Monthly Archives: November 2013

Matthew 23.1-39

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. 13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14]  15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. 23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. 29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! 33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. 37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

 

 

The 23rd chapter of Matthew is, in my view, the angriest chapter of scripture in the entire Bible. In it, the Son of God condemns the pathetic efforts toward righteousness of the religious leaders who have ironically led God’s people toward sin. He calls them hypocrites, sons of hell, and a brood of vipers. It is the culmination of all His teachings about righteousness heretofore. From His contrasting of the Law with true righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount to His response to direct challenges, His message had been consistent. There is no righteousness apart from Him. All attempts at “being good” on man’s part (apart from Christ’s imputation of righteousness) will always result in hypocrisy, pettiness, and harm to our fellow man. What the Pharisees really stood for was legalism, and legalism was nothing more than trusting the self to obey rules. It is no different, theologically, than the central argument of Satan in Eden: there’s no need to trust God when you can trust yourself. The bitter irony was that the Pharisees were “experts” in God’s word, and yet exemplified Satan’s. They never understood the rationale behind the Law; they only understood the Law itself. In this powerful moment in history, the Author of that Law was confronting the memorizers and twisters of it—condemning the end results of their efforts, and demonstrating that their efforts led people AWAY from the kingdom, not toward it.

 

We’re tough on the Pharisees ourselves, but the truth is that we’re quite liable to be like them. We have the same tendencies; as we grow in the Lord, we disciple others. Are we discipling them to grow in Christ’s grace and truth, or are we discipling them to grow in our methods of serving Christ? The distinction is enormous. When we set up rules for people to follow—however well-intentioned they may be—we pervert the gospel and coat in the self-serving cloak worn by the serpent in Eden. Note how often Jesus mentions the effects and ramifications of Pharisaism in this chapter as He condemns them: what is truly objectionable about their teaching is the effects on God’s people. Jesus is acting out of love here; He is the good shepherd, beating back the wolves who prey on His sheep. He is motivated by love toward those sheep.

 

If the Lord confronted your church today, would He recognize you as one of the sheep, or one of the wolves? Are your actions motivated by love for those sheep—or for the self?

Advertisements

Matthew 22.23-46

23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh.  27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” 29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching. 34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

 

 

The Pharisees and Sadducees had a long-running debate: is there a conscious existence in the afterlife? In a joint attempt to trip Jesus up, they asked Jesus about the proper role of marriage in the next life. Jesus deftly answered the question, but emphasized the veracity of life after death, landing on the side of the Pharisees. Since the Sadducees only accept the Pentateuch as scripture, He quoted from Ex 3.6 (22.32) to support His view that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive. In answering this question, He had split His opposition momentarily; in fact, the next question posed to Him is a softball, perhaps lobbed because He had come down on their side of the equation. But the question is significant: which is the greatest commandment (22.36)? Jesus went on to demonstrate that the active love that one man should consistently demonstrate toward another is the true spirit of God’s law. Others are more important than self.

 

This teaching is at the heart of Christianity. All of our religious symbolism, talk, clothing, etc., is completely worthless apart from love. Love is an action, not a feeling. We should love our neighbor the way we love ourselves. That is all. It’s THAT simple. In an existentialist society, we keep our neighbor at arm’s length. We love ourselves and protect ourselves and are nice to our neighbor when we can be. We expect to share in the wonderful afterlife by virtue of belonging to Christ, but we don’t love our neighbor. This could be as simple as dropping a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle this season. It could mean inviting someone for dinner, or taking them something to eat. But among its many uses, love is above all DOING.

 

How do you love today?

Matthew 22.15-22

One of the names that non-Christians like to throw around at church people is “hypocrite.” Sometimes, this charge is true. More often than not, it is coming from someone who is simply offended at the Church’s message. But as a minister, I can say with certainty that many of our churches are definitely populated by hypocrites—at least, in the original meaning of the word (“play-acter”). When Jesus used the word, He seemed to always aim it in the direction of religious leaders.

 

15Then the Pharisees came and planned how they might take Him and trap Him in His words. 16And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are honest, and teach the way of God in truth and do not defer to anyone; for you show partiality to no one. 17Tell us, then, what You think: is it lawful to give a tax to Caesar or not?” 18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said to them, “Why do you test Me, hypocrites? 19Show Me a tax coin.” And they brought a denarius to Him. 20And He said to them, “Whose image and name is this?” 21And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Give, therefore, to Caesar what is Caesar’s—and to God what is God’s.” 22And hearing Him, they were amazed, and leaving Him, went away.

 

The gloves are off by now in Jesus’ ministry: the Pharisees consider Him their mortal enemy. To have Him executed would be, in their estimation, doing God’s work. They have now begun to plot how they might entrap Him into a doctrinal or legal misstep, since there were several of these that were punishable by death. It is quite ironic that these Jewish religious leaders sought to have Jesus prosecuted, not on Roman legal grounds (for which there were none) but on Jewish legal ones. They are going to use God’s law to put to death God’s Son. Can there be any more tragic twisting of God’s law for personal gain? The metamorphosis is now complete; once God’s chosen people, now they only pay lip service to God as they reject His Son. They decide first to test Him on the topic of Roman taxation; after all, if He teaches anything that resembles the overthrow of the government, He can be put to death without touching Jewish law. Unfortunately for them, Jesus sees right through their play-acting. By way of response to them, He calls them the most insulting name anyone could have conjured in first-century Jewish culture: hypocrites (ὑποκριται).Those who acted in the theater on the stage were considered the lowest form of life in culture. When Jesus calls the religious leaders of the Jewish people “play-actors” He’s really unloading on them. He quickly turns the tables on their trap by pointing out an obvious truism that silenced them: “Give, therefore, to Caesar what is Caesar’s—and to God what is God’s” (22.21). What, exactly, was due God?

 

It’s not terribly difficult to see the meaning of the first part of His statement: pay your taxes. Be in subjection to the governing authorities with regard to respect and taxation. But what of the second part? All too often, we look right past “give to God what belongs to God.” What DOES belong to God? Several things are in view.

 

The first—and most obvious—is the tithe. Some argue that the tithe is a Jewish legal creation, and therefore we are no longer under any obligation to pay it. This is simply not true. The history of the tithe goes back to Abraham—WAY before the Law existed. The idea behind the tithe was that God had provided 100% of a person’s finances, and 10% of it was to be dedicated to Him. To fail to give the 10% was to be guilty of the lack of faith that so infuriated God in the Old Testament. In fact, when God is rebuking the post-exilic Judeans, He accuses them (through Malachi the prophet) of robbing Him (Mal 3). The tithe belongs to God—it is not ours. A Christian who does not tithe does not truly trust God. This has been the consistent teaching since before the Law, and well after it. When Christians fail to put their money and their time where they claim their faith is, they are play-acting as much as the Pharisees. The only logical conclusion here is that a Christian who does not tithe is a hypocrite—a play-acter. They call themselves by Christ’s name, but don’t trust Him as their Provider. If we are to apply this passage of scripture to our lives today, we should pay our taxes and be subject to our governing authorities—and we should pay the tithe. It’s God’s, not ours.

 

What else belongs to God? Our trust. The Pharisees only trusted in themselves—specifically, in their ability to follow rules. They did not trust God’s provision for man’s sin—His Son, Jesus—and so they chose to deal with their sin in their own way. Man’s chief end is to trust God and glorify Him. The only way a man can be saved from his sin is to stop trusting himself and start trusting God—specifically, His Son Jesus Christ. If we grow in Christ, our trust in Him will grow—and mature Christians trust Him even more.

 

Show me a person who claims to have been a Christian for 45 years but doesn’t tithe and I’ll show you someone who never grew spiritually. They are still infants. Show me a person who claims to be Christian but doesn’t trust God for their own provision, and I’ll show a spiritual infant—perhaps even a play-acter. Being a Christian is all about trust—trust in Him. If you are mouthing the words but not tithing, trusting, and giving your time to His community, you’re acting.

 

The Church struggles today because people no longer understand this. They think a prayer they uttered at an altar was the beginning AND the end of their responsibility. It is definitely easy to become a Christian—but it is very difficult to grow in one’s Christianity. To do so requires a constant challenge to our faith. With each successive challenge, we should respond with more trust. He never lets us down. Give Him what is His and let Him take care of you. He’ll do a far better job than you.

Matthew 22.1-14

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Jesus continues with three concentric parables illustrating the significance of faith in the kingdom—specifically, faith in Him as the Messiah. It would not have been difficult for the Pharisees to have seen the meaning behind this first parable; it is little wonder that the very next pericope has them plotting Jesus’ death. The original wedding guests were the Jewish people. God had chosen them as His people, and had given them the Law and plenty of reason to know God and to understand righteousness. However, they had traded the righteousness of God for a rabbinical worship of the self—the ability to obey rules and earn one’s own righteousness. They had come to see their national identity as their salvation, rather than their belief in God. Just as in a previous parable, God rips the invitation away from them and hands it to the inferiors. Now the invitation is wide open to all. However, a man shows up for the wedding banquet and he is not wearing clean clothes. In those days, clean clothes was pretty much the only standard for “proper wedding attire.” He had responded to the invitation, but he had failed to be clean. The most preferable interpretation for this is that he is a Jewish man attempting to get into heaven on his own national identity, rather than faith.

There is only one way to heaven—Jesus Christ. God has sent His Son to be the Messiah—not just of the Jewish people, but of the world. He is the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world. Just as the Israelites needed to trust God in the exodus out of Egypt, so Christians must also trust God’s provision for their sins, Jesus Christ. Faith has always been the only condition of righteousness, and it is still true today. None of us will be able to sneak into His kingdom on the basis of our nationality, or our parents’ faith, or what we believe to be our good heart. Either you trust God’s provision or you trust your own. There is no in between. Either God provides your salvation or you do. Either God lifts you out of the miry clay, or you do. It never fails to astound me how many Christians are sitting at the table of invitation wearing the dirty clothes of self-reliance; many honestly believe that they are squeaking past the gates based on their own righteousness. Why bother calling yourself by Christ’s name if you don’t truly trust Him? This is what it means to “take God’s name in vain”–when we take His name for ourselves, but refuse to trust Him.

I am truly thankful that I have been invited to the feast. I am also familiar enough with my own depravity to recognize that I’ll never be good enough to get through the gates. My trust is in Him. He pulled me out of hell. He healed my body. He healed my marriage. He broadened the path beneath my feet. He did this, not me. In fact, He did this DESPITE me. That is why I call myself by His name.

Matthew 21.28-46

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they  answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. 33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. 38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

 

There is nothing less at stake in Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees than the very definition of righteousness. John the Baptist was righteous, and came preaching that righteousness, but they had rejected him. In fact, the parable that Jesus shares next illustrates the saddest teaching of all: that Israel’s rejection of their Messiah was complete, and that the righteousness of the kingdom would now be made available to all. Many prophets had been sent, and many chances given to a peoples who remained stiffnecked, and would not repent and accept her Savior. As a consequence, the righteousness of the kingdom would now go out to others who had responded to the Savior’s call.

 

Righteousness has always been—in every age—by faith. Abraham wasn’t righteous because he followed a rule; he was righteous because he believed God’s word. Moses believed God’s word. The prophets believed God’s word. When Israel was doing as she was supposed to do, it was because she trusted YHWH for her righteousness. And when she didn’t recognize the Savior sent to her, that righteousness was then extended to the rest of the world, as well.

 

No one is righteous apart from faith. No one’s name is written in the book of life without believing God and His Son Jesus. There are still consequences for rejecting Him; what is YOUR response? Do you believe Him? Do you trust Him? Have you accepted what He has offered? If you have, then your next responsibility is to share this message with others….others should be invited into the vineyard. Each day on the earth is a day to share the gospel.

Matthew 21.18-27

I have a peach tree that has never once produced an actual peach. Each year, it blossoms with multitudinous leaves and beautiful pink flowers…then they fall off, one by one, and the tree is barren for the rest of the year. A more worthless plant I don’t believe has ever existed.

 

 

18In the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19And seeing a lone fig tree in the way, He came to it and found nothing but leaves only, and said to it, “No longer will you bear fruit ever!” And the fig tree dried up immediately. 20And seeing this, the disciples were amazed and said, “How did the fig tree wither immediately?” 21Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do this to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22And all things you ask for in prayer, believing, you will receive [have answered].”

 

23When He came into the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, saying, “By what authority are You doing these things?” 4But Jesus answered them, saying, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25From where did the baptism of John come? From heaven or from men?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the crowd, for everyone holds that John was a prophet.” 27And they answered Jesus, saying, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

 

The people of Jerusalem have just borne witness to the authority of the Messiah as He entered the city. That authority was on display when He cleared the temple of false worship, as well. Now, closely related to this authority sub-theme, is the infamous cursing of the fig tree. Dr. Constable tells us: “The leaves on this tree suggested that it was bearing fruit, but it was not. Jesus saw an opportunity to teach His disciples an important truth using this tree as an object lesson. He cursed the tree to teach them the lesson, not because it failed to produce fruit.”  Of all the different theories regarding what the nature of this object lesson, one of the most solid is the notion that the fig tree represents the generation of Jews who rejected Jesus. Though they should have borne the fruit of the kingdom, they did not, and this possibility was ripped away from them. Those who are not strictly dispensationalist may be tempted to interpret this passage as being an overall indictment of the national Israel—a symbol of the “true righteousness” being ripped from them and given to the Gentiles. However, Paul seems to make clear in Romans 11 that there is a future for national Israel; in this regard, the dispensationalist view represents a more careful rendering of the passage. Some have expressed an alarm at the notion that Jesus would curse an “innocent” fig tree through no fault of its own. This work, along with the sending of the pigs into the swine, is proof-positive that God has always prioritized mankind from the rest of creation.

 

The first-century Jews rejected their Messiah. He was right in front of their eyes, and they resented Him. They rejected His teachings. They trusted their traditions and the way that they had always done things. They couldn’t trust this Man Who had calmed seas, healed the sick, raised the dead and forgiven sins. They just couldn’t bring themselves to accept Him as the Messiah. At some point, those who claim God’s name but refuse to bear His fruit are simply junk trees waiting for the ultimate curse.

 

Am I bearing the fruit of the kingdom in my own life? Or am I a tree with leaves that won’t produce anything?