Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bethany Bullet - March 23, 2010

The 8th Commandment:
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

The meaning of the 8th Commandment in Luther’s Small Catechism contains an interesting twist. Not only does it describe breaking the Commandment by speaking ill of our neighbor, but speaks of how we break this Commandment when we do not speak well of our neighbor, defend them, or as many of you memorized this meaning “put the best construction on everything.”

We know full well what it means to defend our own reputation. In fact, if you are like me, you have spent countless hours making sure your reputation is not tarnished. Be it personal or professional, a good reputation goes a long way.

We also know what it means to be humble. It is a careful balancing act in our culture as well as our spiritual life. We want to have a good reputation, but we don’t want to seem arrogant, prideful, or full of ourselves.

So which is it? Do we strive to keep a good reputation or do we humble ourselves and not worry about what others think?

The Bible is filled with examples of those who tanked their reputation to make a big deal about God.
  • King David wrote no Psalm celebrating his victory over Goliath. But he did write a public poem of penitence confessing his sin with Bathsheba. David tanked his reputation.
  • John the Baptist, when talking about Jesus to his followers said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John tanked his reputation for the sake of Christ.
  • In his Gospel, Matthew mentions his own name two times. Both times he calls himself a “tax collector” not a very flattering term. In his list of apostles, he assigns himself the 8th spot. Matthew tanked his reputation for the sake of Christ.
  • John doesn’t even mention his name in his Gospel. John simply calls himself, “the other disciple” or the “disciple whom Jesus loves.” John tanked his reputation for the sake of Christ.
  • Luke wrote two of the most important books in the Bible but never once penned his own name. Luke tanked his reputation for the sake of Christ.
  • In his letters, the Apostle Paul referred to himself as, “a fool,” “the least of the apostles,” “less than the least of all the saints,” and “chief of sinners.” Paul tanked his reputation for the sake of Christ.

And then there is Joseph.
+ A craftsman from Nazareth;

+ A single-camel map dot on the edge of boredom;

+ A man whose words are never recorded in scripture…but does much.

+ He sees an angel, marries a pregnant girl, and leads his family to Bethlehem and Egypt. He does much…but says nothing.

+ Joseph is a man who surrenders his reputation for the sake of the savior.

Matthew tells us that Joseph is “a just man.” We can infer that he was a serious student of the Torah. In Nazareth, Joseph was likely viewed as an elder, deacon, or Bible class teacher. He knew the Law; he recited the prayers, supported the synagogue, observed holy days, and followed the food restrictions. For Joseph to reach this status was no small thing. Joseph most likely took pride in his standing, but Mary’s announcement jeopardized it – “I’m pregnant.”

Mary’s parents have signed a contract and sealed it with a dowry. Mary belongs to Joseph; Joseph belongs to Mary, legally and matrimonially bound. Now what? His fiancée is pregnant, blemished, tainted…he is righteous, godly.

On the one hand, he has the Law. On the other, he has his love. The law says stone her. Love says, forgive her. Joseph is caught in the middle. What’s his plan? “Not wanting to disgrace her, he planned to send her away quietly.”

Then Joseph encounters the Almighty. An angel appears to him and tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. She carries the Son of God in her womb. But who would believe it? Who would buy this tale?

Joseph tanked his reputation for the sake of Christ. He swapped his social standing for a pregnant fiancée and an illegitimate son.
But the biggest story of a tanked reputation that we find in the Bible is Jesus. From Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:6-8), “Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!"

And from our Gospel reading from Sunday, He is “the stone the builders rejected.” Christ abandoned his reputation. No one in Nazareth saluted him as the Son of God. Friends knew him as a woodworker, not a star hanger. His looks turned no heads; his position earned him no credit. Jesus abandoned heavenly privileges and took on earthly pains. The uncommon Son of God became one with the commonness of humanity.

The Prophet Isaiah described the Messiah this way (53:2b-5): He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by me; a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Jesus not only kept the 8th commandment perfectly, he kept all of them. Even while others told lies about him, betrayed him, slandered him and hurt his reputation, he still defended his accusers by dying in their place, he spoke well of them as the pounded nails into his hands, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, and he explained everything in the kindest way.

Jesus’ reputation went a long way; it went the long way to the cross. Jesus willingly tanked his reputation to bring us reconciliation.

Have you tanked your reputation for the sake of Christ? Have you been able to keep the 8th Commandment perfectly? How often have you tried to tank the reputation of others for your own benefit? We must all admit that our own reputations are tarnished:

  • Tarnished by sin
  • Tarnished by disobedience
  • Tarnished by greed

But here is the twist. By tanking his reputation, Jesus is exalted. As he defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil we are lifted up—by his wounds, we are healed. Indeed Jesus, who was rejected, has become the capstone of all.

As Jesus tanked his reputation, he took yours. As Jesus stepped from the tomb, he secured your standing as one of his own. Our own encounter with the almighty has changed us. Because of Jesus we are able to defend our neighbors, speak will of them and explain everything in the kindest way.

As the season of Lent comes to a climax in the next two weeks, take some time to consider Jesus, who was despised and rejected, a man familiar with suffering, stricken, smitten, and afflicted; pierced and crushed for you, so that your reputation might be spotless in the eyes of God.

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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