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A passion for strong rhetoric


Volatile humans vacillate in their opinions of the twelve, especially as they followed Jesus to Jerusalem and through Passion Week. Some of us would give them a hall pass for their lack of understanding, their slowness to grasp what was happening right around them. They were just ordinary men limited by the finite bounadries of trying to hold the treasure in clay jars. At an opposite extreme, others would double face-palm their obvious struggle in visualizing and living a Kingdom worldview. Jesus was exasperated with them at times too, asking once, seemingly annoyed, "Do you not yet understand?" (Mark 8:21). Even when he confided the intimate details of what would happen in Jerusalem that week, they just seemed clueless. They appeared to be in a constant no comprende state. In many ways, that week was passion weak for them.

They had a passion for strong rhetoric though, at least in a very limited sense. As Jesus moved through Jerusalem teaching and responding to the challenges and traps of the religious people the twelve were essentially silent. They spoke a couple of times, asked several pertinent questions, and did as Jesus directed them in preparing for a Passover meal. When they had eaten and sung a hymn, Jesus led them across the valley to the Mount of Olives. Matthew recorded the conversation he had with them---

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is

written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him,

“Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to

him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me

three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!”

Matthew 26:31-35, ESV

There's another line, recorded by Matthew and Mark I've left hanging to help make my point. After Peter's arrogant, boastful, and hollow declaration, Matthew and Mark added a further descriptive of the hour---"And all the disciples said the same" (Matthew 26:35; Mark 14:31). Sequestered from the crowds, surrounded by their own inner circle, in the safety of a private cloister, they bragged that they would die with him rather than deny him. It may be the first episode of what I can only call "church group speak", the power words we say to one another when we're secreted in our holy huddle church fortress buildings. It's big, tough, macho talk when we're slapping each other on the back, encouraging each other to live this life boldly when we enter the mission field every week. When we're on the firing line of public influence, though, it's so often just empty talk.

It's a significant discussion bullet when we're talking about following Christ, walking life in his steps, being his disciples, this matter of our strong rhetoric. it was one of the teaching points Jesus visited often. As examples consider---

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

Matthew 15:8, ESV

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a

person.

Matthew 15:18, ESV

Jesus made it clear that strong rhetoric, no matter how convincing or well thought, meant little without the strength of character visible in sacrificial living. People who talked big, regardless of their spiritual pedigree, were empty vessels speaking from a weak base. In another context, Jesus contrasted holy rhetoric with the action of genuine commitment. He wrote---

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but

the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will

say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in

your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to

them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23, ESV

Of course, john also penned a word or two about words and deeds. he wrote---

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:18, ESV

The truth hurts, you know, because it is always the truth. And, we humans are good at big talk and little action. It was true on the last night our Lord spent with the twelve and it's true in so much of our spiritual influence today. Shoot, turn on the TV today and listen to Mr. Trump and his strong rhetoric, the pretense of a spiritual life. Show me some fruit kid. Not results, profits, or action, but some spiritual fruit.

It was Passion Week for Jesus and perhaps passion weak for the twelve. Their first demonstration of passion that week was a passion for strong rhetoric. And, it faded when the heat was turned up.

There it is, the start. Passion Week, or passion weak?


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