It should be no surprise that Jesus spent much of his last few remaining days teaching the most important lessons about the Kingdom as well as warning those who refused to see the truth. These leaders, who were constantly at him, were steeped in their learning and teaching. The Pharisees were the promoters and defenders of the Mosaic Law and the Jehovah worship. They were trying to preserve the Jewish identity in a sea of Greek and Roman culture. Their focus was so great that they could not even recognize the promised Messiah as he stood in front of them. All they saw was another threat.
Let this be a cautionary tale then to those of us who have been raised in the Church since infancy, that sometimes we do not recognize the hand of God because of the traditions and thinking of man. As we look at a few of these teachings over the next couple of days I pray that we will allow the Holy Spirit to give us fresh eyes to see what many of us have been missing.
So far, since Jesus has entered Jerusalem he has chased the merchants out of the temple and has been healing people right in the face of the Pharisees who could only see him as another threat to the Jewish identity. So they did what would come natural to any of us, they asked Jesus for proof of his authority. Instead of answering right away Jesus challenged them:
“I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” (Mark 11:29-30)
They weren't expecting this. This one simple question put them in a bind because of two opposing problems. John was a prophet of the people, the first prophet in the land of Israel for a very long time. Everyone considered him a prophet, respected him and held him up. If the Pharisees turned on John, denying him as a prophet they would lose the support of the people. However, if they agreed John was a prophet sent by God they would be admitting that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God because that is what Prophet John had declared. So they chose the route of silence but Jesus didn't.
Although Jesus did not answer their questions directly he did tell them three parables all aimed at the leadership of Israel, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Chief Priests.
In the first Jesus told of two sons who were asked by their father to do something. The first said no, but later he changed his mind and obeyed. The second said yes but never actually did it. Jesus asked them which was the obedient son. The Pharisees, not seeing the point, answered quickly that it was the first. Jesus then hit them with this:
“I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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 21:31-32)
I think many of us will be surprised to see who gets in and who is turned away on the Day of the LORD. So many people in the Church are relying on traditions and good works but God judges the heart. If Jesus is not the Lord of it all he is Lord of nothing. We need to check ourselves daily and guard the truth that the only way to the Father is through the Son.
Jesus then continued with a parable about some tenants who had leased some land from a landowner. The owner had done all the work and the farmers only needed to tend the crops. When the landowner sent a servant to collect his portion the tenants turned him away, The landowner sent others and they were beaten. Finally he sent his son and the tenants foolishly thought this was an opportunity to steal the land for themselves and killed the son. Jesus asked the Pharisees what they thought the landowner would do next. Again they did not see the point of the parable and answered quickly that he would kill the tenants and rent it out to people who would honour him. Jesus then responded with:
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. (Matthew 21:43)
They finally realized Jesus was talking about them and wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the people, however, Jesus wasn't done with them yet. Finally he told them a parable to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven was like. A king was throwing a wedding banquet and had already sent invitations. It was a tradition to send two invitations. The first asked if you would be able to attend on a certain date and time. The second informed you that everything was ready and it was time to come. So the invitation being sent out now was to those who had already agreed to come. But the people refused to attend.
So the king rejected his preferred guests and invited anyone else who wanted to come so the banquet hall would be filled. At these weddings you never wore what you wanted to wear, there were specific wedding clothes. In this case it was a last minute invitation so the king would have provided, as a gift, the necessary clothing. However, when the king entered he found a guest still in his own clothes, having refused the kings gift, so the king had him removed from the wedding banquet. In conclusion Jesus gave the warning:
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)
For us these parables are all very clear. In this last one the original guests are the leaders of Israel and the nation herself. Those who were invited in their place are those who have fallen away from God and the Gentile peoples. However, the only way we can accept the invitation and be in attendance is by shedding our old selves and accepting the new clothing of Jesus Christ.
The reason these teachings are important to us and that we should pay attention is that they clearly warn us against relying on traditions and good works. There is only one way to the Father and it is through Jesus Christ. There is no religious system that will get us there, nothing we can do by our actions, no short cuts. There is only Jesus Christ and obedience to him which is provoked by love. We cannot rely on the traditions of our church or the faith of our parents or pastors, we must have our own relationship with Jesus Christ, King of kings, Lord of lords, Son of God, Saviour of the world. Our good upbringing doesn't matter. Our good deeds don't matter. Our church attendance doesn't matter. Only a vibrant, active relationship with Jesus does. All these other things are a fruit of this relationship.
We need to be careful because Jesus warned that if we are not bearing the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit, in other words the fruit that is produced by a vibrant relationship with Jesus, we will be removed. Jesus warned that if the Father was willing to cut off the original branches from the vine we should realize that he will also cut off those branches he grafted in. These parables told in the last few days of his life here should be a stark warning to us, a cautionary tale to take this relationship seriously. Where are you with Jesus today?