God-in-a-Box–Your Inbox… for appreciating God
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The Pharisees aren’t giving up. They believe Jesus is unbalanced, emphasizing the last six commandments, and disregarding the first four. They keep urging a noted lawyer to question Jesus. Cautiously, he finally agrees to go with them.
They arrive just in time to hear the discussion Jesus is having with the Sadducees. The lawyer 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 and have 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 of dead people as though they’re alive because to Him all exist in the now, whether resurrected or dead.”
No one had a comeback, or any more traps, and they prided themselves on knowing scripture!
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. Just think of that! 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 in him 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 messenger after messenger. The owner can’t imagine that they would harm his son, so finally, sure they will reverence him, he sends him. Somehow the tenants 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.
Now with 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. By their law this is blasphemy and carries a death sentence.
They find him teaching in the temple and ask, “What gives you the right to act as 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 opt 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, and follows with a question on obedience.
“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 13:5,6,9, Jeremiah 6:27-30
A crowd all but runs from the temple, meeting others who are looking for Jesus. Hearing the exiter’s accounts, some turn back afraid, but others 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 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.
The celebration of praise calms into little ones falling asleep in Jesus arms as he teaches the people seated around him.
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 running beside them.
Matthew 21:12-13,  Mark 11:15-17,  Luke 19:45-46
Jesus acts out a parable. Maybe it just happens. More likely Ruach set it up–its message is that important.
The fig tree along their way on Monday morning is falsely advertising fruit because figs come on before the leaves. A tree full of leaves means ripe figs. Jesus, hungry and needing food, sees none, and says to the tree, “May no one eat fruit from you again.” God hates pretense.
It was a barren tree–an accurate symbol of the nation God chose to be blessed with his message of saving love and forgiveness. The tree had put its energy into beautiful leaves instead of making fruit. Israel wanted to look good rather than know God and make Him look good–the whole reason they’d been chosen and honored as His ambassadors of Love. God needed true representatives because He had been slandered.
God had put Himself on trial before the universe. But Israel thought they were on trial, that God’s focus was on them. They taught that their goodness would bring God honor–a subtle twist on God’s goodness brings us honor. So instead of honoring God’s love and saving goodness, by meeting peoples’ needs, they focused on themselves. They honored themselves.
When their Messiah came, they didn’t comprehend their need. They didn’t think they needed a savior, except from the Romans… So they perceived him as an enemy, a heretic.
God’s love is life-energy that either melts your heart or hardens it with resistance–just as sun hardens clay but melts butter; there is nothing more He can do or give.
Cutting your life-line, makes death your only option. You destroy yourself.*
Mark 11:12-14, Matthew 21:18-19,  *Hosea 13:9

As Jesus’ procession enters Jerusalem, the priests and rulers react. They’re afraid the people will make Jesus king, so they stir up the Roman soldiers telling them it’s insurrection.

However, when the soldiers go to Jesus, he quiets the crowd, and calmly tells the soldiers that his kingdom isn’t one like theirs, and that soon he will return to his Father, and it will be too late for the Jews to accept their Messiah. He speaks with such power, sadness, and dignity that the Roman officers are moved like never before, and feel more inclined to reverence him than arrest him.

They turn on the priests and blame them for the disturbance. There is so much commotion, Jesus and his disciples pass unnoticed to the temple where it’s empty and quiet. Sadly Jesus looks around at the empty temple knowing its fate, and then they leave and return to Bethany–the disciples confused and disappointed.

When the people look for him to place him on the throne, they can’t find him.

Jesus spends the entire night in prayer.

In the morning he goes back to the temple, and on the way walks through a fig orchard. It isn’t fig season and all the trees are bare, raising no expectations; except for one fully leafed out: it promises to have fruit. Jesus is hungry and hopeful. But there’s not a fig to be found. Its pretense is offensive, especially with such need, and thinking of Israel, Jesus says, “Your chance to bear fruit is over.”

Mark 11:11-13  Matthew 21:17-19

As the joyful procession from Bethany reaches the crest of Mount Olivet, about to descend into Jerusalem, Jesus stops.
Breathtaking is the temple in the golden afternoon sun, white marble glistening like snow, gold-topped pillars glittering–a sight inspiring pride in the people, elevating their spirits more, and yet Jesus is bent over on the colt, sobbing!
Those closest wonder, Whatever can be wrong? We are ready to crown him king and he is weeping as if brokenhearted!
Sorrow overwhelms Jesus as he looks at the beautiful symbol of what Israel might have been. How blessed their future could be if they accepted their Messiah. He knows that today is their last chance to accept him. Entering Jerusalem as king, will start a rapid progression to his death in six days.
And now, overcome with grief, he thinks of the contrast between what might have been and what will happen to Israel because of their pride. Spirit shows him the suffering of the city under siege, the temple destroyed, the city plowed, thousands of crosses covering Calvary. He briefly describes it for those closest, and sobs, “How can I give you up? If only you knew Me! If you would just recognize your Messiah, I could protect you from your enemies…”*
He collects himself, and they move on down the slope to Jerusalem, people shouting and singing the prophecies, seemingly unmindful of his pain.
Priests come and object, “Don’t you hear this disturbance?”
“It is God’s time to be heard,” Jesus replies. “If they are silent, the very stones will cry out.”
Matthew 21:9-11,  Luke 19:37-44,  John 12:17-19,  Zechariah 9:9, *Hosea 11:8