Character of Jesus 73

The Character of Jesus 73

What is the Greatest Commandment?

(Matthew 22:34 – 40, Mark 12:28 – 34, Luke 20:40)

  • Characteristic:  Consistency, connecting everything to a central theme
    • Following the Matthew account
    • (34 – 36)  Various positions were held by various rabbis concerning this question.  The objective of the Pharisees was to create enough discord to discredit Jesus, if only within certain groups.  Some of the popular answers were sacrifices, phylacteries (Deuteronomy 6:8 – 9), purification, and festivals.
    • (37 – 38)  Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 – 5 as the greatest commandment.  The Mark account includes verse 4.
    • (39)  Jesus cited as the second but equal command, Leviticus 19:18.
    • (40)  Jesus’ reason for putting these two as the greatest commandments was that these provide the framework or the rationale, whereas the others were details of how to act this out.  The reference to “the Lord your God” established monotheism.  The reference of “love” of God dictates the attitude of family (doing what is best for the other regardless of the effect on me), which would encompass sacrifice, purity, and festivals.  The attitude is neither service nor authority.  “Heart, soul, and mind” placed this connection to God as the foundation for all of life, not just a means to an end.  The Leviticus passages, using the same “love” attitude, establishes the foundation for relationships between people and with oneself.  Note the similarity to 1 John 3:23.
  • Application:  Consistency, connecting everything to a central theme
    • What would various churches put forward as the greatest commandment?
      • Worship
      • Purity
      • Obedience
      • Doctrine
    • Do church-goers today have a central theme that ties everything together?
    • Do church-goers today look for or expect a central theme?

Character of Jesus 72

The Character of Jesus 72

Sadducees and the Resurrection

(Matthew 22:23 – 33, Mark 12:18 – 27, Luke 20:27 – 39)

  • Characteristic:  If it sounds complicated, it’s probably wrong
    • Using the Luke account
    • (27)  The Sadducees taught that one lived on through their descendants, and denied that people had eternal spirits.  Further, they denied the existence of angels and demons (spirits of any kind).  Only God was Spirit.
    • (28)  Deuteronomy 25:5 – 10 has the rules about “levirate marriage.”  “Levirate” is derived from the Latin word for “husband’s brother.”  The prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s sister-in-law (Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21) is easily explained by the fact that the widow is no longer married to the deceased, so is no longer the brother’s wife.
    • (29 – 33)  This hypothetical situation was invented to make the idea of resurrection look silly.
    • (35)  “To attain that age” is to attain an age where marriage was customary.  No Scripture suggests that the residents of heaven marry.
    • (36 – 38)  Jesus made the assertion about resurrection first, then proved it with the burning bush scene (Exodus 3:1 – 6, 15).  Everyone agreed that God’s name (in English) is “I am.”  “Am” is present tense, yet Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had all been dead for centuries when God asserted in the present tense that He is their God.  Jesus’ point was that God would not be so inaccurate to establish His name in the wrong verb tense, and continue using it for a thousand years through all the prophets.
    • (39 – 40)  Even some of the Sadducees commented that Jesus had answered well.  It is unlikely that any Pharisee had even come close to such a reasonable answer, so they anticipated that Jesus would do no better.
  • Application:  If it sounds complicated, it’s probably wrong
    • What afterlife questions are commonly asked?  Would this answer help?
      • Where do faithful dead folks go?
      • Are they conscious?
      • If conscious, what do they do?
    • What other “gotcha” questions are common?  How can they be answered simply?
      • Father, Son, and Spirit: three gods?
      • Die on the way to the baptistery
      • Unbelieving husband forbids wife to attend or even read Bible
      • Sin, but die before repenting
      • What about those who never heard
      • Why does God allow evil or disaster
      • A loving God could not condemn
      • Love lets people get away with stuff

Character of Jesus 71

The Character of Jesus 71

Question about Taxes

(Matthew 22:15 – 22, Mark 12:13 – 17, Luke 20:20 – 26)

  • Characteristic:  Keeping it simple
    • Using the Matthew account
    • (14 – 15)  The Pharisees and Herodians were bitter enemies.  The Pharisees sought to perform all things in the Law, although their methods became complex when trying to explain applications of items in the Law that were not very specific.  The Herodians were quite willing to compromise the Law for the sake of peace with the Roman Empire, agreeing that the family of Herod were the rightful heirs to David’s throne.
    • (16 – 17)  Roman coinage was used for all common transactions.  Jewish coinage, controlled by the High Priest, was used for Temple contributions (hence, the money changers).  As a vassal state of the Empire, Israel (or, in this case, Judea, since the country had been split into several pieces after the death of Herod the Great) paid a substantial tribute annually.  The people greatly resented it.  Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37), about 20 years earlier, had stirred up a revolt over this.  It appeared that Jesus would need to alienate the people or advocate defying a Roman tax.
    • (18 – 21)  Jesus refused to co-mingle the things of the kingdom of God with the things of the outside world.  The concept is expanded in Romans 13:1 – 7.
    • (22)  Neither side was able to object.
  • Application:  Keeping it simple
    • In what ways has the kingdom of God been used to avoid taxation?
      • In the US, tax exemption of chruch property only became federal law in 1913 when the system of non-profit corporations was established (although whis was attempted in 1894, but was soon found unconstitutional)  This was already the custom in all states, some states making church property tax exempt in the late 1700’s.  But, at least three presidents tried to reverse it, deeming it unfair to other property owners.  The Supreme Court in 1924 settled the issue by declaring that such non-profits provided useful services and lowered governmental expenses.
      • Various governments have tried to tax church property but gave up the idea when the Catholic church threatened to withhold absolution from everyone in that country.
      • Unfortunately, a significant number of non-profits have little public benefit.
    • How do we maintain this separation when the government appears to be encroaching on the things of God?
      • Obama-era requirement that non-profits provide abortion services in their health plans.
      • Discrimination lawsuits against denomonations that “ordain” only men and no homosexuals.
      • Recent bans on public gatherings.
    • How does Jesus’ example solve these problems?
      • The kingdom of God is not about physical government.
      • Keep it simple.  Find a way to obey the government and God.

Character of Jesus 70

The Character of Jesus 70

Three Parables about Following

(Matthew 21:28 – 22:14, Mark 12:1 – 12, Luke 20:9 – 19)

  • Characteristic:  Follower
    • Using the Matthew account.
    • In asking about authority in Matthew 21:23 – 27, the chief priests and elders really were asking, “Why should I follow you?”  So, Jesus addressed the nature of following.
    • (28:28 – 32)  Following requires performance, not just claims.
      • Jesus did not force the chief priests and elders to admit that John was from God.  He just went on with His point as if they had agreed.
      • Refusing to follow was to refuse righteousness.
      • Their continued refusal exposed their stubbornness.
    • (21:33 – 46)  Following requires fulfilling the contract.
      • Having claimed to be the leaseholders of God, the chief priests and elders were obligated to carry through on the agreed terms (the Messiah), even though they later decided that they did not want to pay the lease payment.
      • The servants in the parable represented the prophets.
      • Even though the Messiah had been predicted to be unconventional, the chief priests and elders were obligated to follow because they had made that promise.
    • (22:1 – 14)  Following requires treating obligations with respect.
      • The point of this cultural situation was respect.
      • The king would not be thwarted from his objective of having a suitable wedding feast.  The disrespect of the original guests was not allowed to affect the outcome.
      • Even among the second set of guests, respect was expected.
  • Application:  Follower
    • In what ways does the modern church make claims of following, but fails to follow through?
      • Developing the character of Jesus.
    • In what ways does the modern church highjack the contract, perhaps because they had not anticipated exactly what they would be required to follow?
      • Establishing authority
    • In what ways does the modern church fail to show respect?
      • Church activities becoming low on the priority list.
    • From the positive side, on what aspects of following should the followers of Christ focus?
      • Trusting God
      • Selfless concern for people
      • Priority for communing with fellow believers

Character of Jesus 69

The Character of Jesus 69

Chief Priests Challenge Jesus’ Authority

(Matthew 21:23 – 27, Mark 11:27 – 33, Luke 20:1 – 8)

  • Characteristic:  Selflessness
    • Following the Matthew account, although all three are nearly identical.
    • (23)  “As He was teaching.”  Jesus easily could draw a crowd to hear what He had to say.  All manner of rabbis taught there regularly.
    • (23)  Chief priests and elders.  These primarily would be Sadducees, but some Pharisees would be among the elders.
    • (23)  “By what authority.”  Over the previous several centuries, the regulation (not in the Law of Moses) was established that one had to be endorsed by three rabbis before teaching.
    • (24 – 25)  Jesus’ question of them bore directly on the answer to their question.  The “authority” of John the Baptist arose from his well-known miraculous birth and the prophecy of his father, Zacharias (Luke 1:5 – 25, 57 – 80).
    • (25 – 26)  The challengers missed the point of the example of John (that John’s “authority” came from the same place as Jesus’).  They were much more interested in political position than truth.
    • (27)  I suspect that the wiser heads in the crowd understood what had just happened.  Jesus was not being evasive.  Rather, He had answered their question, but they were too political to see it.  God had endorsed John as evidenced by Zacharias.  God had endorsed Jesus by His many miraculous works.
  • Application:  Selflessness
    • The heart of authority is self-centeredness.
      • Some sincerely believe that they should be in charge, which implies that followers require control, which denies liberty.
      • Even well-meaning authority stifles discussion of other ways to look at things (right or wrong), so errors cannot be weeded out over time.
      • Authority figures eventually oppose other authority figures, resulting in division.
      • Authority figures not being given for the modern church, those who adopt such positions must, by necessity, invent the requirements, so God is not part of the process.
      • Authority figures are counter-productive to the goals of the church.
    • How can selflessness lead?
      • Certainly, those who claim authority will induce the weak to follow them by a variety of methods, none of which involve growing the liberty and faith of others.
      • Jesus spoke from the selfless position of becoming consistent.  His teachings were thought-provoking, but not complicated.  He started from common understandings of right and wrong and applied those same truths to new areas.
      • Liberty will develop a smaller following, but they will be more aware and have a sounder foundation of faith.
      • Liberty encourages and develops the goals of the church (a big family that will last).  Those to whom others listen are promoting the hearers, not the authority.

Character of Jesus 68

The Character of Jesus 68

The Fig Tree

(Matthew 21:18 – 22, Mark 11:12 – 14, 19 – 25)

  • Characteristic:  Rememberable demonstrations
    • Following the Mark account
    • (13)  It was not the season for figs.  In this agricultural country, this would be common knowledge.
    • (14)  Based on Jesus’ demonstrated character, cursing the tree was not petty vindictiveness.  Besides, the tree was just doing what trees do.  So, this must be the start of a dramatic illustration.
    • (20)  The Matthew account seems to imply that the death of the tree was immediate.  But, Matthews definition of “immediate” is not given.  The two accounts may be made to harmonize rather than be in conflict.  A tree going from fully leafed to totally dried up in 24 hours could accurately be called “immediate.”
    • (21)  Peter knew there was something to be learned there, so he asked.
    • (22 – 25)  Jesus had set up the cursing of the fig tree as an illustration of faith.  Successful prayer has certain requirements:
      • Without doubt.
      • Confident that the request will happen.
      • Forgiving others so that God will push aside your past “missteps” (the literal translation of trespass, implying the error was due to trying clever circumvention).
  • Application:  Rememberable demonstrations
    • The fig tree has no religious significance and no literary connection to faith or prayer.  Jesus demonstration was almost silly.  But I doubt anyone forgot either the event or the point.  What might we do that is similarly odd but obviously miraculous?
    • Do we think we can do such things through prayer?
    • Are we confident (without doubting) in the efficacy of prayer to the point that we say it in front of others?
    • Do we forgive (push aside past missteps to re-establish a relationship)?