January 31, 2016
Scripture and Comments, January 31-February 6
Gen. 44:14-,34, Mt. 20:1-16
Gen. 45:1-15, 1 Cor. 12
Chapter 20 continues the discourse between Christ and the disciples begun after the departure of the rich young ruler in 19:22 Our Lord is still on the east side of the Jordan, but close enough to Judea to make excursions into it, and for the Judean people to come to Him. And they do come to Him. 19:2 tells us great multitudes followed Him, and 19:3 says Pharisees also came attempting to trick and discredit (tempting) Him.
In this parable the Householder is God. The vineyard is the Kingdom of God, which on earth is Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church in the New Testament. The “work” is believing in Christ through Biblical faith. Heaven, grace, and all the things we often express in the word. “salvation,” are symbolised as payment to the workers, though we all understand salvation is given to us as the free gift of God, not earned by our works. That is precisely the point Christ is making in the parable. The Householder, God, doesn’t owe these men jobs, and God doesn’t need us to work His vineyard. He allows us in because He is merciful. So, those who come to the vineyard at the first call are receiving God’s grace, just as much as those who come at the eleventh hour. Beyond this, the parable has two primary meanings.
First, most of the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They consider themselves to be those who come to the vineyard at the first call. In their minds, they have worked hard and faithfully in the vineyard all of their lives. Therefore, they have earned all the blessings God can give them. But Jesus is saying something is lacking in their service. Most of them aren’t even in the right vineyard, as our Lord will make clear by pronouncing the woes on the Pharisees in Mathew 23. But, even if some of them are in the right vineyard, and even if some are are working hard, their work doesn’t count because they are doing the wrong work. They are doing things they believe will earn a place for themselves in the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, they are trying to save themselves by their works. But their labours are in vain. Why? Because they are sinners, just like the rest of us, and the only way sinners can have any of the good things of God is if God, somehow atones for our sins and give us His blessings as the free gifts of His grace. Those, who, like most of the Pharisees, trust their good works, rather than the grace of God, will be found missing the mark on Judgment Day. In other words, they will not measure up to God’s standard of perfect holiness, therefore they will have no place in Heaven.Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Second, full salvation is given to all who have the faith I just spoke of. You do not have to be first in the vineyard, as the Pharisees considered themselves to be. Even the last one to come to the vineyard will receive the full grace and pardon of Christ. Even the last to come to Christ will receive the Spirit, the Church, the means of grace, the Bible, and Heaven at last. Why? because salvation is completely and entirely a gift from God, not payment for good works. No matter how long your list of good works may be, it is not enough to earn a place in Heaven, and, it is not significantly longer than anyone else's list. If we think of our good works as gold, and we measure them on the scales of God’s righteousness, none of us have enough gold to register on the scale. It may seem to you that you have much gold, but when it is all placed on the scale, it is no bigger than a speck of dust. But, fear not. God does not give Heaven on the basis of your ability to earn it. He gives it on His ability to earn it for you through the cross of Christ.
Someone you know may be late in life, and still not in the vineyard. Continue to pray for him, there is yet hope. You may be late in life yet not in the vineyard You wonder if God will accept you after your decades of living like a Pharisee, or even like a pagan. The answer is, yes. “Come unto me” Jesus says in Matthew 11:28. “[H]im that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” He says in John 6:37. “[W]hosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).
This is not an excuse to put off God. You may not live to see tomorrow on this earth. You may be called before the throne of God this very moment. “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not you hearts” (Heb. 3:15). Be ready, for Jesus may come for you “at an hour when ye think not” (Lk. 11:40).
Gen. 45:16-, Mt. 20:17-34
Gen 46, 1 Cor. 13
Verse 17 is a turning point in the Gospel. Here Jesus begins His final journey into Jerusalem. On the way He tells His disciples what is going to happen there. He will be betrayed, condemned, and given to the Gentiles for crucifixion (18 & 19). Our Saviour knows well what lays ahead of Him, and He intentionally goes to the cross. He truly gives Himself for our sins. He could still avoid Jerusalem. He could leave Israel and live safely in another country. Even on the cross He could easily come down and save Himself. But the point Matthew is making in this passage is that He does not. He knows what is going to happen, and He gives Himself to it. As Christ says in John 10:17 and 18, “I lay down my life.” “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” Truly, as He said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this.”
In verse 20 the mother of James and John comes to Jesus asking that her sons be seated at the right and left hand of Christ in His Kingdom. She obviously believes Jesus is going into Jerusalem to organize an army to drive the Romans out of Israel. She believes He is going to establish Israel as the ruler of the world so the Jews can live in peace and prosperity forever. She wants her sons to have preeminence in that kingdom, which will also ensure her own wealth and position.
Jesus asks James and John if they can drink His cup and endure His baptism. He refers to the crucifixion that awaits Him. James and John do not understand His meaning, yet they quickly assure Him that they are able. Christ tells them they will indeed drink and bear His cup and baptism. Indeed, all the apostles died horrible deaths, except John, and he probably almost died during his imprisonment on Patmos. James is thought to be the first Apostle to die in Christ’s service.
In verse 25 Jesus teaches them about greatness in His Kingdom. Greatness does not consist of power, wealth, and privilege, as in the Roman Empire. It consists of humility, and serving others as a slave serves his master. In verse 26, Christ literally says whosoever will be great among you, let him be your slave. He uses Himself as an example, saying even He, God in the flesh, came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
In verse 29 Jesus has crossed the Jordan River at Jericho and is in Judea on the road to Jerusalem. A crowd has gathered around Him, and, beside the road two voices are raised asking Him to have mercy. It is interesting that these blind men “see” something the Pharisees miss. They “see” that Jesus is the Son of David. They are calling Him by a Messianic title. They are saying He is the Son of David promised in the law and prophets. Remember that one of Matthew’s intentions is to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Being called Son of David by these men is one of the ways he shows this.
February 2, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple,
The Purification of the Virgin Mary
Collect for the Day
“Almighty and everliving God, we humble beseech thy Majesty, that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the Temple in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Luke 2 tells us Joseph and Mary brought Christ to the Temple after the time of Mary’s purification. This means her body has healed after the strain of childbirth, and the bleeding from her womb has ended. The presentation of a child in the Temple is accompanied by sacrifices showing that he belongs to God, and is given to the parents to be raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
As they ascend the steps to the Temple, Simeon, whom the Holy Spirit has told the Child is the Messiah, worships the Lord giving voice to the beautiful words we often sing in Evening Prayer, and which have been set to music many times since that day. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
1 Cor. 14
The religious leaders of Israel have corrupted the Jewish faith so completely it is doubtful that Moses would recognise it. Even Aaron, brother of Moses and first High Priest of Israel, though he would recognise the ritual and liturgy of the Temple, would not recognise the attitude or doctrine of the priests and people. They act and believe as though it is only important that the liturgy be done, not meant. Thus, they allow the Court of the Gentiles to be transformed from a place for Gentiles to pray and seek God, to a place for Jews to buy and sell animals for the sacrifices. It is probable that the chief priests and Pharisees receive a comfortable fee from the vendors, for the Temple court is bound to be a lucrative business location, for which the vendors would pay gladly. We can imagine the bribery and scheming involved in getting and giving the choice locations.
So, rather than being a quiet place where Gentiles can pray and talk to the priests about the faith, the Court of the Gentiles has become a noisy, smelly market and den of thieves. This says something important about Israel. She has lost her vision. She has lost her understanding of her calling, and of the purpose of God in calling her. She thinks her calling is only to offer the sacrifices and receive blessings, rather than to love God. She thinks God wants only the actions, not the actions and the heart.
Jesus, like the prophets before Him, considers this a distortion of the very essence of Israel, and a heretical perversion of the true nature and purpose of God. The religious leaders realise the wide gulf between their views and the views of Jesus. They know He wants to take them back to the original meaning of the Old Testament, the sacrifices, and the liturgies of the Temple and Synagogue. To allow that would ruin the priests and Pharisees financially and socially, and it would require them to become Biblical believers and servants of God, rather than mammon. For them facing Jesus is like facing a choice. Will they choose to remain in their sin, or will they choose Christ? They choose sin. Consequently, they oppose Christ at every opportunity. They argue with Him. They attempt to justify their actions and views, and discredit His. They form a conspiracy to murder Him, and, in a few short days they will put Christ in His grave.
In Matthew 21 Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Messiah coming to His people. He comes to judge and set right the leaders and the people. He comes as the Son of David ascending His throne and receiving the adoration of His people. Yet He goes not to the palace, but to the Temple where He casts out the vendors and moneychangers. He does not stop or condemn the lawful sacrifices and liturgies of the Temple. He does show their true purpose, which is to express the faith and love of the people, and to proclaim the grace and promises of God. He even spends some time teaching and healing in the Temple, so that, once again it becomes a place where the Word of God is proclaimed and souls are healed. But the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders, are “sore displeased” (16). Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem happens on the Sunday before Passover. By Friday evening the rulers of the Jews will have accomplished their goal: Jesus will be dead.
The village of Bethany is an easy walk from the city of Jerusalem. Our Lord returns to it Sunday night. He probably spends the night sleeping on the ground on the Mount of Olives (Lk. 21:37). Walking back to Jerusalem on Monday, probably without breakfast, He seeks fruit from a fig tree, but the tree has no fruit. It is very much like Israel at that time, like the priests and the Pharisees and the Temple and the Synagogues. Their abundant people and activity make them look vibrant and healthy, but they bear no fruit of holiness. In a similar manner, many contemporary denominations, churches, and lives are filled with religious activity, but bear no fruit of holiness, love, obedience, or Biblical wisdom. On the outside they appear to honour God, but on the inside they are far away from Him. Their religious activity makes no difference in their social, business, or home lives. They do not become “Christ-like,” they simply remain in the same ungodly ideas and lifestyles that characterise the unbelievers around them.
The disciples “marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!” Israel, too, will soon wither. Even the Holy City will fall to the very Romans the Pharisees convince to kill Jesus. Matthew 24 and 25 give our Lord’s prediction of this event. Revelation 5-11 gives a fuller account.
Gen. 47:1-12, Mt. 21:23-46
Gen. 47:13-, 1 Cor. 15
The primary point in the second half of chapter 21 is the question of authority (23-32). Jesus returns to the Temple, to be met by an angry and confrontational crowd of religious leaders, who, in verse 23, demand, “By what authority doest thou these things?” They probably refer to His driving the moneychangers and vendors out of the Temple, but their question could encompass the whole of Christ’s ministry. It is significant that they do not question that He has healed the sick, raised the dead, correctly interpreted Scripture, and cleared the Temple of its ring of thieves. Their question is, where does He get the authority to do these things?
Jesus refers them back to John the Baptist. Was his baptism, meaning his authority to preach and baptize, from Heaven (God) or man? Remember that when John was in prison he sent messengers to Jesus asking Him if He was the Messiah or not (Mt. 11:2-6). Jesus’ reply was that He does that which the Messiah does. Through His ministry the spiritually blind see God. The spiritually lame walk with God. The spiritually unclean are restored to God. The spiritually poor have the Gospel preached to them. Jesus considered that enough to convince John. And if it was enough to convince one who was soon to give his life for Christ, it should certainly be enough to convince the scholars and wise men and religious leaders of Israel. But it is not.
So Jesus tells two parables, which His opponents quickly see are about them (45). The son who repents and goes to work in the vineyard represents those who have openly failed to seek God, and those who outwardly seem to seek God, but in reality do not. This son, repents, signifying that these people realize their sin and turn to God in true faith. The second son says he will work, but does not. He represents the religious leaders who say they are living for God, but are really not. Nor do they repent. They remain in their disobedience. Thus Jesus makes His point in verse 31: publicans and harlots who repent will go into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the unrepentant, no matter how religious, will not.
Gen. 48, Mt. 22:1-22
Gen. 49, 1 Cor. 16
This passage records two attempts entangle our Lord in His talk. The attempts are part of the religious leaders’ plan to destroy Jesus. They hope to make Him say something that will cause the people to turn away from Him. Once the people leave Him, He will be easy to kill, and they, so they think, will be rid of their problem.
The flattery of verse 16 is meant to put Christ off guard, but does not fool Him for a moment. The question is meant to make the people believe He is not the Messiah. The popular view of the Messiah is that of a warrior king, who, filled with power from God, who will lead the people of Israel into a war that will crush the Romans and Gentiles, and establish Israel as the capitol of the world, with all Gentile nations subservient to her. If Jesus says it is right to give tribute (taxes) to Caesar, the people will think He is not the Messiah, and will abandon Him. If He says it is not right, they will brand Him as an enemy of Rome, and possibly convince the Romans to kill Him. He spoils their plans with His words in verse 21; “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things which are God’s.”
Gen. 50:1-14, Mt. 22:23-46
Gen. 50:15-, 2 Cor. 1
Next, the Saducees attempt to trick Christ. These men are the chief priests, and do not believe in any form of resurrection. Their question, regarding the woman’s marital status in the resurrection, is intended to confuse Christ and make the people laugh at Him. In their minds, He will have to say the woman will be married to one of the men in Heaven. No matter which one He says, they can confound Him with reasons why she might be married to another. If He does not know the answer to their question, He must not be the Messiah, so the people will leave Him and they can kill Him.
Again, He easily spoils their plan. In the resurrection people are not married. All of the ties of kinship are different in Heaven. Our relationships with one another will be similar to the relationship of angels to other angels.
He pointedly shows the reality of the resurrection, saying God is God of the living, not the dead. If He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then they live even though they have died, and their bodies will be raised in the resurrection.
Hearing the questions and the answers of Christ, the people are more convinced than ever that He is the Messiah. They are astonished, meaning, surprised, overwhelmed, and awed, by His doctrine. They go away with greater respect for Him.
In verses 34-40 a lawyer continues the barrage of questions designed to trick Jesus. He is not a lawyer as we think of them today. He is a theologian, a minister who specializes in the massive body of regulations which had largely replaced the Scriptures as the rule of life in Israel. Again, no matter which single law Jesus chooses the theologian can offer many arguments against it and for others. But Christ dismisses the man-made regulations and goes straight to the words of Scripture. The first commandment, to love God, summarises the first four of what we know as the Ten Commandments. The second commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self summarises the meaning of the next six of the Ten Commandments. Together, they express the true meaning and purpose of all the commandments and all the words of the prophets. This is what all the law and all the messages of the prophets are about. The lawyer cannot argue with that.
In verses 41-46, Jesus asks a question. The religious leaders have tried to confound and discredit him. Now He will confound and discredit them. He asks them one question in two parts. The first part, “What think ye of Christ?” has captured the imagination of preachers and commentators since the day Christ spoke the words. But it is actually the second part that is the essence of the question; “whose son is he.” Jesus asks this question knowing the Pharisees will answer as they do in verse 42, “The son of David.” And, according to the flesh, that is the correct answer. The Messiah was to be a descendant of David. That’s why Matthew goes to such great lengths to trace Jesus’ lineage back to David in chapter 1, and to call Him the son of David in the very first verse of his Gospel. Son of David is a Messianic title. That is why the blind men called Jesus by that name near Jericho (Mt. 20:30).
Jesus catches the Pharisees and scribes in His trap easily. If Christ is David’s son, why does David refer to Him as his Lord in Psalm 110:1? Jesus is making an important point about the Messiah; He is David’s Lord, meaning, God. If this is true, the Messiah is not the son of David in the same way Solomon was. Whose son is He then? He is the Son of God.
This ends the questions and the verbal traps being set for Jesus. The religious rulers find Him more adept at logic than they, and more knowledgeable of Scripture than they. Rather than confounding Him, He has confounded them (vs. 46).
Exodus 1, Mt. 23
Ex. 2, 2 Cor. 2
“Then spake Jesus unto the multitude, and to his disciples.” Having confounded the religious leaders, Jesus addresses the people gathered around Him in the Temple. The multitude includes people who have come to Jerusalem for Passover, His disciples, and the religious leaders. There has always been some question about the origin of the Pharisees, and the exact nature of their ministry. Therefore, we don’t know exactly what our Lord meant when He said they “sit in Moses’ seat” (2). But, whatever their position may be, Jesus tells the people that if what they say is in accordance with the teaching of Scripture, do it. He also warns to people not to take the scribes and Pharisees as role models; “do ye not after their works” (3). The reason for this warning is that their words do not match their actions. “[T]hey say, and do not.”
“[H]heavy burdens and grievous to be borne” (4) refers to the Pharisees’ extensive regulations and traditions, which they want people to follow in place of the law of God. Christ says the Pharisees are happy to lay these regulations on the people, but offer no help in keeping them, nor do they keep them themselves. Yet they love to be considered intensely stringent law keepers. Phylacteries (5) are fringes or pockets in their apparel containing verses of Scripture or passages from their books of regulations. They like to make these pockets very large and very visible to other Jews to make it appear that they are completely faithful and diligent about keeping them. They also love the respect their apparent dedication to the law garners from the rest of the Jews. They are like people who prominently display large Bibles in their homes, but never read them or intend to live by Biblical teachings. The Pharisees love to be given preference in social arrangements and in the synagogues, and they love to be called “teacher” and “father” by the Jews.
Our Lord warns the people, many of whom are and will be His people in the New Testament Church, not to follow their example. He is especially talking to His disciples when He says “be not ye called Rabbi (8), and “call no man your father upon earth” (9). The reason for this is that Christ is their Master, or, Teacher (Rabbi), and God is their Father. This does not mean no titles are used in the Church. It does mean all Christians are brothers in Christ, and are equally servants of God and one another (11). Titles in the Church, therefore, are more like job descriptions than ascriptions of honour, and no man should assume or accept titles that belong to God.
In verse 13 our Lord begins to address the Pharisees again. His words are scalding pronouncements of Divine wrath upon them. Their woes will be the deepest of sorrows, the kind that can only be known by those under God’s wrath in eternity. This woe will be known by these Pharisees in spite of their loud profession of righteousness and Godliness.
The first woe is found in verse 13. Here Christ says the Pharisees tell others they are not in the Kingdom of Heaven because they do not keep the Pharisees’ regulations. But, according to Jesus, it is the Pharisees who are not in the Kingdom. They may attempt to shut others out, but they are not going in themselves.
The second woe is in verse 14. Jesus says they “devour widows’ houses,” yet make long prayers. In other words, though they make long prayers and seem to be deeply devout, they plot evil against the innocent. They will swindle a widow out of her home and possessions, and leave her without shelter to face starvation and death. Then they make long prayers to show how Godly they are. Jesus does not call them Godly. He calls them hypocrites.
Woe three is in verse 15. Here Jesus says people who convert to the Pharisees’ way of thinking are being converted to hell. Amazing! There are actually people trying to win you to their religion, but their religion will actually take you to hell. The Bible has many warnings about following false teachers and false Gospels, yet they abound today.
Woe four is in verses 16-22. It calls the Pharisees “blind guides” (16) because they miss the law of God and follow their own foolish regulations. Jesus uses the example of their false distinction between swearing (making a promise) by the Temple and swearing by the gold in the Temple. The Pharisees say that if you make a promise, saying something like, “I swear by the Temple,” the promise means nothing. But if you swear by the gold in the Temple the promise is binding. Jesus’ point is that their distinction is wrong. After all, the Temple is greater than the gold. More importantly, to swear by the Temple, altar, or anything in it is to swear by God.
Part of what Jesus is condemning is deception, or, false swearing. The Pharisees’ promises are like those of a child promising to do something while crossing his fingers, as though the crossed fingers make his promise invalid. In reality he promises to do something, but his promise is a lie.
Woe five is in verse 23. Here Christ condemns the Pharisees for being meticulous in the small things while ignoring the big things. He does not say the small things are unimportant. He simply means that doing them while neglecting the bigger things is foolish and hypocritical. It is like a man who prays every night, but cheats widows during the day in business.
Verse 24 is actually part of the fifth woe which began in verse 23. It completes the point that the Pharisees concern with small matters makes them blind to great matters. Here, however, our Lord seems to make the small points of God’s law a matter of difficulty. They strain at them, like someone trying to get a gnat out of his mouth. Yet they have no problem with the massive code of rabbinic regulations. Compared to the small points of God’s law, which gives them so much trouble, their own regulations are like a camel. But, though they strain at the gnat, they gladly swallow the camel.
Woe six is found in verses 25 and 26. It concerns the Pharisees’ excessive worries about appearing outwardly pure, while remaining impure on the inside. They would, for example, never think of not washing their hands before eating, according to their standard ceremony (Lk. 11:37-42). Yet their hearts are filled with plans for extortion and excessive self indulgence. Christ says they (and we) should be much more concerned about being clean on the inside. We should desire hands that are spiritually clean.
Woe seven, in verses 27 and 28, continues the same idea of pursuing real, inward purity rather than a false outward appearance of purity. For this reason it is often considered as part of the sixth woe. This would reduce the number of woes from eight to seven, making for the seven woes against the Pharisees. Whether there are seven woes or eight really does not matter. What does matter is that the Pharisees appear righteous to other people, but their hearts are full of hypocrisy.
Woe eight, verses 29-35 demolishes a favourite pretense of the Pharisees. They love to say they would have been faithful in times when their forefathers forsook God. They say they would not have killed the prophets, they would have stood with them for the truth of God (30). Many today say they would have stood with Christ, the Apostles, and the martyrs, if they had lived during those times. Maybe so, but perhaps we should ask for faith sufficient for life today, rather than boast about how great our faith would have been then.
Jesus counters this with two points. First He says this is an admission that they are “children of them which killed the prophets.” Second, He says they will continue the very same sin. They will persecute the prophets and wise men and scribes Christ will send to them with His Gospel. They will kill and crucify them; scourge them in their synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (34). He even reminds them of a man named Zacharias, slain near the altar of the Temple. We know they crucified Christ. We also know they followed Christians from city to city, hunting them down for the “crime” of believing in Christ. Many died horrible deaths for Christ, literally fulfilling His words to the Pharisees.
Verse 35 marks a turning point in this confrontation. Here Christ begins to include all of Jerusalem in the sins of the Pharisees. He is saying the entire Jerusalem religious machine is corrupt. Outward show has replaced inward Godliness. Therefore, “all these things will come upon this generation” (36).
There is no joy in Christ’s remarks. He speaks with a broken heart. “[H]ow often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings” (37). Under their mother’s wings is the safest place a chick can be. Any danger or predator will get the mother hen first. Jesus would gladly take the danger and the wrath of God for Jerusalem. He would have the people come to Him, but they would not. They persist in their sin. Therefore, He says, “your house is left unto you desolate.” He means first, they will be left in their desolate, empty corruption of the word of God, and in that corruption, they will die. Second, He refers to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He will give more details about this in chapter 24.
Verse 39 does not refer to seeing Christ with their eyes. It refers to seeing Him in faith. Obviously the Pharisees continue to see Him with their eyes as the week continues. They see Him before Pilate, see Him on the cross, see His lifeless body removed from the cross, and probably see it laid in the tomb. But most of them will never see Him in faith. Some will, but most will die in their sins and remain under His wrath forever. Let us ensure that we see Him in faith, lest we also hear Him say, “Woe unto you.”