As Jesus’ time draws closer, it becomes clear that His death on the cross is looming large in His thoughts. Even so, Jesus demonstrates a remarkable courage that is both deliberate and determined as He marches right into the “lion’s den”. This was not a matter of merely walking into a dangerous situation in which something terrible might happen; this was walking into a situation in which something terrible was certainly going to happen and it wasn’t going to be easy or quick. Let’s accompany Jesus in roughly the last couple of weeks of His earthly life and see love and courage in action.
It is not so among you — Matthew 20:20-28
The mother of James and John had really bad timing. As Jesus and His disciples were making what would be Jesus’ final pilgrimage to Jerusalem, while He was thinking about His impending death on the cross, the mother of James and John come up and ask for the seats of honor in Jesus’ Kingdom. Instead of ignoring her or rebuking her, however, Jesus teaches them all some principles of godly leadership. The first one was that leadership didn’t exclude you from suffering. The second one was that leadership in His Kingdom was God’s call. A third was that godly leadership didn’t dominate and “lord” over others. And lastly, Jesus pointed out that godly leadership demanded a servant’s heart. This is Christian leadership, whether it is as an elder or preacher, as a husband or parent, or as a political or corporate leader. There are plenty of those who call themselves Christians, of course, who don’t follow these commands; but these are the principles that each Christian in leadership will be judged by.
Cleansing the temple — Matthew 21:12ff
I know Christians who are of the opinion that anger is plain wrong; you probably do, too — maybe you’re one. One of the things that I’m impressed by in the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple is the passion (anger) under control that Jesus brought to the event. This was no polite request on Jesus’ part, this was an act of zeal (John 2:17), of overturned tables, of coins rolling across the pavement and into the storm drains, of sheep and people running around chaotically. But though it was an act of zeal, passion, and anger, it was not out of control. I’ve known godly men who’ve been provoked to anger and did so in an appropriate, controlled, and Christian way. Anger is an emotion like joy and sadness; it is one that God Himself shares with us (e.g., Deut. 6:15). It is a motivating emotion — we want to do something, when we’re angry. Too often we choose to do something bad; but we can choose to do something good with that emotion — Jesus did. It’s OK to be outraged; it’s OK to be passionate; it’s OK to want to correct a terrible situation. I wish we’d all get a little worked up about the lost, about the growth of sin in our culture, about truth in a world full of lies, and/or about apathy among some of God’s people — and do something good about it.
They understood He was talking about them — Matthew 21:33-46
Jesus’ parables were hitting closer and closer to home among the religious leaders of His day in Jerusalem. They were feeling the heat and found themselves unable to refute His penetrating critiques of their hypocrisy, sin, and compromise with the world. As Jesus told the parable of the landowner and the murderous vine-growers, the Scripture tells us that the religious leaders suddenly understood that the parable calling for a wretched end to those murderous wretches was about them. They now had a couple of choices. One was to repent, and the other was to try to shut Him up permanently; and of course, we know which one they tried to do. There’s a lesson here for us. The prophet Gad called King David out with a similar “gotcha” kind of parable, after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. David had a similar choice; David chose repentance. Which would you opt for? Which DO you opt for, when it’s happened to you?
No wedding clothes — Matthew 22:1-14
The parable of the king’s wedding feast carries a lot important lessons about who’s invited to God’s wedding feast in the Kingdom, but one part of the parable is often overlooked because it is a little difficult — the part about the fellow who came to the wedding feast without wedding clothes. When anyone went to a wedding feast in the ancient world (especially a wedding feast for the king’s son), certain clothing standards were expected — everyone knew this. The point of this part of the parable is that when we join the wedding feast of the Kingdom of God certain behavior (righteousness, which is often referred to as clothing in the Bible — Job 29:14; Ps 132:9; Isa. 59:17; Isa 61:10) would also be expected. In other words, you can’t come into the Kingdom, the church, and live any old way; such “disciples” will be cast out.
Not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God — Matthew 22:23ff
The Sadducees were the liberals of their day. They compromised God’s word and played politics with religion for the sake of getting ahead in the world with the pagan Romans. They thought that they had intellectually cornered Jesus with a question they thought to be the coffin nail in the doctrine of the resurrection (no pun intended) about the Levirate Law — What if several brothers die, married to the same woman (because of the obligations of the Levirate Law); whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Jesus’ answer to them was that they erred because they didn’t understand either the Scriptures (like Ex. 3:6) or the power of God (the God who can create an entire world from nothing will have no problem taking the dust of our remains and creating an immortal body for each person). Liberals still are around today and often make the same error — failing to understand the Scriptures (like how to be saved or the “pattern of the church”) or the power of God (Could the prophets of God really predict their future so accurately? Well, yeah!).
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.