Not too many of us have been in a position where we have been surrounded by people who hate us. I don't mean people who are annoyed by us or who don't like us but people who hate us enough to kill us. This was the situation for Jesus just days before his crucifixion.
He was in Jerusalem and enjoying his Father's house, the Temple. He had come to teach, to caste out demons and to heal out of his compassion. Instead, his authority had been questioned by leaders who were playing a political game, who saw him as a threat to their position and way of life. They probably even saw him as a threat to the Jewish identity. Yesterday we looked at how Jesus put them in their place and warned them that it would end badly for them. This moved them beyond being afraid of him to hating him and wanting him dead. But first they had to find something to justify their murderous intent, besides revenge for the embarrassment he had caused them.
They figured the best way to catch him was to do it with his own words so the Pharisees and Saducees united in a tag-team effort. It is amazing how hatred of a common thing can unite enemies with opposing ideologies. First came the Pharisees. They came at Jesus with the Herodians (supporters and defenders of the Herod family, a family that supported Roman rule) with a question about taxes. It was a good trap as they asked Jesus whether it was right to pay the Roman tax. If Jesus answered yes then he would lose the support of the people who were looking for him to overthrow the Roman authority in Israel. If he said no then they could report his treasonous teaching to the Roman authority. It seemed like a win win situation but they still did not understand who they were dealing with:
Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”(Matthew 22:19-21)
Then on comes the Sadducees with a question based on a ridiculous scenario. A woman married a man who had many brothers. He died so she went to the next brother who also died so she went to the next and so on until they were all dead. They asked the question, whose wife would she be at the resurrection? The crazy thing is that they didn't even believe in the resurrection. Jesus did not take it easy on them as he told them plainly that they were wrong because they did not know the Scriptures:
“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God."(Matthew 22:29)
Then he explained to them and brought correction in:
"At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:30-32)
In both of these cases Jesus took it beyond what the Pharisees and Sadducees had brought. Jesus took it to the root of the matter with the Pharisees because they were very much part of the Roman system, enjoying many of the benefits that Roman rule had brought to Israel. They made it appear as if they were religious but in truth they were holding back a lot from God. With the Sadducees Jesus made it clear that they were in error because they did not know the Word of God. They lived according to their own opinions and taught others these same opinions, which were lies. Can we see ourselves in either or perhaps in both of these groups?
The Church has changed a lot in two thousand years and we live in an age when the wolves are amongst us. False teachers are drawing away the weak and trapping them in opinions and lies. There is more teaching on the Word available to people than ever before but fewer people actually know the Word. We have a watered down Christianity, a more acceptable and user friendly version to try to keep it relevant to society today. My question is, who said it wasn't relevant in the first place?
The Pharisees decided to give another stab at it by sending an expert of the law. As far as they were concerned Jesus was just a lay-prophet, with no proper training, coming from a region of poorly educated people. An expert would surely be able to trap him with the one question that had been debated for centuries: what is the greatest commandment, the number one commandment out of the entire law? Jesus not only gave the greatest commandment but the one that came in as a close second. They were not only the greatest, they also summed everything up:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(Matthew 22:37-40)
Mark records that the expert in the law was so overwhelmed at the truth of Jesus statement, having given the answer they had been looking for in all their debates, that he could not help himself from responding:
“You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33)
He had no idea that in a few days Jesus was going to demonstrate the ultimate action of these two commandments as he was nailed to the cross in obedience to his Father and out of love for his "neighbour".
So from these three things this morning we should form a mirror to examine ourselves and ask if we are in a right relationship with Jesus. Perhaps we have all the appearance of godliness and none of its power because we are too caught up in selfish motivations. We want to look good but we don't want to pay the real cost of discipleship.
Perhaps we are sincere in our beliefs but our beliefs are all wrong. Is what we are living the truth or is it the opinions and traditions of man? Do we know the Word of God for ourselves? Do we measure the teaching we receive against this testimony of who God is, that God himself has given to us? Are we being led astray while believing that we are solid with Jesus?
The solution for both of these is found in the Greatest Commandment and the second to it. Would we consider our life one of obedience? Is Jesus the absolute most important person in our life and is our obedience to him our greatest aim? Are we totally dedicated to him, basing everything in our life on his teaching? And what is our relationship like with the people in our lives? Are we dedicated to serving them in love, seeing them grow and become better? Do we consider their needs and put those ahead of our own?
As we consider this week what Jesus went through and the price he paid for us we should also reflect on how this has changed us. If it has not changed us there is a problem. You cannot be a follower of Jesus Christ and remain unchanged. It is not a religious thing that teaches moral living. It is a holy relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth. It is a life-changing experience to meet Jesus, Son of God, Lord of all. In fact, it is a thing of transformation as he moves us from what we were and makes a new creation. Makes sure that Jesus is the center of all things for you, that he is your Lord and Saviour.