God-in-a-Box–Your Inbox… for appreciating God
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Jesus continues to expose the phony leaders. “You guilt widows into giving to God, and then use it on yourselves.”
As he denounces the hypocrisy and greed of the leaders, he is sitting in the temple court where treasure chests were placed for people to bring their offerings. He notices a widow trying to approach alone so no one will notice how little she deposits.
He feels Spirit’s nudge, and interrupts his observations on Pharisees to direct his disciples’ attention to the widow. “Look,” he nods at her. He catches her eye as she turns to go, with a smile and a look full of affirmation.
His words reach her  amazed ears, “This poor widow has contributed more than all of these.” Spirit has shown him her heart of love and he commends her motive and faith. God never misses an opportunity to affirm us; if we are listening, we will hear it.
Tears fill her eyes as she realizes he understands. Her heart sings as she leaves. What she can’t know is that her story will bring more gifts to God’s cause over many years than any of the large gifts being given with great flourish.
Jesus wants us to know that man’s abuse of gifts given to God can’t keep His blessing from the giver. God delights to honor gifts from a heart of love. They are dearer to Him than huge sums given for show, and He smiles on them.
Jesus continues confronting the Pharisees…
Luke 21:1-4,  Mark 12:40-44
Now Jesus turns to the people gathered around him and says, “The Scribes and Pharisees teach you what God gave to Moses, so listen; but don’t follow them–they are phonies–blind guides! They bind heavy burdens on you, but they themselves claim exemption, not lifting a finger to what they require of you. Everything they do is to look good, loving honors and being called ‘Teacher.’ But only Messiah is your teacher.”
He flat out states that their leaders keep people from knowing or understanding God by their example, “You shut the door of heaven in men’s faces, actually keeping them from God! Yet you go great distances to make one convert, turning him into twice the son of hell that you are!”
He speaks plainly now. Their literal translations of scripture he calls perversion. He exposes their ignorance in wearing “phylacteries”–strips of parchment with the law written on them–tying them around their heads and wrists for show–when Moses was talking about meditating on the words until they become part of you and transform your life.*
“Call no man, ‘Master’ but the Messiah, and no one ‘Father’ but God,” he ends. One more time he has emphasized that no man should control your beliefs, conscience, or your faith. Your relationship with God is a matter to be worked out between you and God experientially. Give no man the place or authority that belongs to God alone.
Matthew 23,  Mark 12:38-40,  Luke 20:45-47   *Deuteronomy 6:8
After the Sadducees and the Pharisees make their last attempts to trap Jesus, he turns to them with a question.
“Whose son is the Messiah?”
A  chorus of voices answer with them, “The Son of David!” It’s a well-known title of the Messiah in prophecy.
Jesus asks, “Then why does David call him ‘Lord’ under the inspiration of God’s Spirit?” And he quotes, ” ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’ If David calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”
Jesus is trying to find out if they see the Messiah as the Son of God or merely man–the son of David.
They are baffled again and don’t know what to say.
The people watch closely. The difference between the simple, clear teaching of Jesus coming from an atmosphere of pure love, his total sincerity and integrity, contrasts sharply with the haughty pretention of gorgeously robed priests in glittering headdress. Priests who make a show of “faith” by writing scripture on parchment, then tying it around their heads and wrists.
The people don’t understand why their leaders don’t believe in Jesus when his teaching is so plain. They watch eagerly, not knowing what to think. They are enslaved by blind faith in a corrupt priesthood.
These chains Jesus still needs to break. One more difficult task remains before he dies: he must plainly expose the character of their religious leaders and free them from religious oppression.
Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, Luke 20:41-44
The Pharisees aren’t giving up. They believe Jesus emphasizes the last six commandments, disregarding the first four. They urge a noted lawyer to question Jesus. Warily, he finally agrees to go with them.
They arrive just in time to hear the discussion Jesus is having with the Sadducees. He is impressed with what he hears and spontaneously says, “Well said, Master,” recognizing Jesus mastery of the law. Surprised with his knowledge of scripture, he now wants to ask his question, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”
Jesus, pities him, knowing he will pay for his compliment. But appreciating his honesty and boldness in front of the people and the Pharisees, he honors him by mirroring the lawyer’s openness and candor, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” (He’s quoting Moses–but adding a dimension!)* “And the second is similar, You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”
The scholar, who understands God’s symbolism, and Jewish disregard for it, is drawn to Jesus’ depth of understanding, and commends his answer, “You have spoken well, Teacher, for there is one God, and to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Jesus sees the scowling Pharisees, and responds, “You are just one step from God’s kingdom.”
After that dual endorsement no one dared ask any more questions.
Matthew 22:34-40,  Mark 12:28-34  *Deuteronomy 6:5
While the Pharisees are legalistic and concerned with controlling all things external and behavioral, the Sadducees are intellectuals and all about science. Forerunners of the first Deists and materialists, they believe God isn’t involved or interested in humanity. Having no use for miracles, they don’t believe in resurrection either, thinking God would need to reconstitute flesh and blood–an impossibility.
Sadducees are wealthy, having the influence money brings. The High Priest is usually chosen from them, and typically they hold themselves aloof from the people. They treat Pharisees with disdain also, even though both compose the Sanhedrin.
Until Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they were aloof and disdainful toward Jesus as well. But resurrecting someone who’d been dead four days got their attention. Now they are alarmed and feel the need to discredit him.
So they come with a story. Referring to the law, they tell Jesus about a family who had seven sons. The oldest was married but died, and each successive son dutifully married his widow (according to their law) and also died. Now they smugly inquire, “In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?”
Kindly and swiftly, Jesus cuts to their core, “Your problem is you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God. In heaven, resurrected people will be like angels–unmarried.
“But about the resurrection, God spoke to Moses about dead people as though they’re alive because to Him all exist in the now, whether resurrected or dead.”
No one had a comeback, and no one wanted to set any more traps.
Matthew 22:23-33,  Mark 12:18-27,  Luke 20:27-39
When King Solomon’s temple was being built, the stones were prepared for building at the quarry. No tools were to be heard on site. The stones were brought and fit seamlessly together in their places.
One unusually large stone was brought to the site that didn’t seem to fit anywhere. It became  annoying to the builders. It seemed always in the way, and they stumbled over it. It laid in the baking sun, the contracting frost, and the beating rain.
Then when the builders were looking for the stone to use as the cornerstone, to hold the weight of the entire building, they tried many stones that broke apart when they were put through various tests of atmospheric pressure and weight.
Finally someone noticed the huge rejected stone that had been laying around so long. The builders put it through one last test–severe pressure. It passed, was put in, and found to fit perfectly!
This story had become part of Jewish tradition, a prophecy of Messiah; and now Jesus refers to it, applying it to himself. He didn’t fit their concept, wasn’t what they wanted in a Messiah, and yet his suffering passed the test of extreme pressure, enough to redeem Adam’s guilt and that of the whole broken world–conquering evil and the whole dark side.
Jesus is the Cornerstone for those wanting a new life. Anyone who builds a future on him will never be disappointed. Think of it! Never disappointed!
Matthew 21:42,  Mark 12:10-11,  Luke 25:17-18,  Psalm 118:22-23,  Isaiah 28:16,  1Peter 2:6-7
Jesus has the Pharisees’ attention, and knowing his death is a few days away, he speaks boldly, trying with everything he has to open the eyes and hearts of the leaders of his nation. This is for them.
A few Pharisees were baptized by John, but for the most part, the leaders rejected that he had come from God.* (However, the tax collectors and prostitutes responded and received John’s baptism.)
“Listen to another parable,” says Jesus, “A vineyard owner sends servants to collect his share of the harvest. But the tenants beat and kill his messengers. The owner can’t imagine that they would harm his son, so finally, sure they will reverence him, he sends him. Somehow the tenants crazily reason that if they kill the heir, they will get the vineyard, so they kill him too.”
Then Jesus asks, “What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do when he comes?”
Jesus is addressing everyone, but the Pharisees, drawn-in, answer, “He will destroy those terrible men and rent out his vineyard to responsible tenants!” They don’t realize until too late that he is talking about them, and they have just condemned themselves. Unwittingly, hearts crack open.
With pitying tenderness Jesus faces them, “Haven’t you read, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?’ I know you have.”**
He is referring to a metaphor of Messiah that they know well; the cornerstone prophecy in Psalms and Isaiah that became an actual occurrence in the history of building Solomon’s temple. Any honest heart had to get it.
Matthew 21:33-46,  Mark 12:1-12,  Luke 20:9-19   *Luke 7:30   **Psalm 118:22-23,  Isaiah 28:16
Tuesday morning, after spending the night on Olivet again, Jesus and the disciples walk to the temple passing through the orchard and see the withered fig tree. Amazed, they comment, and Jesus gets to explain his “strange act.” Giving up on the Jews, accepting their rejection, is extremely hard for him whose nature is to bless and heal.*
In refusing to give, they have become incapable of giving–or truly receiving. Pretentious self-focus is destroying them–creating closed systems.**
The Sanhedrin plots to draw Jesus into declaring oneness with God, blasphemy by their law, condemning himself to death.
They find him teaching in the temple and ask, “What gives you the right to act like you do?”
Jesus, knowing their intent, asks them a question, “Did John’s authority to baptize come from God or men?”
After talking amongst themselves, they knew they would condemn themselves with either answer, so they opted for, “We don’t know.”
“Then I won’t tell you about my authority either.”
Jesus doesn’t take their bait. He knows they want to get him for claiming oneness with God. So he asks them why they hadn’t accepted John.
“A man had two sons and he told both of them to go work in the field. The first said ‘No’ but changed his mind and went. The second said, ‘I will, sir’ but didn’t go. Which one honored his father?”
“The first,” they answer quickly.
Sadly, Jesus says, “Your pretense of obedieince is like the second son’s. The tax collectors and prostitutes are recognizing and entering God’s kingdom ahead of you.”
Matthew 21:23-32,  Mark 11:27-33,  Luke 20:1-8   *Isaiah 28:21, Micah 7:18, Ezekiel 33:11   **Hosea 13:9, Jeremiah 6:19
A crowd all but runs from the temple, meeting others who are looking for Jesus. Hearing their account, some turn back afraid, but many press on to see the one they’ve come to as their last hope.
Many had stayed in the temple also, hearts thrilling at the power of his majesty, so seldom shown like this.
Jesus heals the sick and dying, and takes the children on his lap receiving their grateful kisses. Everyone, especially the children, shouts praises to God which come alive, bouncing off of marble walls and floors.
What a different scene the priests and rulers witness as they slowly return! They fear Jesus will take the throne of David, but they find people rejoicing in new health and ability, their praises ringing. For a time they stare, stopped by the wonder, unable to move.
The celebration of praise calms into little ones falling asleep in Jesus arms as he teaches the people seated around him.
The priests recover themselves, and press forward, shushing the still-exuberant children; the sound of their unrestrained voices, their dancing, running feet, offends them. But their words have no effect at all, so they speak to Jesus.
“Do you hear this? Stop them!” they say to him.
“Haven’t you read?” asks Jesus, “Out of the mouth of babes You have perfected praise,” He quotes David. Prophecy is being fulfilled!* They know the prophecy, and he knows they know it.
Matthew 21:14-,  Mark 11:18-,  Luke 19:47-   *Psalm 8
From the fig orchard, Jesus and disciples arrive at the temple Monday morning, and find worse mayhem than when he cleaned out the greed mongers three years earlier–a veritable cattle yard.
It’s Passover week and the city is filled with travelers. Sellers are bickering over the high prices of animals for sacrifice, combined with priests arguing over exchange rates for temple coins. Animal cries add a din of sound and confusion. These dignitaries of the temple were so controlled by greed they were like thieves.
Jesus stops and looks, thinking how little his sacrifice will be understood by these who have multiplied sacrifices with no meaning, no symbolism. A literal blood bath for what? The very symbols pointing to him were means of making money.
But instead of tears now, divine anger flashes through, and once again every eye is drawn to him. He seems larger than life, his displeasure seems like consuming fire. The spreading silence is eerie.
Once again his voice rings like a trumpet, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves. Get these things out of here!” As he turns their tables over, traders, priests, and rulers flee.
Since the last time they had run from him, they had wondered why, embarrassed that they hadn’t stood up to him; thinking it couldn’t happen again. Yet now they feel more fear than before. They can’t leave fast enough, merchants driving their cattle before them, the priests fleeing beside them.
Matthew 21:12-13,  Mark 11:15-17,  Luke 19:45-46