A Trap Religious Leaders Can Fall Into

Matthew 21

33“Now listen to this story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34At the time of the grape harvest he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

37“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

38“But when the farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39So they grabbed him, took him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

40“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”

41The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

42Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone rejected by the builders has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous to see.’

43What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls. ”

45When the leading priests and Pharisees heard Jesus, they realized he was pointing at them—that they were the farmers in his story. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid to try because the crowds considered Jesus to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Jesus often spoke in parables to teach spiritual truths. In this parable, the landowner is the Lord and the farmers are the Pharisees. The servants represent the Old Testament prophets that God continually sent to warn His people, but who were constantly rejected.

In the story, the landowner finally sends his son, who represents Jesus.

In the parable, the farmers decide to kill the son because they don’t want to relinquish control and power. They don’t want to serve the owner and give him his portion of the proceeds. They want to BE the owner and keep all the proceeds for themselves.

Jesus explains the meaning of the parable in verse 43:

What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.

The fruit Jesus is referring to is the nation of Israel’s acceptance of Him as the Messiah. Since the religious leaders were rejecting Jesus, and they used their power and influence over the people to keep the people from accepting Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus is warning them that their status as God’s special chosen people was in danger. Like the farmers in the story who were stewards of their master’s land, the Israelites were simply stewards of the message and revelation of the one true God. By rejecting Jesus, this stewardship would be taken away from them and given to another nation.

What is this other nation Jesus was referring to?

Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 which was also referenced by Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-7, in which Peter says that Jesus is building a new temple made up of those who would follow Him. Thus this new nation is not a physical nation, as Israel was, but a spiritual nation with those who believe in Jesus as its citizens. I wrote about this new temple here.

Jesus was using this parable to show the Pharisees that they were rejecting the Son because they didn’t want to relinquish their religious control over the people. Verses 45-46 indicate that the religious leaders realized what Jesus was saying about them. However, instead of repenting, their inclination is to arrest him.

This parable was directed at the Pharisees and the nation of Israel and the punishment Jesus mentions cannot be duplicated for us today. So how then does this parable relate to us in our current culture? What can we learn from it?

Though we cannot reject Jesus in the same way, and thus we cannot experience the same penalty Jesus mentions, I think there are lessons we can learn from the way the Pharisees responded to God and the revelation He was giving them.

I think one potential lesson is that there is a dangerous trap for religious leaders, or anyone who is in a position of authority over others. The trap is to think so highly of yourself that you believe the people you are leading cannot get along without you. Instead of shepherding people to follow the Lord, we can become enamored with our own voice and our own self-importance and we can become consumed with gaining and maintaining a following for ourselves.

Being in authority and power over others, as the Jewish religious leaders were, can become so addictive and necessary to our own identity that we will do whatever is necessary to keep it. In the case of the Pharisees, they were willing to kill the Messiah himself to keep it.

We’re not in a position today to kill the Messiah to hold onto our power and authority, but we may still go to great lengths to keep our positions, including lying, deception, manipulation, intimidation, fear, bribery, harassment, etc.

Reflection

In the parable, God sends his messengers to convey truth but the messengers are constantly rejected. What are some of God’s messages (doctrinal truths or commands) that you find difficult to follow and are tempted to reject?

In the parable, the outcome of the nation of Israel rejecting the Son is their stewardship is taken away and given to another nation. What do you think will be the outcome for those who reject Jesus today? How will God treat the farmers of today who continually reject the messengers, including His son, whom God has sent?

What are some situations or relationships where you have found yourself wanting to maintain power and control when you know you should release it? 

Some people will go to great lengths to maintain power, authority, status or position? What do you think causes a person to adopt an “any means necessary” policy to maintain their power?

 

Photo by Alex Gorbi on Unsplash

 

When Someone DEMANDS Evidence!

Matthew 16

1One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus’ claims by asking him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven.

2He replied, “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow, 3red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You are good at reading the weather signs in the sky, but you can’t read the obvious signs of the times! 4Only an evil, faithless generation would ask for a miraculous sign, but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then Jesus left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few weeks ago, I was engaged in an online discussion with an atheist regarding the existence of God. It started off civil but at one point, even after I had presented several sound scientific and logical arguments for God’s existence, the atheist chirped back that I needed to present IRREFUTABLE evidence for God’s existence, otherwise, his assertion that all gods are imaginary would stand. (Yes, the word “irrefutable” was typed in all caps)

I’ve conversed and debated with a fair number of atheists over the years and it is not uncommon for them to demand evidence, even after evidence is presented.

One person with whom I was recently conversing told me I needed to provide “evidence” for God’s existence. I responded by asking, “what would constitute evidence to you?”

Their response was that the evidence they required was the kind I likely could not provide, as they rely on science for their evidence. It was a subtle back-handed jab that implied I must not be smart enough or scientific enough to provide the “real” kind of proof that educated people who have advanced beyond the childish fairy tale stage engage in.

I proceeded to lay out an argument for God’s existence that is based on the scientifically accepted fact of the Big Bang, which states that all matter, space, time and energy came into existence at a point around 13.7 billion years ago. Since the universe is not eternal, it must be created. Anything that is created must have a creator. That creator must be something that exists outside of space, time matter and energy. In other words, the creator must be immaterial and timeless. These qualities of this creative entity accurately describe God.

What was the person’s response to my argument, which included the kind of evidence they required? This person rejected my argument and asserted that the universe itself must be eternal.

What is the point of all this and how does this relate to the passage above?

The point is that when people demand evidence and resort to arguing, yelling, and name-calling while expecting unreasonable levels of proof in order to even consider your position to be reasonable, that is a clear sign that they actually require NO evidence because they have already made up their mind on the matter.

People like this are not actually looking for honest debate or civil discourse. They are more likely looking for an argument in which they can embarrass the other person or trap them in a faulty line of reasoning.

This was the situation Jesus was in with this group of Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16. Their issue wasn’t belief in God but whether Jesus was the Messiah. They came to Jesus, asking him to show them some miraculous sign despite the fact that they had first hand knowledge of all of Jesus’ teachings and miraculous deeds up to that point.

Jesus often spoke of the stubbornness and hard-heartedness of the religious leaders and this was just another example. Their request is the same as the atheist who declares to his audience, “if God exists, he will appear right here and right now before us on this stage”, and then when it doesn’t happen, wryly concludes, “Well there you have it folks; God must not exist!”

How does Jesus respond to these hard-hearted leaders?

Jesus tells them that just as people have the tools that enable them to predict the weather for that day, so they have all the tools to make a determination concerning Jesus and His identity. After all, they are the religious leaders and they have the Law and the prophets which give them all the signs regarding when the Messiah would come, where He would be and what He would do.

Jesus rebukes these leaders for their faithlessness and capricious demands and he tells them that the only sign they will get from him is the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Now if you don’t know who Jonah is, Jesus’ words might be lost on you.

The short version of the story is that Jonah was an Old Testament prophet who ran away when God commanded him to go to the city of Nineveh and preach a message of judgment for their wickedness. In the course of fleeing God, Jonah got thrown off of the ship he was on which was going in the opposite direction. God caused a big fish to swallow Jonah, thus sparing his life and redirecting him to the mission God had called him to.

Jonah spent 3 nights in the belly of the fish. So when Jesus says he will give them the sign of Jonah, he is referring to his death and the 3 days he would spend lying in the ground before being resurrected on the third day.

Jesus wasn’t going to respond to their request as if he were a genie who just emerged from 1000 years in a lamp. If you want evidence, look around you, there’s plenty of evidence for you to examine. But if you require evidence on demand, well, sorry, there is no dog and pony show for you. You get the same evidence everyone else gets. Jesus’ death and resurrection should be enough evidence for anyone.

Sadly though many of the people of Jesus’ day rejected this evidence just as people today still do.

Notice what Jesus did next. He left them and went away. There is no point in engaging those whose only aim is to entrap you.

When a person has already decided what they think about an issue and it’s obvious from their tone and their rhetoric that their heart is not open for discussion, then there is no point in debating or trying to reason.

As Jonathan Swift once famously said, “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired.”

Reflection

When is a time in your life when you were stubborn and proud and wouldn’t listen to reason? What were the circumstances? What caused your heart to change (assuming it did)?

What are some qualities or indicators that a person has a hard heart and is not really interested in honest, open discourse? (Tone, actions, words, etc)

What do you think is the reason some people demand evidence even when it is presented? What causes a person’s heart to become hard?

What do you think are some ways we can and should respond to people who are not open to reason and demand irrefutable evidence?

 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

 

The Sabbath Smokescreen

John 5

16So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. 17But Jesus replied, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?” 18So the Jewish leaders tried all the more to kill him. In addition to disobeying the Sabbath rules, he had spoken of God as his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

19Jesus replied, “I assure you, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and tells him everything he is doing, and the Son will do far greater things than healing this man. You will be astonished at what he does. 21He will even raise from the dead anyone he wants to, just as the Father does. 22And the Father leaves all judgment to his Son, 23so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. But if you refuse to honor the Son, then you are certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

24“I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.

25“And I assure you that the time is coming, in fact it is here, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. 26The Father has life in himself, and he has granted his Son to have life in himself.27And he has given him authority to judge all mankind because he is the Son of Man. 28Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to judgment. 30But I do nothing without consulting the Father. I judge as I am told. And my judgment is absolutely just, because it is according to the will of God who sent me; it is not merely my own.  (John 5:16-30, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this chapter, Jesus has an encounter with the leaders after he heals an invalid. A man who had not been able to walk for 38 years is healed and instead of praising God for this amazing miracle, the Jewish leaders are upset because the healing occurred on the Sabbath.

Have you noticed that the Jewish authorities are particularly hung up on the rules of the Sabbath?

There are a number of things going on in this passage that I want to draw attention to.

First, Jesus responds to their rigid understanding of the Sabbath by telling them that His Father is always working and so is He. What exactly does that mean and how does this response address the Jewish leader’s constant complaints about working on the Sabbath?

Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the 7th day. The Pharisees obviously thought that meant that there was to be no activity (or work) of any kind.

But if that’s true then it would mean God is not active during the 7th day, which we are currently in, according to the Scriptures. Jesus contradicts this idea that God is not active at all while making the point that one is still allowed to do good, even on the Sabbath.

A second observation is that the Jews were not just incensed because Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. They were also upset that Jesus was making claims of deity. Their response in this passage clearly indicates that they understood Jesus to be making himself equal to God, which in their mind was a claim to deity.

It is very common today for people to assert that Jesus never made claims of deity. However, there are quite a number of passages that clearly demonstrate that Jesus believed Himself to be God and made claims as such. This is one of those passages. I wrote about another passage here.

Third, Jesus is explicitly teaching that the Son should be honored in the same way that the Father is honored. In other words, Jesus is worthy of worship. The law taught that only God was worthy of worship so it’s quite evident that Jesus is affirming that as God, He is worthy and deserves to be honored and worshiped.

Lastly, Jesus claims authority to judge and give life, two activities that are reserved for God alone.

There was plenty of evidence that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that He was God incarnate, but the Jewish leaders rejected all evidence that pointed to these facts, including the amazing miracles Jesus performed. Instead, these leaders got incredibly worked up over the fact that Jesus healed a person on the Sabbath. And this was not the first or last time they got twisted over this particular issue.

The reality is that the Sabbath issue was merely a smokescreen to conceal the hardness of their hearts. When a person’s heart is hard, no amount of evidence or reasoning will convince them that their preconceived position is faulty. Instead, they will reach for the most mundane and irrelevant issue and make that the central argument supporting their erroneous position.

Reflection

If you encountered someone who said that Jesus never claimed to be God, what would you say in defense?

Why do you think the Jewish leaders were so upset about the Sabbath?

When was a time that you abandoned reason and logic to support a faulty position simply because you couldn’t admit that you were wrong?

What do you think are some reasons why the Jewish leaders were so resistant to Jesus, even though their teaching and training should have prepared them for His arrival?

 

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

A Pivotal Council in the Early Church

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the Christians: “Unless you keep the ancient Jewish custom of circumcision taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  2Paul and Barnabas, disagreeing with them, argued forcefully and at length. Finally, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question.  3The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.  4When they arrived in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported on what God had been doing through their ministry.  5But then some of the men who had been Pharisees before their conversion stood up and declared that all Gentile converts must be circumcised and be required to follow the law of Moses.  6So the apostles and church elders got together to decide this question.  7At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe.  8God, who knows people’s hearts, confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he gave him to us.  9He made no distinction between us and them, for he also cleansed their hearts through faith.  10Why are you now questioning God’s way by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?  11We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the special favor of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 15:1-11, NLT)


Acts 15 is perhaps the most important chapter in the entire book of Acts because it highlights an important dispute that arose in the early church.

The issue wasn’t just about the rite of circumcision. At issue was what was necessary to be saved. The dispute seemed to be led by some Pharisees who had been converted (see verse 5). These men believed that salvation was for the Jews and therefore, they believed that the only way a Gentile could become saved was to convert to Judaism. This meant adopting Jewish customs, including observance of the law.

Circumcision was really an outward representation that a person had converted to Judaism. So when these men from Judea began teaching that Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved, what they were really asserting was that Gentiles needed to become culturally Jewish before they could accept the Jewish Messiah.

So the question became: can Jesus save non-Jews, or do Gentiles need to adopt Jewish culture and become Jews before they can be saved by the Messiah?

Paul and Barnabas argued that Gentiles didn’t need to adopt Jewish customs, including circumcision, but only needed to receive Jesus by faith in order to be saved.

Peter also advocated for this position as he recalled his experience with Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10. Peter noted that Cornelius and his family, all Gentiles, had received the Holy Spirit just as the Jews had, on the basis of faith alone.

All of the church leaders agreed. The issue was settled, and from that point on, it was clear that the Jewish Messiah was not just for Jews but for all the peoples of the world. And more importantly, it was clear that the only requirement to receive the Jewish Messiah was faith. It was not necessary to become culturally Jewish.

There are important implications for us today as we seek to share Jesus with a dying world. The principle here is that we are to present Jesus to people and not our culture. Sometimes, it’s easy to conflate the two. People need Jesus. They don’t need my culturalized version of Jesus.

Reflection

In what ways has your culture influenced your view and understanding of Jesus? 

How can you ensure that when you share Jesus with others you are not taking a Pharisaical approach – injecting cultural requirements into the gospel message?