Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating greatness in the Kingdom, and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has, for the third time, specifically predicted his death and resurrection, though most did not understand this was the redemptive fulfillment of His life. What is coming is a sham trial, public beating and mocking, and the death of a condemned criminal among criminals. We are now in the last week of Jesus’ life. His entry into Jerusalem, his final instructions to the crowds and to the disciples, and the courage to face the cross contrary to his will but in obedience to the heavenly Father.
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. Matthew 21:28-32.
Understanding the True Nature of Repentance. In this paragraph of the two sons, a number of misconceptions about faith, the kingdom, and repentance are addressed:
First, repentance comes from one who has failed, has recognized their failures, and has turned to a different way to follow Jesus. Do you see this? God honors one who starts in the wrong direction but CHANGES HIS OR HER MIND. The pilgrim who stumbles and falls but gets up, gets his or her bearing toward the Kingdom and commits to that course.
Second, repentance is never counted to one who with a good start, turns a different direction and does not follow through. The true measure of faith is a life that follows. One of my favorite verses in this regard: 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:19. There are at least two applications to this verse, but for sure, confession, repentance should lead to a life that does not turn back, that is marked out as different, as honoring to God.
Third, the Kingdom of God is marked out by the poor, the outcast, the marginal in our society, the ones who have not, but have learned of their need, have repented, and turned to Jesus. The tax-gatherer, the prostitute. Heaven will never be marked out and attended by the "who’s who" as we know them in our world.
This passage is primarily about discipleship, about honor in the Kingdom, about "who is first," to follow the context of the Zebedee family and their request. Do you see Jesus word? "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." Greatness in the Kingdom is for the least, the lowest, the most humble, the child, the unworthy, and unfit who have in faith reached out to Jesus. What an honorable message at the beginning of this Passion week, and the message of grace and mercy at the cross. This theme is continued next week with the message of the church – Jesus who was rejected by Israel has now brought us in, the Gentiles, and He will say, ‘it is marvelous in our eyes. Matt 21:42. Best to you this week.
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has, for the third time, specifically predicted his death and resurrection, though most did not understand this was the redemptive fulfillment of His life. A sham trial, public beating and mocking, and the death of a condemned criminal among criminals. What is the main point of the cross? A ransom paid, the freeing of a slave, in this case, the slavery of sin and condemnation.
1. The Great Example. ‘Just as the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve’. This is the beginning, middle and end of the gospel message. The purpose of Jesus life, following the instruction to the Zebedee boys and mother wannabes, was ‘whoever wants to be first shall be your slave’. From he instruction that the last shall be first, and the greatest shall be the slave of all, the text moves seamlessly into the work of the cross – Jesus as the example of greatness, looking not to be served, to serve, by his life and death for mankind. This humiliation in the place of, and for the benefit of, his people, must be their example and motivation.
2. The Great Payment - A Ransom Price Paid. ‘and to give his life as a ransom’. A ransom is a price paid to free a slave, common fare and knowledge in the first century. In fact, 70% of the first century church were converted slaves, and this message had to resonate with great joy to the early believers. Because even while physical slavery and bondage continued, they were released from the bondage and condemnation of sin, and restored as children of God and able to follow in the example of Jesus. This was the purpose and climax of the Great Incarnation.
3. The Great Exchange. ‘in the place of many’. And the substitutionary atonement of the cross had as its purpose the standing in the place of the condemned. With great poignancy, Jesus was crucified between two condemned criminals. Jesus lived and died for others, for the many who both had and would believe in Him as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord.
But we live in a post-Christian era, if ever it was Christian. Our country has gone a long way baby, and the trajectory is down. We have had our basic constitutional tenants, our freedoms, our democratic way of life, our status as the country standing for a beacon for others – all challenged in the last 50 years, and the last year this freefall has escalated exponentially. The photograph above was taken on Easter Sunday, 1956, in Manhattan, New York City. America was a different place, back then.
May God give us the grace and wisdom to live with grace and truth in our communities and countries, to speak the truth in love to others, and to never recover from the Kingdom message as siin during this season, and in Jesus.
Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11
- John Moore
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom, and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently he has, for the third time, specifically predicted his death and resurrection, though most did not understand this was the redemptive fulfillment of His life. A sham trial, public beating and mocking, and the death of a condemned criminal among criminals. What is the main point of the cross? Redemption and a ransom paid, death for life, is now the message.
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:15-18
1. The Competition Continues – First a Request Prefaced with Faith. Having missed most of the message of Jesus and the cross, even to the disciples, mama now comes for her sons Zebedee and asserts a request for greatness in the Kingdom for her sons, just short of God Himself! Another gospel accounts confirms this is ALSO the request of the two sons (Mark 10:35-41). This request is twofold: first, it is asked respectfully, and we understand with faith. Meaning that this woman and her sons believed what they ask could be granted by Jesus. This alone acknowledges their understanding of who Jesus was, even if they were not clear as to what He was shortly to encounter in the passion week.
2. Second, a Request Exchanging Earthly Status for Heavenly Gain. Even so, this woman and her sons, asserting a request that would supersede even the predicted status of Peter as the Rock upon whom the Church would be built, now requests high standing before the throne of God. Hendrickson notes that ‘[this woman] was guilty of confusing earthly realities with heavenly, as if what is generally happens on earth, when men who, after a tremendous struggle, have finally reached the top, will then from their lofty perch look down upon and hold down all those below them, also applied in the kingdom of heaven. Of course, this woman is 180 degrees wrong and misdirected. This misses Jesus repeated teaching that the last shall be first, the least shall be the greatest, the servant shall be lifted up, and certainly, that death will be swallowed up in victory in the short distance left to the cross and empty tomb.
3. A Ransom Paid. What it Was and How it is Applied. Again, Jesus teaches about the ultimate purpose of his life and work, and the plan of the heavenly Father, to sacrificially send his Son as a payment for sin. A payment of a ransom is redemption, of being ‘bought back’, the idea of deliverance or liberation from a state of bondage and captivity by the payment of a price. It is the exchange of God’s righteousness, in the blood of Jesus, for our unrighteousness, our rightful condemnation before God. Following from the teaching and imagery of the Old Testament, and the Exodus following the Passover in Israel, it is payment of a price and liberation from slavery, in this case slavery to sin and condemnation to death separate from God. The Passover led to the Exodus. The payment of sacrificial blood redeemed or paid the ransom for Israel. Such was Isaiah’s powerful message:
The Suffering and Glory of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) – ‘A Man of Suffering and Familiar with Pain.’ ‘For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’
13 See, my servant will act wisely[a]; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him[b]—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. 53 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression[d] and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.[e 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes[f] his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life[g] and be satisfied[h]; by his knowledge[i] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,[j] and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[k]because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
John Stott has said: ‘the emphasis of the redemption image is on our sorry state – indeed our captivity – in sin which made an act of divine rescue necessary.
For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.
God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sins, guilt, judgement and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that.’
Such is our Easter season. Can we spend time prayerfully thanking God for this incredible gift of grace and mercy to us through Jesus, and for all who believe in His name and receive Him? Who can you pray for that God will draw to Himself also in redemption? I have my daily prayer list. Join me in the same. Best to you this week.
- John Moore
GROWTH AND SUCCESS IN LIFE
Lessons Learned at the Feet of Jesus
Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom and great crowds began to follow him. Most recently, he has been warning about money and wealth – and how it captures the heart and mind to the loss of eternal perspective and the obstacle to considered redemption. We have learned that the love of money, as illustrated by the instruction to give it away, exposes the heart and a refusal to follow Jesus. The measurement of the Kingdom is according to the hearts and minds of its followers. Now again, the prediction of Christ’s death and resurrection. What is the main point of the cross?
17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life! Matthew 20:17-19.
1. The Context: ‘So the last will be first and the first shall be last’. Tied tightly to the context, the soon-coming crucifixion and death of Jesus would illustrate this principle in the Kingdom, as Jesus ‘of the least of the last, of the One humiliated in death’. And the last shall be first, that His crucifixion would lead to His resurrection, of life over death, of ‘the last shall be first’. The context is critical for this message of the cross.
2. The Third and Final Prediction of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. Following from Matthew 16:21 and 17:22-23, now this third and last prediction, in context, teachings now only about Jesus but about the Kingdom of God. Jesus as the ‘Son of Man’ emphasizes His place was both from the humble origin of a man and from the beginning was glorious and God Himself (cf 8:20). The Twin Adversaries: (1) the religious elite and experts, all of whom twisted the Law and the Old Testament for their benefit and power – the Sanhedrin or Supreme Court, indicating that there would be a trial, and (2) Pilate and the Romans, who would carry out the sentence with cruelty, leading to the cross.
3. On the Third Day He will be Raised: This is the capstone of the gospel. Without the empty tomb we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15, 2 Cor 4). The resurrection is the core of the Christian message. It is life over death, the verification of Jesus and His message and redemption work, purchasing our salvation, and establishing the hope that we will see Him again, and that He is coming back as promised, to judge and rule the world.
So what is the cross? It is not a symbol of life, but of death, not of decoration, but a symbol of God’s plan to use the least among us to be raised to the greatest. And with the resurrection comes a message of hope, of power, of life after death, of ‘absent in the body is present with the Lord’.
Ray Stedman wrote: We must understand that resurrection power is like no other power on earth. It is unique and has no possible rival. For one thing, it is the kind of power that operates in the midst of death. It works when everything around it is dull, dead and barren. It works best in the midst of a cemetery, for that is where it was first demonstrated. When Jesus Christ was resurrected he came out from among the dead. Therefore, if you learn to live by resurrection power you can be alive and vital when everything and everyone around you is dead and lifeless.
Resurrection power is also irresistible. It cannot be thwarted or turned aside. It takes absolutely no account of any obstacles thrown in its path, except to use them for further opportunities to advance its cause. When Jesus came bursting from the grave, he paid not the slightest attention to the obstacles man had placed in his way. There was a large stone in front of his tomb; he passed through it. He himself was wrapped in yard after yard of linen cloth; he left the graveclothes undisturbed behind him. There were Roman guards in front of his tomb; he ignored them. He took not the slightest notice of the decrees of Caesar or the orders of Pilate or the fulminations of the Jewish priests.
Furthermore, resurrection power makes no noise. Other kinds of power that we know usually make some kind of sound: they pound, pulsate, throb, hum, buzz, explode, or roar. But resurrection power is quite silent. Without any display or ostentation, it quietly accomplishes its purpose though there is nothing audible or visible to mark it. When a Christian is living by resurrection power he does not advertise it or seek to dazzle others by its display. His effect upon others is quiet and unobserved at first, but soon there are evident changes that mark the inevitable effect of resurrection power at work: the return of life, vitality, excitement and joy to an individual or situation.
So this is EASTER. Prepare your mind for a great season of worship this year. Stay well.
- John Moore