The Two Worlds

Sunday October 18, 2020 The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

The tie in between today’s readings: God’s Agenda

Psalm 96:1-10, Isaiah 45:1-6, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, Matthew 22:15-21

Our gospel story, in Matthew 22:15-21, is another attempt by the Jews to discredit Jesus and render His ministry impotent. This approach involves the other dreaded certainty in life besides death: taxes. Here the Pharisees team up with the Herodians. In the spirit of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” these unlikely bed fellows lay a trap for the Lord. The Pharisees were a religious party looking for the appearance of the literal kingdom of God. To them, paying taxes was a sell out to the Romans and a betrayal of Jehovah. The Herodians were a political party that wanted to get along with the Romans. Not paying taxes smacked of revolution, of which there were many at that time, and would spell trouble for Jesus from the powers that be. The question before the Lord, “Is it lawful to pay taxes or not?” Seeing their motives, Jesus ignores their trick question by showing them a coin and declaring, “Render unto Caesar what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.” The Messiah steps out of their snare and, by doing so, reinforces the existence of two very real and different worlds: the physical and the spiritual. In the rest of our study, we will see that the Almighty rules in both.

Psalm 96:1-10 is a call to worship the Lord. It lists God’s personal attributes of splendor, majesty, strength, and beauty, among others. It also reminds us of His work in creation and His miracles performed for Israel. Verse five declares that Jehovah is to be feared above all gods and calls them idols. It is interesting that there are two translations for the word idol in this Psalm. One means nonexistent. I can’t imagine praising the Lord for His status over nothing. On the other hand, the second meaning is demons. Now, we’re getting somewhere. The Bible recognizes a powerful evil blanket of spiritual authority overlaying the physical world.  One glimpse of the warfare going on behind the scenes is in Daniel 10:13, when Michael had to rescue another angel from the “Prince of Persia.” 1 Corinthians 2:8 tells us, in a flat-out spiritual reference, that had they (the rulers of this age) understood the effects of the crucifixion of Christ, they would not have done it. But Jesus did destroy the works of the Devil and, as it says in Colossians 1:13, has rescued us from the dominion of darkness into His own kingdom. We, the redeemed, live on enemy territory. Read Ephesians 6:11-18, which tells us to put on the whole armor of God because we are fighting in a spiritual battle. The point is that God has it all over these malevolent unseen beings. While Satan isn’t around every corner, it is naïve to ignore the reality of spiritual darkness that engulfs our planet. Never forget though: Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Isaiah 45:1-6 tells us that it was God who raised up king Cyrus the Great to conquer Babylon and extend the Medo-Persian Empire from Egypt to India. The reason: to end the Lord’s judgement of the Jewish exile and bring them back to rebuild Jerusalem, which Cyrus initiated in 539 BC. God has His own agenda and rules in this physical world, even to the dismantling and the establishing of empires. He will accomplish His purposes for His kingdom. He will not be thwarted. Interesting observation, Cyrus’s empire is prophesied as the chest of silver in king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel Chapter 2. In this prophesy, there is a fourth kingdom of iron mixed with clay. While some refer to this last kingdom as the Roman Empire, if you read verse 43 in the King James Version, you get the shocking impression that this mixture is the union of dark spiritual beings with humanity in an all out assault against God during the reign of the Anti-Christ. It will be the time of war and the Great Tribulation, but even this united front of spirit and flesh will not be able to overcome the Almighty and will be destroyed. So, where does that leave us? In our reading in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, we are encouraged to go on in the work of faith and our labor of love as we remain unshakeable in our hope in the Lord. Let us not be ashamed in spreading the gospel, which goes out in the power of the Holy Spirit for the conviction of sins. Captive souls are set free as we engage in this spiritual warfare to tear down demonic strongholds as it says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Stay steadfast, immovable, always doing the work of God no matter what may come. Do not fear men or the forces of darkness. Be strong in the Lord and in His power. The battle has already been won! The redemption of all things is at hand! Our God reigns!

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