Friday in the Twenty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40

On the Resurrection of the Dead

One of the many doctrines that sets Christianity apart from all manmade, earthly religions is the resurrection of the dead.  Christians know that Christ rose bodily from the dead, but some don’t know (or at least speak as if they don’t) that Christ rose so that we too may rise from the dead bodily.  The Apostle Paul writes all about this in 1 Corinthians 15.  Almost every religion, both ancient and modern, speaks of the immortality of the soul.  And Christians also believe that the soul has been so endowed by God; but the Christian faith also teaches that on the last day, the bodies of the dead rise, some to eternal punishment and others to eternal felicity.  This doctrine was even taught in the first five (Mosaic) books, as we shall soon see.

The Sadducees were the ruling class.  They only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, whereas every other Jew in Jesus’ day accepted all of them.  These rejected the doctrine of the resurrection as they felt it was not in those Mosaic books.  So they ask Jesus a rather ridiculous question about this teaching.  They use the illustration of a man who dies and leaves a wife, who is then taken by his brother who dies, and so is then taken by a third brother who dies, down to the seventh until both he and the woman die, all childless.  This describes a rather improbable scenario of what is called “levirate marriage,” in which a brother was to marry his dead brother’s wife if he died childless, that he might perpetuate his brother’s name by having a son by her (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; also see Genesis 38:6-11 & Ruth 4).  It also provided protection for a widow in a day when widowhood could be harsh.  They then ask Jesus whose wife she will be in the resurrection since all seven had her.  Jesus’ practically scolds them: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”  And then Jesus explains that in the resurrection (to eternal life) there is no institution of marriage for the simple reason that the risen no longer die.  In other words, there is no need to raise up offspring.  And since we are there married to the Lamb and in perfect fellowship with one another, there is no need of a unique relationship with someone else.  Marriage is a blessing in this life only, in which we are married till death.  Instead, we will be like the angels, not that we become angels (we and they are two different kinds of beings, Hebrews 1:14; 2:16), but that, like them, we shall be immortal.  And Jesus finishes off the argument in a way that even surprises us: God told Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had long since died before the birth of Moses (Exodus 3:6).  But since God is God only of the living, though having died on earth, they lived before Him – and so shall we.

Thursday in the Twenty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26

A Free Church in a Free State

Jesus has just finished three parables which we have taken up the last four days in which he prophesies ill tidings for the nation; well, ill if your concern is some theocracy ruled by men, but not ill at all if your concern is salvation through faith in Christ, growing in holiness, serving in humility, and one day living in a theocracy in heaven ruled in righteousness by the only true King.  And it’s exactly this issue of government we take up today.

The Pharisees and Herodians (Jews connected with the Herodian family which ruled Galilee and other parts of the countryside in submission to Rome, and who had a personal interest in furthering that families’ fortunes) come to Jesus “to entangle him in his words”; that is, to get him into trouble.  They come flattering Jesus as a man who judges rightly and is not swayed by appearances (i.e., worldly power or consequences), and then ask: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  If Jesus answers, “Yes,” he runs afoul of many Jews who hate their Romans overlords; if he answers, “No,” he runs afoul of the Roman authority.  But Jesus sees through their malice, requests a coin, asks whose image it bears, hears that it’s Caesar’s, and answers with those immortal words, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Our money is coined by the government and ultimately belongs to it.  The New Testament teaches that Christians are to pay taxes and to respect the governing authority (Romans 13:1-7).  We owe these things to “Caesar.”  But to God we owe worship and ultimate obedience, and when the two conflict Scripture is clear where we must stand (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).  Scripture teaches a free church in a free state, and history proves that this is the best relationship between the two.  The state cannot compel one’s conscience, for that is a sacred thing that must be protected.  In our day, it is the conscience that the state is trying to compel by forcing bakers, florists, and other businesses to render a service for an event which they find morally objectionable, and physicians and nurses to participate in a procedure that they find morally reprehensible, and all of this on religious grounds going back two millennia.  But our nation has experienced a sexual and cultural revolution and demands that everyone get on board or get run over, and Christians might have to get run over.  Our brothers and sisters in Muslim and Communist nations have it far worse.  But if we must be run over, let us be run over as model citizens and people of impeccable character, that they may be ashamed who revile us (1 Peter 3:14-17).

Wednesday in the Twenty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:1-14

Wedding Invitations

Here, Jesus tells another parable, similar to the one before, but with wider application.  He begins with the words, “The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to….”  So we know that what follows tells us something of great importance.  A king gave a wedding feast for his son; our thoughts immediately go to the Father who will give a wedding feast for his Son and his bride, the Church, at the end of time (Revelation 19:7).  He sends out invitations for the wedding feast but those invited refuse to come, a singular insult in that time.  He even sends his servants (ministers of the gospel) but they are treated with contempt and even murdered.  In response to this atrocity committed against the king’s magnanimity, the king rightfully sends troops and destroys their city.  This reminds us of what will happen in the last day: those who reject the good news of Jesus Christ will meet their final doom in hell.  It is a just punishment for their willful contempt for what the Father has done for them.  Obviously, the cross means nothing to them.  They are unmoved by the king’s generosity.  Such a slight cannot go unpunished.  (Please understand that we are dealing here with a monarchy and an absolute monarch; the Kingdom of heaven is not a democracy and the offer of salvation is not just another invitation.)

But the king will have his banquet hall filled, so he sends servants out into the streets to gather in as many as they can find.  These receive the invitation to the feast and go in.  We might expect that the parable would end here with, “and they feasted happily ever after,” but it doesn’t.  The parable ends quite unexpectedly.  The king comes to inspect the guests who were urged to attend and finds one without a wedding garment.  When asked how he got in without one, he is speechless.  He is then cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  So what is this wedding garment?  Yes, we must wear respectable clothing to a wedding, but more is at stake here.  The wedding garment is that clothing that the Lord’s gives us when we receive him by saving faith; he covers our sin with his righteousness (Zechariah 3:1-5; Romans 3:21-26; 5:6-11).  It is with this garment that we may enter heaven, and none other.  The parable ends, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”  There are many who “respond” to the gospel but are not true guests but imposters, people who responded for their own reasons, not out of love for the king’s Son.  The call goes out to all the nations; but truly, only few will respond with sincerity, because only they were chosen (John 6:44).  So let us examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5), and see if we be of the wedding party.

Tuesday in the Twenty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 21:42-46; Mark 12:10-12; Luke 20:17-18

Jesus Christ Is the Truth

I didn’t quite finish our passage yesterday and wanted to take up the very last part.  We learned yesterday that the Father’s plan ever was to redeem a people through His Son who would crush the serpent’s head, as foretold in the first prophecy in Scripture (Genesis 3:15).  That plan included the creation of His very own people through the loins of Abraham, a people who centuries later were called “the Jews.”  To them, God made a covenant and gave His law.  As their history bears out in the Scriptures (written by those same people), they failed to keep it.  (How many ancient nations do we know that were as honest about themselves as were the Jews?  Zero.  For that alone, they should be commended.)  But all of this was God’s plan, for the law was our guardian until Christ came, showing us that we can only be saved by grace, and not by works.  The history of the Jews in the Bible proves nothing peculiar about themselves that could not be said about all of us; indeed, when we consider how wicked our pagan ancestors were during those same centuries, ugh!  (See Romans 1:18-32, and the Histories of the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus).

But to focus on the last part of the passage, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”  And then he adds, “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”  Jesus is, of course, speaking of himself: the Cornerstone of the new temple that God builds, His Church.  Jesus Christ is that foundation upon which we must build our lives, our marriages, our careers, our everything (1 Corinthians 3:11).  And why is this?  Because Jesus Christ is the truth in his very being, and in his every word (John 14:6).  And his truth is recorded in the sacred Scriptures, for they witness to him (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Truth is a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately for many, truth is a terrible thing, because they prefer to live a lie.  They prefer falsehood over truth, the counterfeit over the real, sin over repentance.  But truth stands there like a mountain.  You can take a pickax to it, if you like, but you won’t get very far.  The mountain just stubbornly sits there; it won’t move for you.  That’s the way truth is.  You can try to hide it, cover it up, pretend it isn’t there.  But the wages of sin is still death (Romans 6:23), and the truth of Christ still discloses the thoughts of all (Luke 2:34-35), as will Judgment on the last day when the books are opened and all is revealed (Revelation 20:12).  And so the message remains as it ever was: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at stake.”  And that’s the truth.

Monday in the Twenty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-18

Our Lord’s Prophesies the Re-Creation of His Church

There is a very significant verse just after the fall that the rest of the Bible unfolds.  It is the place where God curses the serpent and says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise [or crush] your head, and you shall bruise his heal” (Genesis 3:15).  From the beginning of the Church’s history, her Teachers have understood this verse to be the protoevangelium, or the first prophecy of the good news that one day the seed of the woman (Christ) would conquer the devil.  The rest of the Bible is the unfolding of this divine plan.

Today, we read where Jesus revealed another development in that plan.  The Jewish nation of his day was the creation of Almighty God through the loins of Abraham, the account of which people begins in Genesis 12 and the history of which people spans the Old Testament.  It was the ancient Hebrews, then called Israelites, then called the Jews, that the Lord gave his laws, ordinances, the covenant, and the rest.  They were to be a light to the Gentiles, a people proclaiming by example the excellencies of the Lord.  But, as Jesus indicates in this parable, they failed.  And why did they fail?  As with all of us, through disobedience, which we have seen of them throughout our Lord’s ministry in the gospels.  But then there is an even greater reason that harkens back to the mystery of God’s inscrutable will, which Paul explains to us: “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way, all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26).  This was all God’s plan, and we can only marvel.

So here, Jesus relates a parable that explains just this.  The parable is the story of Israel’s disobedience to the Law (not rendering the owner his fruits), killing of the prophets (the servants sent by the owner to retrieve the fruits), and finally killing the Son of God (the son sent by the owner to do the same).  Therefore, the Kingdom will be taken away from those tenants and given to other tenants producing its fruits; that is, the Church, made up of all the nations, Jew and Gentile, God’s plan to begin with (Genesis 3:15).  Thus, the Jews have not been rejected but incorporated into a new Kingdom (Romans 11:1-6).  We are not qualified to question God (Romans 9:20).  Paul says that “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).  Those who have been born from above understand this: We had to be shown our failure that we may embrace Christ – the One who crushed the serpent’s head for us.

The Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 21:23-32; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8

Acknowledging the Authority of Jesus Through Obedience

These last few days of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion are filled with our Lord’s precious words in both parables (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and discourses (John).  Today’s lesson begins confrontations between Jesus and those who plot his death as they try desperately to catch him in his words that they may bring some accusation against him.  However, in their hypocrisy, they fear the people, which is why when they finally arrest him, they do so at night in a lonely place where no one will see.

The chief priests and elders of the people come upon Jesus while he is teaching, and, interrupting him, demand to know where he received authority to “do these things.”  Well, of course, Jesus’ authority comes from his being the second member of the Triune God, but Jesus does not refer to that.  Instead, he meets their question with one of his own, saying that he would answer their question when they answer his.  His question is direct: “The baptism of John, from where did it come?  From heaven or from man?”  The question Jesus asked was actually an answer to their question, because John pointed to Christ, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36).  If they say it was from heaven, then they will be saying that Jesus is the Messiah – which, of course, they’re not about to do.  Such an answer would also leave them self-condemned since they did not believe John as they figured Jesus would counter.  But they wouldn’t say from man either, for they feared the people.  So they “chicken out” of answering his question, and so Jesus refuses to answer theirs.  Then Jesus tells a parable to show their hypocrisy: A man had two sons.  He asked the first to go and work in his vineyard.  He first said, “No,” but then repented and went.  The second son said that he would go but never did.  So Jesus asked which of the two did his father’s will?  They answer the first.  And it is here that Jesus catches them in their words and deeds: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the Kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

The chief priests were the second son who said they would go and work in the vineyard but did not go; the tax collectors and prostitutes are the first son who said, “No,” but then repented and went.  So the tax collectors and prostitutes proved Jesus’ authority by responding to John.  Do we also prove Jesus’ authority over ourselves through our repentance and obedience?

Saturday in the Twenty-Third Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:19-25; Luke 21:37-38

Matters of Faith

A few days ago, we took up our Lord’s cursing of a fig tree when he discovered it had no fruit to offer.  We understood that the fig tree was a symbol of the Jew’s religious practice of that time; that is, one that looked glowing on the outside but on the inside was rotten to the core, at least among the leaders.  And the proof of this was the unlawful arrest, mock trial, and ultimate crucifixion of Jesus.  They did not know the very Messiah whom they said they were expecting and their own Scriptures prophesied; “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).  This in no way justifies the despicable sin of anti-Semitism; after all, the Gentiles didn’t receive him either.  Christ died to save both Jew and Gentile, and to bring us together into the one body of Christ, the Church (Ephesians 2:14).

Today’s lesson takes up that same fig tree but teaches a different lesson.  The disciples are amazed to see that the fig tree has withered to its roots. When they exclaim the fact to Jesus, he turns the discussion to the issue of faith.  Now, the fig tree becomes a symbol of what a man or woman of faith can do.  Jesus even adds, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”  My Bible notes tell me that “moving a mountain” was a metaphor in Jewish literature for doing what was seemingly impossible” (ESV Study Bible), which seems a sound interpretation.  Jesus then takes this metaphor and applies it to prayer, “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

A faithful person of God will understand these words in the context of the whole Bible.  For instance, Jesus adds just after this that when we pray, we must forgive others as we have been forgiven.  1 John 5:14-15 tells us that we must ask “according to his will.”  It is not my intention to water down what our Lord is saying here, only to remind the immature that Jesus gives no one a blank check to ask for anything he wants (like a Ferrari), and to remind the mature that we know of times when we have prayed, say, for the healing of a loved one, and it did not come to pass.  Still, our God wants us to pray with faith, believing that He is a God who desires to bless His children.  We may doubt ourselves – indeed, we should – but we should not doubt our loving Father, for it is His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32), and to give us ever more of His Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).  So cry out, “Help thou mine unbelief,” and pray to your loving Father.