Monday, July 2, 2012

The Teachings of Jesus (VI), Week 27: Jesus' authority challenged and answered (Mt 19:1-25:46)

If you have been following along in my "Words of Jesus" series, I hope that the first half of 2012 has been as rich in spiritual growth for you as it has for me. Understand that when I write these posts I often learn dramatically more myself than I ever knew about it; I am reading commentaries and looking at context and often coming out with a totally different view of what Jesus said than what I previously had believed. I hope that it has had similar results in your heart; that the words of our Lord have been a fountain inside you.

So now, as we enter July, we begin the last large section of teaching by Jesus in Matthew's Gospel--Matthew 19:1-25:46. I think a few moments of review are useful.

When we began the year, we noted that in Matthew's Gospel, the teachings of Jesus seemed to be arranged not chronologically as much as topically. Thus we decided to study them in the six logical sections that they were organized by Matthew.
* In Mt 5:1-7:29, we learned what Jesus had to say about the Mosaic Law.
* In Mt 9:35-10:42, we heard what Jesus had to say about discipleship.
* In Mt 13:1-52, we examined several parables used by Jesus to teach about the kingdom of God.
* In Mt 15:1-20, Jesus again spoke on Judaism, this time upending the Jewish understanding of ritual purity.
* In Mt 18:1-35, Jesus lamented the temptations of sin and forcefully commanded us to forgive one another when we are wronged.

Now we reach the last series of teachings--and it seems to me that at least in this case, it is the last series of teachings both organizationally in Matthew as well as chronologically in His life. As Jesus approaches His impending death, His fame has spread to dramatic new heights. He has been going around performing great healings, raising people from the dead, upending the Jewish religion, and claiming to be the Christ/Messiah as prophesied in Scripture.

C.S. Lewis once pointed out that the things Jesus said were so outrageous that you cannot simply dismiss Him as a wise philosopher. You must either call Him a lunatic; you must call him a liar or devil; or you must worship Him as God. If you read this blog, chances are you chose the last, and I think with good reason.

Well, coming into this set of Scripture we will see that the Jews had come to a similar conclusion. Jesus is no longer being viewed as a rabbi or a crazy street preacher. He is a menace to the fabric of Jewish society. Some of the Jews had decided He was Messiah and began to follow Him. But a great many others had--as Lewis said--dismissed Him as either a lunatic, a liar, or a devil.

It is at this point, when people began to feel the need to "choose sides" on Jesus, that we enter Matthew 19. For the next several chapters (interrupted briefly by the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem during the Passion Week), we will see Jesus undergo a relentless series of challenges from the Jews. They wish to test His teachings and try to find weaknesses. They either want Him to overtly claim to be Messiah--at which point they can have Him crucified by Rome as a terrorist/secessionist--or they want Him to say something which cannot be rectified with Jewish Scripture. They want to end His influence and dangerous, radical teachings, either by destroying His influence, defaming His character, or (in the extreme) having Him imprisoned and/or killed.

So in the next several chapters we will see Jesus responding to His critics, people who were trying to ensnare Him and end His ministry prematurely. Keep this context in mind, lest you misunderstand His answers. Sometimes He is more vague than we would like--but He was exactly as vague as He meant to be. Remember that throughout this section He is on the defensive--this is not about Him positively asserting doctrine, but about Him defending the doctrine which He had already taught. That context is valuable to keep in mind in the coming weeks.

In the next several weeks, we will see Jesus respond to:

Week 28: Pharisees trying to make Him choose sides in the divorce debate of the day
Week 29: Jesus rebuking the disciples for keeping the "humble" children away from Him
Week 30: A rich man challenging Him on how to go to heaven
Week 31: Jesus telling them that God's method of reward is not going to make some happy
Week 32: An interlude--no teaching, but a record of the Triumphal Entry
Week 33: The priests cutting to the chase and challenging Jesus' authority face-to-face
Week 34: Jesus defends His authority, 1: Parable of the Two Sons
Week 35: Jesus defends His authority, 2: Parable of the Tenants
Week 36: Jesus defends His authority, 3: Parable of the Wedding
Week 37: Pharisees try to trap Jesus on taxation
Week 38: Sadducees try to trap Jesus on the Resurrection
Week 39: Pharisees try to trap Jesus regarding the Greatest Commandment
Week 40: Riposte, Part 1: Jesus stumps the Pharisees about the Christ
Week 41: Riposte, Part 2: Jesus criticizes the spirituality of the Jews

Then, having defended His authority, Jesus gives a few prophesies before the end of His life:

Week 42: The Olivet Discourse
Week 43: On heaven: Parable of the Virgins
Week 44: On heaven: Parable of the Talents
Week 45: On heaven: Judgment Day

The next few months we will see the first-century opponents of Jesus try everything they can to trap Him. They continue to converge and come up with moral dilemmas and debatable situations to drive His supporters away. (Actually, it's not unlike the modern political system in that way.) If this discussion happened in modern day, you can picture Jesus being bombarded with questions about gay marriage, abortion, gun control, affirmative action--all of the sticky issues, in the hopes that He would say something wrong that could be used against Him.

I hope you have enjoyed the series so far and stick with us--the fireworks are about to start (and I'm not just talking about the Fourth of July).