A Disciple at the Temple

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent
Scripture reading – Matthew 24: 36-44
Advent Sermon series: “Faces in the Crowd”

My name is Levi, and I am known as Levi the Publican, or Levi son of Alphaeus.  I work for the Roman government and the Emperor collecting taxes from my own countrymen.  “Levi the Publican” is probably the kindest name I am given.  I am also called “tax collector” and “hypocrite” and even “sinner” by my fellow Jews because I dare to try to make a living.  I have no choice in the matter, but the Jews don’t see it that way.  They only see me working with the enemy, and so they judge me.

One day I was attempting to do my usual collections without any violence – which is always my goal.  It was a terrible day!  The people were fighting us at every turn.  The taxes we collected would barely even make a dent in the quotas I was required to meet.  To make matters even worse, I had grown sick of the whole thing – but there’s nothing like a terrible day to make you doubt yourself even more than you already do.

But something happened that day…I met the Master!  I was in Galilee collecting taxes in the town of Nazareth, which was a rotten, little town with only workmen and their families living there.  I was sitting in my booth, waiting for the Roman guards to bring the next set of tax-payers to me.  I was sick in my heart as I listened to the jeers of the Nazoreans calling me the usual names.  The people – my own people – absolutely despised me for being a tax collector.  Then I heard a kind voice say, “Follow me.”  I know I heard it with my ears, but my heart heard it also.  I looked up and saw the kindest face I have ever seen – even kinder than my own mother’s face.  I immediately stood up and walked after him.  I never looked back.

Since that wonderful day, I have followed the Master and have learned and listened to everything he has to say.  He even began to call me by a new name:  Matthew, which means “gift of God.”  He is an astonishing teacher – so much more skilled than even the most learned of the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the teachers of the Law.  I often wonder how he obtained this wonderful knowledge, especially since he was raised in Nazareth.  Nothing goes on there that could possibly teach the Master much of anything.  He must be a prophet anointed and empowered by Yahweh alone.

Still…some of his teachings are hard to hear and almost impossible to fully explain. 

One day, as he was teaching a huge crowd of people, he said things such as:

  • If you even look at another with murder in your heart, you have already broken the Commandment against murder.
  • If anyone slaps your face, turn and offer your other cheek.
  • Love your enemies.  (I immediately wondered, “Even the Romans?”)
  • No one can serve two masters.  He was speaking about good and evil that exists in the heart of everyone.  We must serve only one of those.  

As I said, when I heard these things, I knew he was a prophet sent by Yahweh…but I also knew I had much to learn.

I found that over time, I slowly became part of a group of his special followers.  Twelve of us became his inner circle of students, and it was a daily honor to be one.  It took some work for some of us to learn to get along – I was certainly not the only disciple who struggled with this.  But the Master’s influence made this possible – even for prior enemies to sit at the table together each day.

Some of us began wondered what the Master’s ultimate plan might be.  Was he going to lead a revolt against the Romans? 

If so, then he could possibly be the Messiah that all of us dreamed of; it would certainly take the power of the Most High to throw them out.  We talked quietly at night and often speculated what we thought might happen.  When we approached Jerusalem and realized that the Master had set his face toward that city, we began to wonder more often about what would happen.

We found ourselves at the Temple where the Master began to teach every day.  The so-called experts in the Law were never far away when he did this, but they quickly found they could not match his wisdom and his knowledge.  We often went inside to pray and worship.  

But one day, everything took a dramatic turn.  We has just left the Temple after daily prayer, when one of our brothers admired the Temple and commented on it to the Master.  Immediately, he said, “Not a single stone will be left upon another one day.”  We were astonished at his incredible words!  We all fell completely silent as we knew he was going to tell us about some terrible future event.  Was this going to be the battle against the Romans?  As it turned out, the Master had a much bigger event in mind to share!

As we asked him questions about the future of the Temple, our discussion led the Master instead of tell us of the coming of the End of the Age.  He first described being wary of the many who would claim to be the Messiah.  He went on to warn of wars, earthquakes, and famines.  But he also said those signs would only be the beginning!

Then he said that all of us would be handed over to be persecuted and even put to death.  Although any of us would certainly give our lives for the Master, he said directly that all the persecution would be done because we believed in him.  We began to feel incredibly uncomfortable, but he wasn’t done yet.

He spoke of an abomination in the Holy of Holies.  He again warned us of weak-minded people looking everywhere for the Messiah to come and save them.  He warned of signs in the heavens, such as the sun being darkened and the moon failing to give its light, and stars falling from their usual places.  He said that two would be standing in a field and one would be taken, and the other left behind.  He said two would be working, side by side, then one would be taken, and the other left behind.   

It was truly a frightening picture he was describing!

But then he gave one final word of caution for those with true faith and the bravery to hold onto his words.  When one of our number meekly asked when this would all occur, the Master said no one knew – not the angels, not the Son, but only the Father.  He called himself the “Son of Man” and said that he would return unexpectedly to take the Father’s chosen people to Him.  So, we needed to always be ready because we would not receive much warning.

Later, when we all discussed this among ourselves, we all agreed that the day was full of unexpected descriptions of what was going to happen at the close of the age.  To a man, each of us wondered aloud when it would occur – and if we would all survive to witness it.

But no matter what we thought or believed, each and every one of us was suddenly filled with a gentle wave of hope.  Each Jew in the Holy Land secretly craved the day when the Romans would be defeated and driven from our land.  Our lives were miserable, and yet we knew that our ancestors had turned against Yahweh and had suffered the consequences.  We still worshiped Yahweh and tried to obey.  But our daily lives were filled with trying to avoid the Romans and just live our lives.  In my own heart, I always burned with shame as I remembered how I used to work for the Romans against my own people! 

Would I ever be forgiven by Yahweh?

Yet…the Master filled us with hope when he told us to “keep watch.”  He would come for us, no matter what else occurred, no matter how terrible the end would be, no matter when it occurred, no matter what.

Hope is a good thing…and with the Master we each have hope.