October 17, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 143, 2 Kings 5:9-19, 1 Tim. 6:1-11
Evening – Psalm 139, Ecc. 3:16, Mt. 21:17-32

Commentary, Matthew 21:17-32

The village of Bethany was 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 made them look vibrant and healthy, but they bore no fruit.  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 will convince to kill Jesus.  Matthew 24 and 25 give our Lord’s prediction of this event.  Revelation 5-11 gives a fuller account.

The primary point in tonight’s reading is the question of authority (vss. 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 (vs. 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.

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