Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Woe There! Matthew 23

In Summary:
As we reach Matthew 23, Jesus is no longer taking questions from the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Israel. He isn’t asking them questions, either. He begins to directly address their sinful behavior and the destruction they have wreaked on the people of Israel.

It is noteworthy that His first comments are not directed to the scribes and Pharisees. His first statements are directed to the crowd. Jesus does not take the religious leaders aside and rebuke them privately or calmly. He warns the people who the religious leaders are trying to lead. (I’m fairly certain that there are implications of this for modern religious leaders who need rebuking. Uncomfortable implications.) The primary warning to the crowd is that they should not become like their leaders.

He tells the crowd that their teachers are saying admirable things, but that their lives are not worth following (v. 3). He then goes on to present the right approach to the Kingdom of Heaven: service and sacrifice. The “woes” that follow highlight specific instances of the destructive lives of the religious leaders of the day and the conclusion of the chapter is a lament over Jerusalem, the city that has been kept from Him by these same leaders.

In Focus:
Rather than break down just one verse, take the passage of woes into focus. Jesus draws out specific problems with the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees. The general form of each woe works like this: you know what you should do, but you have created a loophole and destroyed the worth of what you are doing.

Take Matthew 23:16 as an example. The religious leaders knew they should keep their vows, but cut themselves a loophole: vowing by the Temple did not really count. You had to vow by the gold. Now, I have no historical evidence to consult, but I wonder whether or not it was common knowledge that they cut such a division among their vows? In other words, did the people who heard them make loud and proud vows by the Temple or the altar realize that they were meaningless words?

Perhaps the crowds did know this, but I have my suspicions that they did not.

In all, what the scribes and Pharisees had done was build requirements for others while easing their own lifestyle.

In Practice:
Where do we start with this, in practice? First things first: the Kingdom does not belong to any earthly religious leader. Not by a long shot, not though they be a committee, a coalition, a convention, or a council. The Kingdom belongs to only One, and He makes the decisions (v. 10 is the clearest).

Second, what constraints do we who are “spiritual” put on others? What boundaries do we put between those who are away from God and knowing Him? In some cases, we create a legalism that does not save but certainly makes people behave like good folks. The problem being that then their trust goes into their works, not their Savior. We gather those who will give and fund ministries faithfully, even fanatically, but have we taught justice and mercy? Do we reach out to a business owner for a large donation without considering the impact on the workers who helped the profits to be there?

Third, we need to consider the effect of our behavior on those around us. Everyone in Jerusalem was not guilty of killing the prophets and wise men and scribes Jesus speaks of in verse 34. Yet everyone faced judgment for following the leaders who did. If we lead, let us bear in mind that blocking people from God has consequences and learn to get out of the way. If you are not a leader in that sense, realize this: through the Word of God, you can know God personally and directly. Do so.

In Nerdiness: 
A few nerdy-points:
1. Matthew 23:35 looks to us English-speakers like Jesus is naming prophets from “A-to-Z” with the reference to Abel and Zechariah. That’s quaint and not exactly accurate. Instead, consider the divisions of the Jewish Scriptures, that Genesis is first (where Abel is murdered) and 2 Chronicles (where Zechariah is murdered) is last. It’s a first-to-last mention, and it works as “A-to-Z” in English, but it’s more likely a reference to the whole of Jewish Canon, what we call the Old Testament.

2. While I hesitate to say that we shouldn’t take something literally, I think there is a cultural gap between 23:9 and now, and that one can call someone on earth “father.” Typically, I would suggest that your “father” is either clear on your birth certificate or clear in your heart if he’s not on the paper. I think we have a case here where Jesus is reminding them not to seek or demand titles, but to focus on honoring God.

3. Remember that Matthew 23:39 is stated after the Triumphal Entry. “See” here is about perception and engagement with the Messianic work of Jesus—this was the last time, in Matthew’s recording, that Jesus freely stood in the midst of the crowd and taught them.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sermon Recap for December 4

Merry Christmas! I know, we have three more Sundays until Christmas, but I like this time of year.

Sunday Morning Sermon: Isaiah 53 (audio)


Sunday evening was our annual budget business meeting. We voted to increase our financial involvement in mission work as well as maintaining our partnership level with the Southern Baptist Convention.

I did share a few thoughts on Matthew 1. And I can’t find where I put the SD card with the video. When I find it, you’ll see it.


Remember our Christmas Eve service is coming up on December 24 at 6:30 PM.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

At the Feast: Matthew 22

In Summary:

Remember, first of all, that this chapter of Matthew falls within the Passion Week, the last week of the earthly life of Christ. (Ever consider how it is to describe a time-limited event for the Eternal Son of God? It’s not really the “last week of the life of Christ, because He’s eternal, but it’s the last earthly week, except for when He come back at the end of time….)

That this chapter falls into the Passion Week brings us important context for our understanding. There are no more tours of Galilee or the Decapolis. Matthew records no more miracles performed after this point. These are the closing teachings of Jesus. We read here the parable of the wedding feast, which we’ll look at more in a moment. We also see Jesus address paying taxes with the statement that even the hyper-liberal Jesus Seminar decided had to be Him, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) We also see Jesus rebuke the Sadducees for not believing in the reality of the resurrection of the dead, and a revisit of the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?”

The chapter wraps up with Jesus asking a question, which the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the lawyers are unable to answer. And at this point, they stop trying to trap Him. Of course, they shift focus to killing Him, but that’s another discussion.

In Focus:

Let us put the parable of the wedding feast in focus today. First, Jesus tells similar parables at other times, like Luke 14:15-24. This parable aligns the Kingdom of Heaven with an image the people would have been familiar with: a royal wedding feast. (He does this again in Revelation 19:6-9). Based on various sources (like the New American Commentary Matthew volume by Craig Blomberg), Jesus’ hearers would have associated the king with God Almighty. This was typical in the rabbinic traditions as well as fitting with a Christ-centered examination of the parable.

The son, then, is Jesus. The identification of these two parties in the parable is fairly easy. What we are left with is understanding who the rest of the characters are. There are the slaves who are sent out and rejected, the slaves who are sent out and attacked, the slaves who go out to gather guests from the highways and hedges, and then there are the guests. There are the invited guests who refuse to come, the invited guests who respond violently, and the surprise guests who do come. Oh, and that one guy who gets thrown out. Each of these groups stands for something, and possibly multiple somethings. Who is he? (Other than an add-in to keep anyone from being certain they have Jesus completely figured out?)

First, the slaves in their various groupings. Who are they? A good argument can be made that the slaves of the King stand for the prophets of old. I think that fits easily, for we see in other places that the prophets served God by calling others to Him. It is also true that Israel, as a nation, was to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 60 gives us a hint of that). To that extent, they are part of that group of slaves. The ones who tried to live according to the Word of God were part of the invitation to the nations, including their own people.

Then there are the guests. First you have the invited guests who just don’t care enough to respond. There are plenty of people like that, and at times you or I may even slide into that group if we are not mindful. Then you have the invited guests who respond violently to the invitation—these are destroyed in the wrath of the king and show those who will face the wrath of Almighty God. Finally, you have those who come in. The hall is filled with the good and the bad (and probably the ugly). One guest, though, has come in on his terms rather than in accordance with the king’s invitation. He gets the boot.

In Practice:

The first practical step is to get this through our heads: we are neither the King nor the Son. We do not, therefore, set the attendance rules for the wedding banquet. God sets that. We do not choose who gets in or who is kept out—if God has set a limit to those who believe in Jesus, then that sticks. No matter what.

The second practical step is to accept the invitation. Our pride is our greatest foe here: we weren’t the “worthy” ones initially invited. So what? If I was the backup guest for table at the Nobel Prize banquet, I’d take it in a heartbeat. Would you not take front-row, center seats at the Grand Ole Opry if they were the gift of grace from someone? (If not, seek help immediately). That we are invited now by the slaves of God to come to the feast means we should take the invitation rather than cast aspersions on His grace. Who are these slaves? Read the opening lines of Paul, Peter, or James…they are the “slave of Christ.”

Finally, take the practical step of bringing others with you to the banquet. There is an abundance of grace there, and the hall is not yet full. Take someone with you to Jesus.

In the process, though, be sure to come as the King commands rather than to try and take it all your way. You cannot stay even if you do sneak in. And I like what Gregory the Great (6th Century) suggests the garment is: love. Love for the King of Kings and love for our fellow man.

In Nerdiness:

Above, I mentioned the “Jesus Seminar.” This was a group that met and attempted to determine what Jesus really said…using their own logic for eliminating some sayings of Christ. If I remember my reading about it (it was the 90s, so it’s been a while), the one phrase that was unambiguously Jesus was Matthew 21:21, “Redner to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God, that which is God’s.” Why this? Because no Jew would have wanted to pay Caesar, and neither would the church later in its political power. So, a command to pay taxes and tithes seemed to them the one thing Jesus definitely said.

Now, first of all, I think Jesus pretty much said everything the Gospels have Him saying. The “pretty much” comes from Greek’s lack of quotation marks, meaning that some places could be summarized speech rather than direct quotes.

Leaving that aside, let’s consider the idea of that one saying. Jesus says Caesar can have what’s his after calling for a coin and asking “whose likeness” is on the coin.

Now, in whose likeness are people?

Caesar can have the pocket change. Leave your pennies at Lincoln’s feet. But humanity? We belong to God.