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Lent 2015 Message #3

On the first day of the last week before Jesus’ death and resurrection, He entered Jerusalem amidst great fanfare. People honored Him in word and in action.

Jesus was not flattered by the accolades afforded Him. He knew that most of those who praised Him on Sunday would soon turn against Him. One display of that knowledge was something He did the day after His entry into Jerusalem. On that day He condemned a fig tree for looking good on the outside but having no fruit. The tree had lots of leaves, but it had no figs.

What happened was a condemnation, not only of the tree, but of the Jewish people and Jewish nation as well. They were people who claimed to be God’s people, who observed all the festivals God had established early in the Old Testament, and who said many of the right things, but who did all that with a lack of love. A lack that extended all the way to them rejecting Jesus, the one who had created them - the perfect gift from God.

Jesus knew what was coming. He knew the Jewish rejection of Him would result in His death in just a few days. But that was a few days away, which gave Jesus a bit more time to continue to teach. To keep trying to turn at least some into spiritual, God-fearing, God-loving people. People who would accept salvation.

That is how much He loved, even those who were rejecting Him. So it was that Jesus, the day after His entry into Jerusalem, and for a couple days after that, spent time in Jerusalem teaching.

I did a quick count of the various lessons taught during that time. Lessons recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. What I came up with was four lessons in chapter 21 and five in chapter 22. There is just one lesson in chapter 23, which is criticism of some of the Jewish leaders. There is one lesson in chapter 24, three in chapter 25, and one in chapter 26 before Judas began his plan to betray Jesus.

That is, by my unofficial count, 15 lessons Jesus taught during the last week before His death and resurrection. Of course we are not, in this message, going to cover all 15. We are invited to read all of them on our own, but there are three that will be highlighted today. All three from chapter 22. They deal with accepting Jesus’ invitation to glory, giving God what He deserves, and what Jesus identifies as the two greatest of God’s commandments.

Matthew 22, beginning with verses 1 through 14, which is a parable related to a wedding feast.

Before it is read, let me share this that I found in studying this passage. It seems invitations to a wedding feast were sent out well ahead of the day of the event, and the only information on the invitations was the day. Not the time. I think it might be similar to what some couples do this day and age in sending out save the date cards. The date was given, but not the specific time.

It actually went a bit beyond that at the time of Jesus. It seems the specific time was not announced even on the day of the event until everything was ready. When all the decorating was complete, when the tables were set, when the food was ready, then servants were sent out to summon all who had been invited to the feast.

Keep that in mind as today’s first teaching is read.

The kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, ‘Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’" But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find” 10 And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Again, that is a parable. A story told to make a spiritual point. In this case, many spiritual points.

For instance, notice how the kingdom of Heaven is described, which is a place of great joy. You know, our Christian faith does include the call to be serious about our relationship with God. We do need to be disciplined in developing spiritual fruit - Bible reading, prayer, developing righteousness, helping others to know and grow in Christ. But we are to be joyful doing that. We are to look at each of those things, not with doom and gloom, but as opportunities to celebrate.

That is how we are to approach our faith. Tat was how the Jews at the time of Jesus were to approach their relationship with God. In fact, they had had two opportunities to get that message and respond to it. The first opportunity had come through all the Old Testament prophets. The second had come through Jesus Himself.

However - this is another spiritual point of the parable - the Jews had not and were not responding as they were supposed to. As God wanted them to respond. Which means the parable was intended as a criticism of the Jews who were rejecting Jesus. Jesus had been calling the Jewish people to the joy of the kingdom of Heaven. He continued to call. They refused the summons.

Why? Well, they had other things to do, including, according to the parable, farming and tending to business.

And hey, there is nothing wrong with farming. I was and still is important. A business cannot be ignored. Work must be done to keep it going.

But think of the joy the farmers and the businessmen gave up. Good food. Good fellowship. Spiritually, a wonderful relationship with the greatest king of all, that being God. They gave that up to tend to normal, day-to-day things.

Those who had been invited to the feast - and I assume they had accepted the invitation - they at least had stated they would like to attend - those who had been invited, when it came time to actually go, refused.

And did you hear what strikes me as a chilling phrase? Those who refused to go to the feast made light of the summons. “Oh, well,” they might have said. “It would nice to go, but we are too busy right now.”

Those who had been invited made light of the summons. They went about their worldly business. That angered the king, which represents God’s anger when the Jewish people - when people now - do not accept His invitation to joy. As Jesus taught, there is destruction waiting for such people.

However, the feast - the decorations and tables and food - were still ready. Spiritually, the kingdom of Heaven was still ready.

All that could not be allowed to be wasted. So - did you hear it? - the king sent out another round of invitations. Not to just the chosen few who had received the original invitations, but to anyone and everyone else the servants could find. People described as both bad and good. People described this way. Those who had no claim on the king. Those who could never have imagined an invitation to such a feast. None of them deserved an invitation. It came to them from nothing other than the wide-armed, open-hearted, generous hospitality of the king.

We know what kind of people those are. People like us who do not deserve any of the kindnesses, any of the blessings, any of the joy of God. But we have been invited. That is another spiritual point of the parable. Jesus was announcing that since the Jewish people were not accepting the kingdom of Heaven, His intent was to send the invitation to non-Jews, which He had already done in serving some Gentiles. Which would continue to be done later, especially by the apostle Paul. And yes, including us.

God’s call is to joy. But there is the danger of getting so busy with the things of life that we forget the wonder of joy. Joy that is eternal. We need to keep from forgetting. Otherwise we are at risk of missing the joy of Heaven. That is what Jesus taught. He taught that 2000 years ago to try to convince Jews back then to accept Him so they could be turned into spiritual, God-fearing, God-loving people. People who would accept salvation. The teaching is important for us as well. May we know and obey the meaning of Jesus’ parable.

A parable that was followed by Jesus’ answer to a question asked Him by two groups of leaders. Pharisees and Herodians. Two groups that were, every other time, seriously opposed to one another.

The Pharisees were orthodox. Every single commandment God had ever given was studied and defined. The goal of every Pharisee was to follow everything they had decided God meant by His commandments. They were against every other kind of law.         
The Herodians, on the other hand, were kind of in league with Herod, the Roman king. That gave them many economic advantages.

The ideas and lifestyles of Pharisees and Herodians were so different, they did not like each other. But on the day reported in Matthew 22 - this time verses 15 through 22 - they joined together in an attempt to trick Jesus.

Here is the setting. They - the Pharisees and Herodians - approached Jesus with a question, which was preceded by some very interesting words. They said, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man. For You do not regard the position of men. You speak the truth no matter what.”

Those words are interesting because they were flattery. They used flattery to try to catch Jesus off guard.

As it turned out, He did not fall for it. Just as He had not been affected by the praises given Him as He had entered Jerusalem, He was not affected now. But flattery was attempted before the question, which was, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

By the way, there were three regular taxes levied by the Roman government that were owed by the Jews. There was a ground tax based on what was produced on land owned. It was a tenth of grain and a fifth of oil and wine. There was an income tax of 1%. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. There was what was called a poll tax owed by every male from 14 to 65 and every female from 12 to 65. The amount was about what a common working man could earn in a day.

It was the poll tax that was asked about, the question designed to trap Jesus. If He said the tax was unlawful, the Pharisees and Herodians could report Him to Roman authorities and He could be arrested for sedition.

If, on the other hand, He said the tax was OK, He could be discredited in the eyes of the Jews who resented the tax on general purposes and also because the tax helped support the emperor, who the Jews did not like.
The question was an attempt to trap Jesus. “Tell us, then,” they said, “what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

The trap did not work because Jesus, knowing all things, was aware of the malice behind the question. With that knowledge, He asked to be shown a coin used to pay the tax. A coin called a denarius. The questioners did so, which had the likeness of Caesar on it, which led to this teaching from Jesus.  

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God’s.

I might mention there is a bit of a sub teaching in what Jesus said. A teaching that governments do serve a legitimate purpose.

At that time, concerning the Roman government, it included peace and good roads, both of which would prove very beneficial in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus following His death and resurrection. Jesus’ disciples were soon to be able to travel freely to tell others about Him.
Today our government does some good things. Peace at least within our borders, along with good roads, utilities, education.

Followers of God are to pay the government what is due for the things it does. That is kind of sub teaching in Jesus’ words. But of course there is more to it because while we should pay the government for what it does, we are also to render to God what He deserves, which includes Bible reading, praying to Him, and developing the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, and peace, patience, kindness, and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We owe God worship. We owe Him fellowship with others who are Christians. We owe Him our witness in the world.

That is what Jesus taught. He taught it 2000 years ago to try to convince Jews back then to accept Him so they could be turned into spiritual, God-fearing, God-loving people. People who would accept salvation. The teaching is important for us as well. May we know and obey the meaning of today’s second teaching of Jesus.

A teaching that preceded another question posed to Jesus, this one at the center of verses 34 through 40. Another question by the Pharisees.

The question was this. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Here is how Jesus answered.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.

In His answer, Jesus quoted two Old Testament verses. Two original commandments of God. Commandments that should not have needed to be defined or explained as the Pharisees had done, just as they had done with every other commandment.

The first part of Jesus’ answer was a quote of Deuteronomy 6:5. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” which means we are to give to God total love. Love with our hearts, which drive our emotions. Love with our souls, which drive our thoughts. Love with our minds, which drive our actions.

And did you catch the word “all”? All your heart, all your soul, all your mind. Everything we are - everything we do - is to be done with love for God. When that happens, we will be able to obey the second part of Jesus’ teaching, which He quoted from Leviticus 19:18. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Notice the order. Love God. That is, as Jesus worded it, the great and first commandment. With that, we will be able to love others. Not only in word, but also in deed. Which requires one more thing, which is to love ourselves. And no, we may not always like ourselves. Sometimes we might be weak with illness or discouragement, or we might sometimes be disappointed in ourselves. But we are still to love ourselves, knowing that no matter what, we were created and are loved by God.

Love God, love others, love yourself. That is what Jesus taught. He taught it 2000 years ago to try to convince Jews back then to accept Him so they could be turned into spiritual, God-fearing, God-loving people. People who would accept salvation. The teaching is important for us as well. May we know and obey the meaning of today’s third teaching of Jesus.

Next week, as we continue to think about the events of the days leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are going to consider a visit Jesus made to a home and a significant thing that happened during the visit. We are also going to talk about Judas, the one who would soon betray Jesus.

Until then, let’s remember that Jesus offers joy. May we make sure we never allow any other thing to interfere with that in our lives.

Let’s remember that while we do owe our government for the things it does for us, we must also render to God what He deserves.
Let’s remember to love God. Let’s remember that our love for God is to be seen in how we love others. How we serve them in God’s name. Let’s remember to love ourselves as well.

Let’s remember all that as we continue through this season of Lent.

Today’s closing song is The Greatest Thing.

The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You;
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You;
I want to know You more, I want to know You more;
The greatest thing is all my life is knowing You.

The greatest thing in all my life is loving You;
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You;
I want to love You more , I want to love You more;
The greatest thing is all my life is loving You.

The greatest thing in all my life is serving You;
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You;
I want to serve You more I want to serve You more;
The greatest thing is all my life is serving You.

Lord, thank You for Your joy. Help us to accept it. Thank You for opportunities to render to You what You deserve. Help us to give You what You deserve. Thank You for the challenge to love You, others, and ourselves. Help us to love. Amen.


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