Greater than Religion by Dr. Abidan Shah

GREATER THAN RELIGION by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Throughout the world, people have all kinds of traditions when it comes to Christmas. In Norway, they hide their brooms on Christmas Eve, because, according to tradition, witches are out on Christmas eve. In South Africa, children look forward to fried caterpillars or Christmas caterpillars on Christmas day. In India, where I grew up, we sang Christmas carols all night from door to door of every church member. To miss someone’s home was a big insult. They would wait for us with food, sweets, coffee, and tea. By the way, the same morning was Christmas day and we had church service at 9 am. It was tough because some of us were half asleep. All these traditions are good but sometimes traditions can overshadow the truth and we end up with religion and religious leaders. In our Christmas series titled GREATER, we’ve seen how Jesus was greater than all the rulers and power brokers of the world in which he was born. In this message, we will see that Jesus was even greater than all the religious power brokers of the world. Find John 1:19. Main point: Jesus did not come to fit into our religious traditions. He came to bring us into a relationship with God. Jesus came to tear down the curtain in the Holy of Holies from top to bottom and make a way for us to come boldly to the throne of grace.

Matthew 2      1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Context: If you remember, last week, this was the same passage we used for the message, but our focus was on King Herod. We are using it again because it gives us the third power broker of the ancient world – the Religious Authorities. Next to Rome and Herod, they were in charge. Just like Herod was connected and subjected to Rome and Augustus Caesar, the Religious Authorities were also connected and subjected to Herod. In fact, they were also connected and subjected to Rome, as we will see later on.

In the passage, the Religious Authorities appear to be at Herod’s beck and call4“And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” They knew better than to reject his summons. After all, he was the king. He controlled the appointment of the high priests. He expanded and built the temple in Jerusalem. He maintained peace in the region. He kept a buffer between them and the Romans. Of course, they lined up on the double. Were they aware of the answer? 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Amazingly, they even gave the right answer. What was Herod’s response? 7 “Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.” Why didn’t Herod order the chief priests and scribes to go with the wise men? Why didn’t they go on their own initiative? One of 2 reasons:

  • They didn’t believe this was going to happen. It was just a myth to them.
  • They didn’t want it to happen. It was too costly and risky for them.

By their refusal to act, they were going to cancel the first Christmas! They would rather stay with their traditions and rituals than to go after the real thing.

Application: I find it very interesting how people are willing to shut down Christmas or redefine Christmas or see Christmas differently this year. What annoys me the most is when people try to use spiritual lingo to cover up their fear. How many of you have heard of the term “cancel culture”? It is when a person does or says something controversial and they are immediately cancelled. This happens on social media a lot. People turn against someone and they cancel them. 2000 years ago, people tried to cancel Christmas. They failed. They are trying it again and, unfortunately, believers are going along.

Who were these Religious authorities? In the passage it says “chief priests and the scribes of the people,” but altogether there were 4 major groups with some subgroups: Priests and Levites, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Scribes:

  1. Who were the Priests and Levites? As you know from the Old Testament, priests belonged to the tribe of Levi and had to be descendants of Aaron. Along with the Levites, they were the “ritual specialists and mediators between God and people” (Kugler). While the priests were responsible for running the temple and carrying out the sacrifices, the Levites handled the music and the supervision and management of the temple activities. Under Moses’ supervision and Aaron’s leadership, the standards were extremely high regarding holiness. Exodus 28 36 “You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE Lord. 37 And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. 38 So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” Unfortunately, through the centuries, the priesthood in Israel had continued a downward spiral. In 174 BC, a man by the name of Jason had bribed Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid king, to become the high priest. Three years later, a man by the name of Menelaus, who was not even a Levite, also bribed his way to the position. After that, the Hasmoneans family of priests controlled the position. The Levites were no different. Does this mean that every priest and Levite was corrupt? There were a few like Zechariah and Elizabeth who were truly righteous, but, it seems that those from Jerusalem proper were corrupt. Remember, the parable of the Good Samaritan. The antagonists in the story were the priests and the Levites.
  2. Who were the Sadducees? The first time we hear about the Sadducees is under John Hyrcanus (135-104 BC). The Sadducees claimed to be the “righteous ones,” going all the way back to Zadok, the righteous high priest. In reality, the Sadducees were mostly from the aristocracy and despised by the common people. Under Alexander Jannaeus (103-76BC), 800 Pharisees were crucified by the Sadducees. Then in 37 BC, with the coming of Herod the great, the high priesthood became a political appointment under Rome’s supervision with the Sadducees in charge of all the temple activities. They were not necessarily all priests or attached to the temple. The chief priests and the high priests came from the Sadducees. This was the reason why some Jewish people actually built a temple in Leontopolis, Egypt and some left to form the Dead Sea community at Qumran. In short, the people went to the temple but inside they knew it was in corrupt hands. What did the Sadducees believe?No resurrection, angel, or spirit. They did not accept the oral law or the law of the sages, as the Pharisees. They had their own traditions regarding the Torah. They placed more emphasis on the books that focused on the temple. The came testing him with the question about the resurrection of the 7 brothers married to the same woman. Matthew 32:22 “…God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” They didn’t want Jesus. He was a threat to the establishment.
  3. Who were the Pharisees? They were mostly a lay movement of people who were trying to live a pious life. They believed in the right doctrines. They advocated a simple lifestyle. They were popular with the common people because they would help them keep the law. They focused on “Table Fellowship” – they called on all Jewish people to live according to the priestly laws, especially with regards to everyday meals. They treated their tables at home as the altar in the temple. Every household was held responsible. Hence, the meals had to be tithed, prepared, and served in a certain way. This does not mean that they rejected the priesthood or the temple. Their meals were exclusive and hierarchical because they believed that what you put inside of you matters and who you have around matters. They couldn’t get over Jesus’ eating habits and association with sinners.

Unfortunately, they constantly butted heads with Jesus. They were frustrated that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. They were frustrated that Jesus did not keep all their trivial Sabbath laws. They wanted Jesus to give them a sign. They accused him of being demon possessed. Jesus did not let up on them. He told his disciples in Matthew 5:20 “…unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” He called them “Blind Guides,” “Hypocrites,” and “White-washed tombs.”

Attached to the Pharisees was a subgroup known as the scribes. Jesus often addressed them together.

  1. Who were the Scribes? They interpreted and taught the Law to the people. They were closely connected to the temple in Jerusalem and, in the smaller villages, they held positions of authority. They were envious of Jesus’ knowledge of the bible and popularity with the people. They considered themselves to be experts in the law/Old Testament. Listen to how Jesus dealt with them in Mark 12 38 Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, 39 the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” He pronounced woes upon them along with the Pharisees – Matthew 23:29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. The Priests and the Levites were corrupt.
  2. The Sadducees were protecting the status quo.
  3. The Pharisees were about self-righteousness.
  4. The Scribes were busy showing off their knowledge.

In this world Jesus came not to fit into the religious categories and traditions but to tear down the curtain from top to bottom and make a way for us to come boldly to the throne of grace.

1 Peter 1     18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Invitation: Do you have religion or do you have a relationship with Christ? He came not to fit into our traditions. He came to clean it up. Are you saved?

Humility by Pastor Abidan Shah

HUMILITY by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: How many of you know a proud or an arrogant person? How many of you know someone who thinks he/she is humble when they’re really not? How many of you would say that you are a humble person? All of us tend to think that we are humble and someone else is proud—when in reality, we all have the same spirit of pride. It reminds me of that man to whom they gave the badge of humility but they had to take it away when he tried to wear it. There’s only one who was/is truly humble and his name is Jesus. In fact, he humbled himself to the point of death, even the death of the cross. He is our model and source of true humility. That’s our message today titled – HUMILITY in our series from Philippians 2called MIND (RE)SET.

Philippians 2      5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, andcoming in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient tothe point ofdeath, even the death of the cross. 9Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11andthatevery tongue should confess that Jesus ChristisLord, to the glory of God the Father.

Question: Are you a humble person? Do you have the spirit and the heart of Christ? Have you come in humility before him and received him as your Savior and King?

Context: Last weekend, we learned that Jesus chose to come into this world as a “doulos,” as a slave. He didn’t stop being God. He didn’t give up any of his divine attributes. He gave up by taking on the mind of a slave, the mind of humility and obedience.Listen again to verse 8“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient…”If you read the gospels carefully, he’s constantly serving and humbly inviting people to come to him so he could serve them. Matthew 11    28 “Come to Me, allyouwho labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yokeiseasy and My burden is light.” Multitudes thronged to him. They understood what he meant. They felt that he could help them. They also knew that they could approach him. After all, who is afraid to come to a slave!

Application: 2000 years later, men and women, boys and girls are still coming to Jesus and exchanging their burdens for his. They are laying down their sorrows, regrets, guilts, shame, struggles, fears, worries, and doubts and taking up his cause and living a life of peace and joy. Have you made the exchange?

But Jesus came for much more than just to serve people and lighten their load.Listen again to verse 8“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient tothe point ofdeath, even the death of the cross.” In other words, Jesus didn’t just live the slave’s life, he also died the slave’s ultimate death. The cross was a slave’s ultimate punishment. Let me explain what that means (My information is coming from scholarly books and articles, especially Martin Hengel’sCrucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross):

1. Crucifixion was widespread in the ancient world. I’m sure you’ve heard that the Persians invented crucifixion. That may be true but we don’t know for sure. There have been citations from ancient sources that it was practiced by the Indians, Assyrians, and Scythians (modern day Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan). Even the Celtic, Germanic, and Brittani people practiced it. The Greeks with all their high ideals of human dignity also practiced crucifixion. At one time, Alexander the Great had 2000 people crucified for rising in rebellion against him. The Carthaginians (Punic people, ancient Phoenicians) were known for brutally crucifying people. More than likely the Romans learned it from them. Men and women were crucified, probably more men than women.

2. Crucifixion among the Romans was for the lower classes of people – slaves, violent criminals, and rebels. The Persians and Carthaginians used it for high officials and commanders and the Greeks used it for state criminals but the Romans used it primarily against slaves and those who were free but not Roman citizens. It was called a servile supplicium. A slave could be crucified if he was found with a weapon (a shepherd was crucified for defending himself against a bear) or if the owners were not capable of controlling their slaves. It was especially utilized against rebellious slaves. This was seen during the Third Slave Rebellion led by Spartacus in the first century BC when the Roman General Crassus had 6000 slaves crucified and lined them all along the Appian Way leading to Rome.

3. Crucifixion was very effective. There were 3 reasons for this: 

  • First, it satisfied the human thirst for revenge, especially against rebellious slaves. One ancient writer called it “resentful rage.” It means torture and scourging would happen before the crucifixion. Jesus was flogged.
  • Second, it spread fear among the onlookers. Crucifixion did not end in 6 hours like Jesus. Many times, the victims would hang there for 3-8 days.
  • Third, it was set up at a high traffic place like a crossroad, theater, high ground, and even the place of the crime. Jesus was crucified on the hill called Golgotha or Calvary. Golgotha is Aramaic and Calvary is Latin for skull. It was outside the city (Hebrews 13:12) and by the main road (Mark 15:29). People were shaking their heads and even taunting him – “Didn’t you say that you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. How about saving yourself and coming down from the cross!” By the way, the victims were never buried. The scavengers would come and eat on the corpses. That’s the worst form of humiliation and dishonor. 

4. Crucifixion was not discussed. Ancient Roman writers did not like to talk about crucifixion. They just mention it and move on. It was horrible sight. Some leaders and philosophers would talk about the heinousness of the crucifixion but they knew it had to be done. The only time crucifixion was ever discussed was in drama and theater. Even here, the hero would end up escaping the cross. The people in Philippi to whom Paul is writing may have seen plenty of crucifixions. It’s horrible but part of life. Just don’t have anything to do with it. 

5. Crucifixion was accursed to the Jewish people. The Hasmonean kings had practiced crucifixion. Alexander Jannaeus had crucified 800 Pharisees and another one had crucified 70-80 sorcerers at one time. It was very shameful, especially because of Deuteronomy 21     22 “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you asan inheritance; for he who is hangedisaccursed of God.”

Why did Jesus choose a slave’s death? It was God’s plan of redemption. Listen to Isaiah 53      3He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, ourfaces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But He waswounded for our transgressions, He wasbruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peacewasupon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. 8He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 9And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, norwas anydeceit in His mouth. 

Joseph of Arimathea (a member of the Sanhedrin of 71 leaders, the highest ruling body in Jerusalem, presided by the High Priest) secretly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus and Pilate gave him the permission. Nicodemus (another member of the Sanhedrin) also met him and brought a big bag of mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint his body. Then they put him in Joseph’s tomb in which no one had ever been laid. Why was he not left to rot on the cross or placed in just any old tomb? Yes, he was a slave but he was much more than just a slave. Plus, it was also a fulfillment of a prophecy we will see in a few moments.

So also, the thief on the cross got it. He rebuked the one who was taunting Jesus and said in Luke 23    41And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”42Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” By the way, it’s not just these two Jewish men who got it but think about the Roman centurion standing by the cross. Mark 15:39So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”

Are you humble like Jesus your Savior and King? Do you know him? He is humbly calling you. Isaiah 53:10“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Himto grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall seeHisseed, He shall prolongHisdays, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.”

The Witness Stand by Pastor Abidan Shah

THE WITNESS STAND by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

The Witness Stand

Introduction: How many of you remember watching legal shows on TV? Let’s say that you were falsely accused of murder but everything pointed in your direction, which TV attorney would you like to fight for you in court? How many of you would hire Perry Mason? How about Ben Matlock? Mason was a prosecuting attorney and Matlock a defense attorney. I remember how Matlock would cross-examine a phony witness and before long he/she would blurt out “Ok, fine, I didn’t see it!” The Bible repeatedly uses the language of the courtroom, especially in the New Testament. Every believer is a witness to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The first disciples were eye-witnesses. We are faith witnesses and we have an obligation to report accurately, clearly, repeatedly, and unashamedly what we have seen and heard. That’s the message today called “The Witness Stand.”

Acts 26     12“While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, 13at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. 14And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It ishard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15So I said, “Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.

Question:If Matlock were examining you today on the witness stand, would you turn out to be a true witness or a phony witness? Are you truly saved? Are you sharing your witness? Are you telling people what Christ has done in your life?

Context:This is our final message on the foundational beliefs of Clearview Church. A major foundation of our church is that all of us are called to be witnesses. We are called to tell the world what we have seen and heard about Jesus. Our motto is “Making Christ Visible.” In fact, the mission of our church is “to lead all people into a life changing, ever growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” This is based on Jesus’ final words to his disciples in Acts 1:8is “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This command was not just for the first eye-witnesses but also for all faith witnesses who would come later. The passage we just read is about the conversion of Paul and the call that he received from Christ himself. Listen again –16But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witnessboth of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.” The key word for us is the word “witness.” What does it mean?

Witness – That word comes from the Greek word “marturia” or “martureo,” which is found in various forms around 200 times in the New Testament. It has a legal meaning. It refers to someone who can certify facts, especially in a court of law. Of course, Greek writers like Homer, Pindar, and Plato used it in this legal way, the legal idea behind that word depends heavily on its use in the Greek Old Testament. It is used when God is called as a witness in his covenant with Israel or when Israel is called to be a witness to the nations for God. The witness is not just a reporter of what they have seen or heard but they are also responsible to bring the other person around to the truth. In other words, a witness is more than just a reporter of facts in a court, they also have to be convincing. In the New Testament, that word is used again and again to verify and authenticate the person and work of Jesus. I don’t have the time to look at all the references, but here are just a few:

  • John 1 6There was a man sent from God, whose namewas 7This man came for a witness, to bear witnessof the Light, that all through him might believe. 8He was not that Light, butwas sentto bear witnessof that Light.
  • Luke 24 46Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48And you are witnessesof these things.”
  • Acts 4:33And with great power the apostles gave witnessto the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
  • 1 Peter 5:1“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witnessof the sufferings of Christ…”
  • Revelation 20:4“Then I sawthe souls of those who had been beheaded for theirwitnessto Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image…”

As witnesses we are called to report accurately, clearly, repeatedly, and unashamedly what we have seen and heard. Are you?

Before Paul became a witness, he had been several other things:

  1. Spectator – Acts 7 57Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58and they casthimout of the city and stonedhim.And the witnesseslaid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59And they stoned Stephen as he was calling onGodand saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
  2. Accomplice –Acts 8:1“Now Saul was consenting to his death…”
  3. Criminal –Acts 8  1“…At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2And devout men carried Stephento his burial,and made great lamentation over him. 3As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committingthemto prison.
  4. Mastermind – Acts 9 1Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
  5. Most Wanted – Acts 9 3As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.4Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It ishard for you to kick against the goads.”

Jesus took him from the Most Wanted Criminal to becoming a Chief Witness to the gospel. Has he done that in your life?

Some people are occupying other spots in the courtroom:

  1. Judge – Questioning other people’s motives and casting judgment.
  2. Prosecutor –Always attacking and condemning people.
  3. Defense Attorney – Always defending people instead of witnessing to them.
  4. Spectator –doing nothing, just enjoying the show.

Are you a witness? Are you saved?

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