Thursday, July 31, 2014
“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.” (Matthew 23:1-7)
After having warned the Pharisees and scribes about their sin and leaving the ones who attempted to discredit him with nothing to say, Jesus warned to people about them. They held positions of leadership much like that of Moses, teaching the people what god expected. Unfortunately, while they were really good at telling other people what they should do, they didn’t even try to live up to the standard they demanded from others, considering themselves above such demands.
All their effort was devoted to make a good religious show, dressing so that everyone would know they were religious. They were like the preachers today who insist on wearing a suit and carrying around a big Bible so everyone knows they are a preacher. They made a point of looking like a Christian.
Like politicians, they made it a point to attend special events, making a point to be associated with the “right” people. They loved being recognized and fawned over whenever they went out into the public and titles such as Rabbi or Reverend. Christians are not to copy their attitudes or behaviors.
“But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
Jesus said that the Christians were not to use titles such as Rabbi, the Jewish equivalent of Pastor or Preacher because Jesus is our leader and we are all equal before God. Such titles imply a difference in importance. They were not to use the title “father” because to do so was to elevate oneself to a position similar to that of God, effectively debasing him. In the same way, they were not to use the title “Master”, ie. Doctor or Lord because Jesus is the one who to whom we are to be in submission, not some religious leader. They were to honor those who did the work without acclaim as the best among them, while those who spent time on self-promotion and political maneuvering were to be ignored.
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13)
By re-interpreting the lawm the Pharisees and scribes were able to completely change what God had said, making it appear to mean something very different. They then insisted that people had to meet their interpretation, rather than what God had said. Those who insisted n doing it the way the Law specified were mocked and falsely accused of violating God’s law in an effort to convince them to change their standards.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” (Matthew 23:14)
Thanks to the teachings of scribes such as Hillel, instead of the property automatically returning to the family in the year of Jubilee as the Old Testament Law demanded, loans could be used as grounds to seize the property using the court system. Rich Pharisees could lend money to a widow and then use the interpretations take her home away from her while making a big show about praying and religious activity. Jesus said they would receive greater judgment for using religion to divert peoples’ attention from their wrong doing.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15)
The scribes and Pharisees would go to almost any length to get a person to commit to their beliefs, convincing him he had nothing to worry about, because he had gone through their specified plan with no real concern for God or his demands. He was actually less likely to turn to God than he was before, and thus was worse off.
Sadly, we see these same attitudes among many who claim to be Christians today.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
“The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.” (Matthew 22:23-28)
The Sadducees had adopted the Greek philosophy and Jesus teaching was offensive to them as it was to the Pharisees. Like a lot of Journalists and political figures who brag about asking the hard questions, they decided to ask a question such that any answer that is given makes the respondent look foolish because of the way it is worded.
They referred to the law that if a man died childless, his brother was to marry his wife and their first child would be considered the dead husband’s. If all seven brothers married her trying to fulfill the law, and died, which one’s wife would she be considered? No matter what answer Jesus gave, they could challenge him that another of the brothers should be considered. Instead of answering their question, Jesus pointed out that it was based on some incorrect assumptions.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:29-32)
Because the Sadducees didn’t believe in God or spiritual matters, they didn’t read the scriptures and didn’t know that people would not be married in heaven in any case. The entire question was based on their own ignorance. Jesus then challenged their ignorance, asking if they had least read God’s statement about being the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. The present imperfect tense used implies he is at this moment the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even though all three had died.
Had he used the present perfect tense, it would have meant he was the God who had been Abraham’s, Isaac’s. And Jacob’s God but the form he used does not allow that translation. It can only be used if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive. Even their question placed them in a position of contradicting what they claimed to believe.
“And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.” (Matthew 22:33)
For years the Pharisees and Sadducees had been arguing about the existence of God and his power. The multitude was amazed that Jesus could so simply show their ignorance using what the scripture said.
“But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)
The Pharisees had apparently hoped to get Jesus discredited without having to get involved themselves. After Jesus had left the Herodians with no argument and embarrassed the Sadducees, they had to get involved themselves. They sent one of their best and brightest lawyers to try to trick him into saying something they could use against him. Like the Sadducees before him, the lawyer tried to use a trick question, which is the most important of the commandments of the Law?
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
The Lawyer was undoubtedly expecting Jesus to try to pick out an individual law. Instead, Jesus lumped all the first commands about obeying God, and not making idols or worshipping other gods into one command to love God with everything you had. He then said the second, about obeying god in other areas was similar in that they were to care for their neighbor as if he were themselves. All the law could be summarized or condensed down to those two principles. Like the Herodians and Sadducees, the Pharisees could not debate his answer without appearing foolish.
“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?
They say unto him, The son of David.
“He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:41-45)
Like he had done with the Herodians and Sadducees, Jesus now said something that would force them to think about what they were doing. He asked them why, if the Messiah was a descendent of David, David called him Lord. According to custom the ancestor would naturally be assumed to be greater. It turned their whole social order upside down, and clearly challenged their claim to power.
“And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46)
Jesus had trapped them in the same kind of trap they had tried to set for them. Any answer they gave was a potential victory for him. They dared not answer, and were afraid to ask more questions for fear he would trap them again.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
“And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.” (Matthew 22:1-6)
Experience tells us people don’t take something very seriously until they have herd it several times. Jesus had just finished two parables in which he warned the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees of their sin in rejecting his message, but he wanted to make sure they understood what he was telling them so he told them another parable.
He compared the kingdom of heaven to a king whose son was getting married. They had invited a large number of guests, on the wedding day he sent servants out to remind the guests, but they all said they were not interested. Since no one came he sent his servants again, to try to convince them to come because they had already catered the dinner and everything had been delivered. Some of them made excuses, one that he had to take care of things on the farm that couldn’t wait and another that he had a shipment of merchandise that had to be priced out and put on the shelves. Some of them even got mad about being asked again and beat up or killed his servants. Clearly they were not concerned about the kings feelings or desires.
“But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.” (Matthew 22:7-10)
Angry that they had murdered his servants, the king ordered the murderers executed and their property burned. He told his remaining servants that since those who were invited didn’t consider it worth their while to come, they didn’t deserve to come. Instead he asked the servants to go and invite anyone who wanted to come, regardless who they were.
“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14)
When the king came into the feast, he found a man who hadn’t bothered to clean up and get ready to participate even though it was a wedding for the king’s son. Angered that someone should take such a major occasion so lightly, the king ordered him arrested and imprisoned for his disrespect. While everyone was invited, only those who took it seriously were welcome, and the same is true of the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees and religious leaders had not taken God’s offer seriously, ignoring his messenger, and refusing to get ready, excusing themselves that other things were more important. It would be hard not to get the message after hearing these three parables.
“Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:15)
Determined to get rid of Jesus, the Pharisees first tried to use political means. They sent some of Herod’s supporters to challenge him whether he believed they should pay taxes to Caesar or not. After all they really resented being forced to pay taxes, believing that the Romans were robbing god by taking it from them., and assumed since he taught some of the things they believed, that he would hold the same position, not knowing he had told Peter that while they didn’t owe it, they should pay it for the sake of their testimony to other people.
“But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto him, Caesar's.
Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.” (Matthew 22:18-22)
Knowing what they were up to, Jesus asked them why they were trying to trick him. He then asked whose picture was on the money and whose writing was on it. When they told him it was Caesar’s, he told them that if it was Caesar’s money they should give it to him and give God the things that were his. They were surprised by his answer but it was impossible to argue with his logic so they left.
Monday, July 28, 2014
“Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.” (Matthew 21:33-36)
In the previous parable, Jesus had made the point that the one who obeyed his father wasn’t the one who initially said he would but the one who initially refused but later changed his mind and went. Here he shares another parable to make the leaders think about what they are doing.
A man developed an orchard and leased it out to a group of men for a share in the profits. When harvest came he sent his servants to collect his share of the profits. Instead of paying the rent, the renters beat up his employees, killing one and seriously injuring another. When he sent a second and larger group, they did the same thing to them.
“But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.” (Matthew 21:37-39)
Finally he sent his son with full authority to do whatever was required, believing that the leaseholders would choose to negotiate with him to avoid losing their lease. Instead, the leaseholders decided that if they killed the son. The father would decide ti wasn’t worth the trouble and let them just keep the land.
“When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?
They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.” (Matthew 21:40-41)
Jesus then asked what the leaders thought the father would do about the renters’ actions. They concluded that the murder would firm his resolve, and he would execute the murderers of his son and lease the orchard out to someone who would pay their rent on time.
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:42-44)
Jesus then reminded them of the prophecy in Psalm 118:22-23. “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” God had given Israel the use of the land in exchange for their obedience to him. Instead they had focused on doing as they pleased, struggling to maintain their control over the nation while re-interpreting God’s law to make it easier to do business in a gentile controlled world. Like the leaseholders in the parable, they had killed several of God’s prophets for reminding them of their duty to God.
To refuse to obey the one God sent would result in termination of their claims to the kingdom of heaven, just as refusing to pay the owners son would have resulted in termination of the husbandmen’s lease. If they killed God’s messenger, God’s son. He would react exactly as they expected the father in the parable to react, totally destroying them. It was a clear warning as to the consequences of what they were about to do.
“And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.” (Matthew 21:45-46)
The chief priests and Pharisees understood what the parable meant, and wanted to kill him for putting them down, but because so many people believed he was a prophet from God, they were afraid to take action right them. They needed something believable to accuse him of and began deliberately looking for something, sending people to try to trip him up and offering a reward for anyone who could present evidence that might destroy his credibility.
Friday, July 25, 2014
“Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.” (Matthew 21:118-19)
After his triumphal entry and cleansing the temple, Jesus had gone to Bethany to spend the night. The next morning on his way to Jerusalem he was hungry and went out of his way to a fig tree he saw at a distance. Though the tree had healthy leaves and it was time for figs to have been well developed there were no figs on the tree.
“And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!” (Matthew 21:20)
According to Mark 11:20, they went the same way the following morning. “And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.” It wasn’t just the leaves which had dried up. The very bark was dried out and the tree was obviously dead. The disciples had never seen a tree dry up so fast. Jesus used the event to teach the disciples several lessons, but Matthew only records one of them.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:21-22)
If they had faith and no doubt, they would not only be able to dry up a fig tree, but to move an entire mountain just by speaking to it, and anything they asked in prayer would be received. Literally, they would have the same power Jesus possessed.
“And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)
The chief priests and leaders were waiting for Jesus, still upset by the people’s adulation of him and fearing that they were going to lose their power. They demanded to know what his authority was and where he had gotten it. They were prepared to challenge any claim he made.
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” (Matthew 21:24-25a)
Instead of telling them where he received authority and giving them a chance to challenge him, Jesus asked them where they thought John had gotten his power. If they would answer his question he would answer theirs.
“And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell.
And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:25b-27)
John had publically proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. If they acknowledged John as a prophet from God, then their question made them look stupid. On the other hand, the people were convinced John was a prophet from God and would take offence if they said he wasn’t so they refused to answer, claiming they weren’t sure. Clearly they were not going to accept anything Jesus said so refused to answer their question as well. Instead, he told a short parable to get them thinking.
“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?
They say unto him, The first.” (Matthew 21:28-31a)
A father asked his sons to go work in his field. One of them initially said no, but later changed his mind and did as he was asked. The other promised to go but never did. Jesus asked which one did as his father asked and they responded that it was the first, who had at first refused.
“Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” (Matthew 21:31b-32)
The scribes and Pharisees made a big deal about serving God but when John came preaching and teaching how to please God they refused. The publicans they despised as traitors for serving the Roman government, and the prostitutes who made no claim to serve God listened and acted on his sayings. Even when they saw the results, the scribes and Pharisees refused to listen. As a result, they would not receive the rewards but the Publicans and prostitutes they despised would.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
“And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.” (Matthew 21:1-3)
Matthew has skipped over most of Jesus’ teaching in Jerusalem and various trips between Jerusalem and Galilee. Knowing he was at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus has repeatedly warned the disciples he will be crucified. As they approached Jerusalem, he sent two of disciples to Bethphage to get a donkey and her colt that were tied up on the street there. If anyone questioned their right to take them, they were to say the Lord needed them and the people would let them go.
“All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.” (Matthew 21:4-7)
Zechariah 9:9 prophesied, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” In sending his disciples to get the donkey for him to ride Jesus was fulfilling one more of the prophecies that proved he was the Messiah. Everything happened just as Jesus had told them it would, and they got him to ride the untrained colt into Jerusalem.
“And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strowed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” (Matthew 21:8-9)
The people were familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy and when Jesus came into the city they were praising the Lord for the fulfillment of the prophecy. They laid down their clothing and palm branches on the street for his donkey to walk on, rolling out the red carpet for him.
“And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?
And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.“ (Matthew 21:10-11)
When Jesus rode into the city. The people there recognized the symbolism of his riding on the donkey and questioned who it was. The multitude that accompanied him were not hesitant to announce that it was Jesus of Nazareth. After numerous run-ins between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees, they were not at all pleased to see the people acknowledging him as the Messiah and rightful king. Just four days later they would incite toe people to call for his crucifixion.
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew 21:12-13)
People came from all over the world to worship in the temple. They all needed sacrifices and offerings so there were vendors selling animals for the sacrifices. Others sold unleavened bread and flour or oil and containers and cloths to keep them in. Money changers exchanged foreign currencies for Jewish and Roman money so people could readily buy what they needed to worship.
Jesus said the temple was supposed to be a place of worship but they had made it into just a place of business instead. Even worse, they were taking advantage of people’s desire to worship God by charging exorbitant prices for what they sold and ripping people off. He physically drove then out of the temple scattering their merchandise and money in the process. Since they were permitting it, and often collecting fees for the privilege of selling there, the priests and religious leaders took offence at his actions and comments.
“And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say?” (Matthew 21:14-16)
The kids that were there got caught up in the excitement and when Jesus healed different bling and lame people in the temple, they were running around shouting thanks to God for sending the Messiah. This upset the priests and scribes even further and they began to ask Jesus how he could let them keep saying such things.
And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.” Matthew 21:16b-17)
Psalm 8 is a prophecy about the Messiah’s coming, and Jesus referred to the second verse, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger,” again inferring he was the Messiah. This further inflamed the priests and leaders. They were becoming desperate to stop him.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
“And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.” (Matthew 20:17-19)
After crossing the Jordan, near Jericho, Jesus took his disciples aside and spoke to them privately, warning them that he would be betrayed to the chief priests and religious leaders in Jerusalem and condemned to death. He would then be turned over to the Gentiles to be abused and executed. He would rise again on the third day. Though this was not the first time they had heard it, the disciples didn’t fully register what he was telling them.
“Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
And he said unto her, What wilt thou?
She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
They say unto him, We are able.
And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” (Matthew 20:21-23)
Because of our sin nature, competition is instinctive among people. James and John’s mother came to Jesus to ask him to let her two sons take the places of prestige in heaven, with one on his right hand and the other on his left. Jesus said they had no idea what they were asking for. He had just told them he would be beaten and crucified and asked if they thought they were prepared to go what he was going to go through.
Not really believing he would be killed, they confidently said they could take it. Jesus warned them that later they would be killed and buried just as he would, but that even that would not give them the right to sit at his right and left hands on the throne. God the father was the one who would decide who was seated where on his throne.
“And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.” (Matthew 20:24)
When the others heard how James and John had tried to get an unfair advantage by having their mom ask Jesus to give them a special place in heaven, they were quite angry at them. They had already had several arguments as to who would be the greatest.
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
Jesus told them that the unsaved world competed to gain power and prestige. The Christians were not to try to get power over each other. Instead, the one to be considered greatest was to be the one who took the most menial and degrading jobs. Jesus himself set the example, giving up his throne in heaven for the people. Rather than becoming a priest or one of the scribes or lawyers or political figures, he was a carpenter who didn’t even have a home of his own, not even charging for his teaching or healing, though he was at the beck and call of everyone who wanted healing.
“And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him. And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David. And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David.
And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?
They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.
So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.” (Matthew 20:29-34)
As they were leaving Jericho for Jerusalem, a large crowd followed Jesus. Two blind men heard the passing crowd and called out to Jesus asking that he take a moment for them. The crowd was impatient that they were interrupting Jesus travels but they just called out louder. When Jesus asked what they wanted, they asked to be given the ability to see. Jesus again demonstrated his humility by stopping what he was doing to heal their sight, without complaint about the interruption. When they could see they joined the rest of the crowd on the way to Jerusalem.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
After learning that salvation would require an actual commitment to God, and giving up their own goals and standards, Peter had asked what they would receive for trusting God. Jesus had stated that everyone would receive far more than they had given up, but that the rewards would not necessarily be the way people expected. In Matthew 19:30 he stated, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” He then gave a parable to help them understand what he meant.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.” (Matthew 20:1-7)
Jesus compared the reward system to that of a landowner who needed his crops harvested. Early in the morning he went to the marketplace and hired everyone who was there to help harvest his crops, agreeing to pay each one a standard day’s pay for the standard twelve hour day. He sent them to work, but there was not enough workers, so about nine o’clock he went back to marketplace and found some men who hadn’t found work yet. He offered to pay them what was right if they would go work the remaining nine hours.
Since there still weren’t enough he bent back about noon and about three pm. And offered to pay them what was right for the time they would be working. Finally, about five o’clock he went out and found some men looking for work. When questioned he found out they had spent the day traveling around and found no work. They were waiting in the marketplace hoping someone would hire them for the following day. Though there was only a short time till quitting time the landowner offered to pay them whatever was right if they would go work for the hour that was left. Though an hours pay wasn’t much, it was better than nothing so they went to work.
“So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. ” (Matthew 20:8-10)
“And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. ” (Matthew 20:8-12)
Under the law, each worker was to be paid daily so he had money to pay that day’s expenses. The landowner started by paying those who had only worked an hour a full day’s pay. Those who had worked more hours assumed he would pay them more. They all received the same pay, and began to gripe that they had done more work during the hottest part of the day. It wasn’t fair that those who had only worked an hour received the same amount.
“But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Matthew 20:13-15)
The landowner said they had no right to complain. They had agreed to work for the entire day for a certain amount and that was what they had been paid. They were not getting cheated. The men who were not hired until five o’clock still had to have food and clothing and a place to sleep. It was not their fault they only got to work one hour. It was the landowner’s right to give them enough so they could pay their bills if he chose to do so. They had no right to be upset because he did something nice for someone else.
“So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16)
The rewards in heaven will not be based solely on our visible accomplishments. Though they had only produced and hour’s work for the landowner, the men who were hired at the eleventh hour had been looking for work all day. They had done as much as they could in their situation. A man like Jeremiah, who faithfully preached the word for forty years and no one listened will receive the same reward as a man like Peter who had about three thousand saved on the day of Pentecost. Though their results were vastly different, each was simply doing what he was supposed to, and both deserve the same reward. God is not obligated to reward us on what we think we deserve. His idea of what we deserve may differ greatly from what we think, but as II Corinthians 10:18 says, “For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.”
Instead of worrying about who has the biggest church or won the most people to the Lord, we need to focus on doing our best at the job he has given us.
Monday, July 21, 2014
“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” (Matthew 19:13-15)
The disciples were concerned that the children would distract people from hearing what Jesus had to say, so they told the people no to t bring them. Jesus told them to allow the children to come because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people with childlike faith. A few years ago a number of churches forbade their people to bring babies or small children into the main service because they might create a distraction and quench the Holy Spirit. Apparently the God they serve is not strong enough to overcome a crying baby, or it doesn’t matter that Jesus said not to stop them. Jesus took time for those little children right then.
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16-17)
The young man literally asked what he had to do to be assured of salvation, of eternal life. Jesus challenged him calling him good since only God is good, effectively asking him to commit to whether he believed Jesus was God or not. He then said that whether the young man got eternal life or not depended on whether he kept the commandments.
He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:18-20)
The young man asked which commandments Jesus meant, indicating he didn’t consider them all of equal importance. When Jesus began listing them he said he had kept all those since he was child and asked what else he was missing.
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:21-22)
Jesus said there was one keeping him from having eternal life. He would have to get rid of his belongings and follow Christ. That was more than the man was willing to do, and he walked away. Jesus said all the law could be summed up in loving God with everything we had and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. While he kept the outward appearance of the law, the young man never got to the core of it, loving God more than anything else. His belongings meant more to him than either Christ or salvation. He demonstrated what Luke 14:33 says, “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)
Proverbs 10:15 and 18:11 both state, “The rich man's wealth is his strong city…” Rich people tend to depend on their wealth to keep them safe. It is far harder for most of them to turn loose of their sense of security and trust God than it is for a person who has no sense of security. Very few are ever willing to make the choice.
The walled cities shut their main gates at night to keep out enemies. A smaller, more easily defended gate that would only one person at a time through was left open to allow access by citizens who might need to get in or out after hours. Because it was so small, it was refered to as the eye of the needle. A camel would have to get down on it’s belly and scoot through the gate. It was very difficult to get one through, but Jesus said it was easier than getting a rich person to trust God enough o give up his belongings, and unless they are willing to, they cannot be saved.
“When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)
When the disciples realized what Jesus said was required for salvation, they asked who could ever be saved. Clearly more was required than simply being baptized or repeating a special prayer.
Jesus said it was impossible by human power and depended on God’s. In John 6:44, he said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him…” They can’t get saved unless God gives them the desire. No amount of psychological or emotional pressure can cause them to get saved.
Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God…” Salvation is a gift from God, by his grace. It is obtained through faith, and the faith comes from God rather than our own mental determination. We cannot make ourselves believe enough to save us. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves except accept his gift.
“Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19:27-30)
Peter, Andrew, James, and john had given up ownership of fishing ships to follow Christ. Matthew had given up a lucrative career as a public employee, and others had given other careers. It would be hard to go back and start over, and the longer they waited the harder it would get. Peter was asking for reassurance that there would be benefit to them in the long term. Jesus stated that because they followed him, they would each have a throne in heaven and lead the twelve tribes of Israel along with Christ when he assumes his heavenly throne. They are twelve of the twenty four elders described in Revelation 5.
In addition, everyone including themselves would be given far more than they had lost by choosing to serve God, whether they lost their parents, their children, their relatives, or personal property. They would receive a hundred times as much as serving God had cost them. Ultimately they would gain far more than any temporary loss. It was and is the best possible investment.
Friday, July 18, 2014
“And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan; And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.”(Matthew 19:1-2)
Most of Jesus’ early ministry was in northern Israel, all around the Sea of Galilee northward into Syria and west to the Mediterranean coast. After about a year, he ventured down to the region of Judaea along the east side of the Jordan River, avoiding Samaria. Large crowds followed him and he healed them where he found them.
“The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:3-6)
Jerusalem was the home of the Pharisees and they knew about the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees in Galilee. They met him with the intent of discrediting him, confident they were better trained than the ones in Galilee. Divorce and separation had become a major issue as Greek and Roman influence spread in Israel, so they used it to try trick him into making statements that they could contradict based on their interpretation. They were literally asking him what were the proper grounds for a divorce.
Jesus started with the basis of marriage, that God had created man and woman and had declared that when they were united they were a single body joined by God and that no human entity, whether government, church, or individual had the right or authority to separate them. No one has the authority to grant a divorce except God.
They thought they had him at that point because the law made specific provision for getting a divorce. Deuteronomy 24:1-2 was quite clear, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.”
“They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (Matthew 19:7-9)
How could Jesus say no one had the right to grant a divorce when Moses had been so clear in Deuteronomy 24:1-2? Jesus pointed out that that was no in the original covenant with God, but was stated by Moses forty years later, just before they entered Canaan. Moses had added it as a concession to their unwillingness to work things out. God’s standard was that anyone who separated from his wife for any reason other than her sexual infidelity and had sexual relations with someone else, even if they married them, was guilty of adultery, and under the law that called for the death penalty. Anyone who married the woman who had been divorced was also guilty of adultery.
In I Corinthians 7:10-11, Paul commands, “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” Paul recognizes the separation, but indicates that as far as God is concerned they are still married. They can either get back together or remain single. But they are not free to marry someone else.
“His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)
After hearing Jesus teach, the disciples had the same attitude that is common today, that it would be better to not marry than to be stuck with an unsatisfactory marriage for life.
“But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Matthew 19:11-12)
Food is essential for the body, and the body is made specifically to handle it. In the same way, our body is designed to require a spiritual relationship with God and God is seeking that relationship. I Corinthians 6:13 compares sex with these two needs and points out that sex is not a need, but only a desire. “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.”
Jesus pointed out that some people are born without the ability or desire to have sex. Others are surgically or chemically neutered so they have no craving. Others voluntarily choose nto to have sex in order to please God. Marriage is not and essential of life, but God has not forbidden it either. Some people may choose not to marry to better please God, but celibacy is not for everyone. It is their choice.
Paul says basically the same thing in I Corinthians 7:6-9. “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”
Paul ultimately concludes that while marriage is good, celibacy is even better in I Corinthians 7:38. “So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.” Once they are married, they give up their freedom of choice. In I Corinthians 7:39. Paul continues, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” Only if the mate dies is one free to remarry.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
Jesus had just explained how to approach resolving problems in the church, confronting the person and making sure both that they were actually in the wrong and that they understood what they had done. If they were willing to resolve the problem, it should be dropped with no further action. If they refused even when confronted by the whole church, they were to be treated as any unsaved person and not as a part of the church.
Knowing how easy it is for people to break their promises, and how hard it is to break old habits, Peter asked how many times they should forgive a person if he didn’t follow through, since everybody deserves a second chance. Since most people get upset after the second or third failure to follow through, he figured seven would provide more than enough chances. Jesus said they needed to give seventy times that many. Only someone who refused to truly forgive would remember that many times.
If we can’t take any action until they have done it four hundred ninety times, it woud seem pointless even to point out the sin. It seems like we should just ignore it until we look at Luke’s account of this event. In Luke 17:3-4 Jesus is quoted as saying, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”
We are to point out the wrong doing. If the guilty party takes responsibility for the sin and commits to changing, we are to forgive him, even if he does it again seven times in the same day. After all, breaking old habits can be really hard. On the other hand, we have no such obligation if he is not willing to take responsibility or try to change. Jesus then procceded to give a parable about forgiveness.
“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. ” (Matthew 18:23-35)
Because the servant begged him to postpone punishment, the King not only postponed it, he released the servant from any responsibility to pay it off. The same servant went out and demanded that a servant who owed him a tiny fraction of the amount pay immediately, refusing even to postpone judgment when the other servant asked for the same opportunity he had asked the king to give him.
When the king heard what he had done, he had the first servant imprisoned because he was unappreciative of what the king had one for him that he wouldn’t do the same for others. God has forgiven us simply because we asked to, but like the king, will not forgive us unless we are willing to do the same for others. It is a restatement of his comments in Matthew 6:14-15. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Ephesians 4:32 commands, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Our willingness to forgive others demonstrates our understanding and appreciation for what god has done for us.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matthew 18:15)
Jesus had just explained that things were going to happen that offended or hurt people. He then described how that a shepherd would put the others in a safe place then go out and seek one that was lost, stressing that he had come for those who were lost. In conjunction with those teachings he begins to explain how to deal with a fellow Christian who is doing wrong.
The first step is to approach him calmly and privately. Sometimes our perception of what happened is incorrect, and other times they don’t realize they did anything hurtful or offensive. The goal is not to embarrass them but to get things straightened out. If you are successful in working things out the relationship will be strengthened.
“But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.:” (Matthew 18:16)
If you are unable to straighten things out privately, then you take two or three impartial witnesses who can verify everything that is said and judge what is actually right and advise how to work things out. If they are successfully worked out, the matter should go no further.
“And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” (Matthew 18:17)
If the meeting with two or three others produced no resolution of the problem, then the person should be brought before the whole church and confronted with the whole church’s opinion and judgment so there is no question as to whether he is doing wrong. It is not just one or two people but the entire church that is offended by what he is doing. The goal is still to work things out, but if the person refuses, then the church is to put him out, essentially to suspend his membership. They are not to shun him but to treat him as they would any other unsaved person in hopes that he will decide the friendship matters more than what he is doing.
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)
Once again, Jesus reminds us that earthly actions have eternal consequences. Things that are not straightened out here will be addressed in heaven, and the goal is to work things out and make them right here on earth. The common practice of allowing the pastor and a couple of representatives he chooses confront the accused instead of following all the steps Jesus described is an unscriptural approach that frequently results in rebellion rather than reconciliation.
“Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
Many today think that larger groups have more spiritual power to get things done. Jesus said if two or three are there and in agreement, they have all the power of God present with them. God told Gideon to send most of his people home because they would depend on the crowd’s strength rather than on God. God doesn’t need a big crowd, and frequently a large crowd gets in the way, hindering rather than helping.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
Human beings tend to be very competitive, wanting to always outdo someone else, and Jesus’ disciples were no exception. They frequently argued about who would be the greatest or have the most important place. Here they were asking Jesus to tell them what was required to be greatest.
Setting a little child among them, Jesus said that the key to being greatest was to have an attitude like that of the little child. In fact. A person could not even be saved unless they were willing to set aside their pride and come as trustingly and freely as the little child. The person who would do that would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, not the person who tried hardest to get the recognition.
“And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6)
Anyone who received those who came with such an attitude in the name of the Lord, or as a Christian, welcomed Christ. Anyone who turned them away would be better off to have a weight hung around his neck and be tossed into the sea to drown. Over the years we have seen a number of churches make it clear that only people who met certain standards of race, dress or age were welcome. Matthew 19:13-14 and James 2:1-9 deal with these situations as well.
Jesus said that such a pastor or church would be better off to have their life ended than to take such an attitude. I can only guess what the punishment will be for a pastor or church which refuses to allow little children to come because they might disrupt the service, or a church which will not allow a man to take part in a service unless he is wearing a coat and tie, or will not allow someone from another race to worship. By their actions they have denied and rejected Christ.
“Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” (Matthew 18:7-9)
It is impossible to avoid hurting people’s feelings from time to time, but God takes it quite seriously. People who deliberately or thoughtlessly hurt others either physically or emotionally will be severely punished. If a person is unable to control his hand or foot or eye, it would be better to have them removed than to face God’s judgment for not stopping them.
“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:10-14)
While we may not think it matters that we hurt or ignore seemingly unimportant people, there are no unimportant ones with God. God knows where each one is at all times because Jesus came to save those who have been lost. God is like a man who had a hundred sheep, but when he missed one, put the others into a safe place and went to hunt for the lost one. II Peter 3:9 says God is “…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” which is just what Jesus said. He will not be happy if we turn people away.