some have ventured forth to rubber stamp politically correct polemics on climate change or refugee policy; many have also frustrated their flocks by adopting the “I will follow my people’’ passive leadership style.

Despite large church bureaucracies and well-resourced media departments in most dioceses, funded by those who pray and pay, few Christian leaders take the initiative on controversial issues relevant to their church priorities. The silence of Christian (and other) church leaders over the insidious gender “fluidity’’ programs being inflicted on schoolchildren and exposed week after week by The Australian has been deafening.

Few, if any, church leaders in Victoria, for example, have condemned the targeting of “sexist’’ preschoolers under the guise of “preventing family violence’’. Many families would prefer to see four-year-olds being sent out to play and taught to enjoy reading rather than being guilt-tripped and confused with ideologically driven gender programs. Leaders who take a consistent stand on that argument will win respect.

When they do speak up, Christian leaders normally do well. Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge was a standout this year when he took on Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and others over the bill introduced by independent Rob Pyne, a former Labor MP, to liberalise the state’s abortion laws. His measured, sensible intervention, alongside a groundswell of grassroots opinion, contributed to the legislation being dropped.

Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher is one of the very few who has taken on the euthanasia controversy. In other states, priests who have received little encouragement from their bishops are working quietly with the Australian Christian Lobby in anticipation of a push across several jurisdictions to follow Holland and Belgium down that problematic path.

It’s been a long time since a range of church leaders and groups has spoken up as unambiguously in defence of Christian doctrine as participants in the same-sex marriage debate are doing. Perhaps that explains why a small minority of same-sex marriage activists have overreacted, vilifying the ACL and the Lachlan Macquarie Institute to the point where those bodies sought and were granted permission to keep the names of their board members secret, on the grounds of “public safety’’. Last year Hobart’s Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous was reported to the Tasmanian Human Rights Commission over the church’s moderate, respectful statement, Don’t Mess with Marriage

While most bishops are still silent, the attacks on the ACL prompted strong defences from two of Australia’s most senior archbishops, Anthony Fisher, and his Anglican counterpart in Sydney, Glenn Davies. On this page on Friday, Davies wrote what many churchgoers know — the only upside of abuse being hurled at Christians is that “people are beginning to wake up and take notice’’. As Fisher says, “it has long been part of our culture that Australians of all faiths or none contribute to open discussion, without intimidation, coercion or bullying”.

At a time when extremist Islamists are attempting to shake the foundations of Western societies, the archbishop’s defence of the Christian underpinnings of democracy — to a business lunch on Friday — was pertinent. Contemporary democracy, he said, had been influenced by the scriptures and Christian tradition — “beliefs about the dignity of the human person, the rule of law, human rights, separation of church and state, respect for the individual and conscience, and government for the common good’’.

That is not well understood, especially by young people, whose knowledge of history is scant. Christian leaders need to make those points clearly and consistently as a backdrop to the war on terror and extremism.

As Fisher said, since the Enlightenment, some have sought post-Christian foundations for democracy. But the jury is still out on whether agnostic liberalism will ever be enough to ground the democratic experiment. The evidence of recent times suggests he is right when he says “it would be naive to think a ‘live and let live’ attitude will be sufficient for dealing with the problems of a diverse community such as Australia’s in the future’’. The strengthening of democracy and our social fabric is the best reason for Christians to join in the national conversation.

 

Jesus attacked the temple when it became aden of robbersand overturned tables (he would deal with his own in this way), but then he suffered and sacrificed his life for the world. At the very core of his kingdom was love which would keep loving despite rejection and persecution, and ultimately triumph without violence but prayer.

Can you see Jesus riding on a donkey into Toowoomba? He is the king, and when he comes to hishouse of prayerwe want to be ready and praying. The whole world wants to belong to him when at thehouse of prayer”, he is healing the lame and the blind, and exciting children to praise him: “Hosanna to the Son of David”. Jesus is king, and we are with him (right now here this morning) in the house of prayer”. Amen.