For 6 weeks this autumn over 10 million people in the UK were gripped to their TV screens every Sunday evening, eagerly watching the latest instalment of the drama series ‘Bodyguard.’ For those of you still catching up on iPlayer…..don’t worry…..this podcast does not contain any spoilers!
The main character – special protection officer David Budd – begins the series single-handedly talking down a potential suicide bomber. From this point onwards the story develops with plot twists galore. Every Monday morning the internet buzzed with new theories and ideas about who were the good guys and who could not be trusted. We saw characters behind the scenes, jostling for power and influence. We tried to work out which conversations were the real game changers; which events would discredit or bring down certain people. We asked the question as to whether David Budd was insane, or guilty, or being framed for something he hadn’t done. With loose ends still to tie up, and many questions left unanswered, it seems likely that David Budd will return to our screens in the future!
Our Bible passage today – Matthew 12: 1-21 – contains a sentence that could have come straight out of any drama series. It’s the biggest plot twist of all time.
V14 says, “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”
As stories go, this is a game changer. This one verse is pivotal to the whole of Jesus’ life and ministry.
But how did the drama get to this point?
Who are the Pharisees, and why are they always jostling for power?
Which events or comments do the Pharisees look to as things that could discredit or bring down Jesus?
What on earth was so shocking or offensive about Jesus that the only plot device the Pharisees could think of to end this drama was to have him killed?
Back in Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus said that he had come to fulfil the Old Testament law, and that unless a person’s righteousness surpassed that of the Pharisees then they would not enter the kingdom of Heaven. The name “Pharisee” means “separated one.” The Pharisees specifically separated themselves from society to study and teach the law; and they taught that the way to God was by obeying the law. Straightaway Jesus was a threat to their religious power, and they were worried that their status and position was being undermined.
This threat is compounded in Chapter 7 when the crowds are amazed as they listen to Jesus, because he taught with authority, unlike the Pharisees. We can only imagine the whispered, behind the scenes conversations that took place between the Pharisees, as the rumours, theories and ideas about who Jesus was began to fly around Galilee.
If the story had stopped there – with Jesus just being a great teacher – maybe the Pharisees would not have resorted to such desperate measures. But Matthew Chapter 9 contains three pivotal moments that totally alter the plot line ahead.
To the paralysed man, Jesus declares “Your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees are outraged, because only God could forgive sins. Jesus responds to their unspoken thoughts by announcing himself as the ‘Son of Man’ – one who has God’s authority. From here, Jesus went straight to eat with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees really disliked this, as they deliberately separated themselves from the common people because they considered them to be unclean. Jesus announcing that he was God and that he had come for everyone and anyone was setting him on a collision course with the religious authorities.
So they decide to discredit him and make him out to be evil. And at the end of Chapter 9, they say that he is driving out demons because he himself is demonic. But this plot development also fails to bring a halt to Jesus’ ministry.
And so we come to Chapter 11. The scene is set for the ultimate showdown.
The Pharisees try to trap and ensnare Jesus by questioning him about his disciple’s behaviour on the Sabbath. In his answer Jesus compares himself to David – a chosen and anointed King – and says that something (or someone) greater than the Temple is here. Why does this statement lead to Jesus’ death sentence?
The theologian Tom Wright says “The Temple was believed to be the unique dwelling place of God on earth, the place where heaven and earth met.”
Jesus claimed to be the true King and he claimed that he was more important than the temple. People wouldn’t meet God in the temple; they would meet God through Him.
Unable to countenance this, the Pharisees begin their plotting.
But verse 14 is not the final instalment of this drama. The action moves from Galilee to Jerusalem. The fight continues, and the Pharisees are successful in getting Jesus arrested, put on trial and killed.
However, the most amazing part of this story is that there are no loose ends to tie up, there is no cliff hanger ending, because three days after crucifixion, Jesus rose again, having conquered death itself. Those who follow Jesus know that through him they can meet God, and they have the promise that death is not the series finale, but instead the beginning of eternal life.
But what should our response to this be?
The Bodyguard was compelling drama. Everyone was talking about it the next day in the office, or over lunch.
Are we just as compelled by the life and story of Jesus?
Are we all talking about him on a Monday morning? Do we fill our conversations and news feeds with what God has done?
Because the story of Jesus is truly the greatest story ever told, and one that we should all be sharing.
Whether we’re in the office this week, at the school gates, in the pub, or at Park Run; ask God for the boldness to have a conversation with someone…..don’t talk about David Budd and what an amazing series Bodyguard was……. talk about Jesus. His story isn’t a drama to entertain people for 6 weeks; his story has the power to transform people for life.
Lord, remind us again of how compelling your story is. Give us boldness to share this fantastic, life changing story with those around us. Amen.
READING: Matthew 12:1-21
At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some ears of corn and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.’
He answered, ‘Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread – which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’
He said to them, ‘If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’
Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.’