Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

1st Sunday after the Festival of Transfiguration

Which of The Two?

by Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach

Gospel: St. Matthew 21: 23-32

Matthew 21:23-32
[Mt 21:23] When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” [24] Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. [25] “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ [26] “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” [27] And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

[28] “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ [29] “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. [30] “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. [31] “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. [32] “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him. (NAS)

Matthew 21:23
[Mt 21:23] When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” (NAS)

Setting the scene
Once again, the context is critical to this story.

John the Baptist had recently been beheaded. He was popular with the people—but his finger was always pointed towards the Messiah as opposed to the central religious powers of Jerusalem. No doubt people were wondering why the chief priests had not spoken out on behalf of John when Herod first had him imprisoned and then murdered.
Jesus came overtly and symbolically riding into Jerusalem as the Prince of Peace and the people were heralding Him as the Messiah.
Jesus rode accompanied by thousands to the temple where He cleared out the "den of thieves" who were essentially racketeers for the chief priests.
As the thieves were driven out, they were replaced by the crippled, lame and poor; an army of the maltreated. Spontaneously, children poured into the outer temple and began singing, dancing and proclaiming Jesus’ rightful title as High Priest of the Temple.
Leaders of Compassion
This was the context by which our Lord once took his just place on Jerusalem’s throne. We know a time will come when he will return to claim that place again!

Three things strike me as I read the chain of events in Matthew 21:

It is exactly what our world needs today. There is a very beautiful rabbinic blessing that goes; “May your leaders be those broken by compassion.” How different our world would be if we asked our leaders; “Where does your heart break?” Perhaps the best question we could ask may well be; “Where do you serve? Where do you regularly volunteer your time?”
Compassion without deeds is pity. Compassion is accompanied by action—otherwise it wouldn’t have the word passion in it. What deeds are our leaders known for? We need to ask this of both our religious and political leaders. We can learn all we need to know about a person by where they have given (or not given) their time.
Where am I serving today to “lead by modeling” deeds of compassion?

It is exactly what our churches need today. Imagine a church filled with the praise of the restored and the shouting and dancing of children crying out: “Hosanna in the Highest!” If that sounds too uncomfortable, if it sounds too disorganized or chaotic, just imagine how much more uncomfortable heaven will feel!
What am I doing today to make my church resemble the Courtyard of the Gentiles on the day Jesus arrived in glory?

It is exactly what our communities need today. Imagine how the center of your city would look if Jesus established his kingdom in your home town as he did that day in Jerusalem. How would your downtown change? How would the economics of your community change? When I asked the kids in our juvenile detention center to create guidelines for community they would like to see for their little brothers and sisters, they came up with this statement; “A community that is physically and emotionally safe and a community of fair opportunity for all regardless of class, race, or gender.”
That sounds very much like the temple grounds on the day our Lord took his rightful seat. What am I doing this day to make my community look like Jesus is “in the house?”

Finally, the question is always personal; “Does my temple (or my daily task list and appointment calendar) resemble Christ’s temple (daily planner)—devoid of the false gods of fame and fortune and filled instead with acts of compassion, works of healing and sound of children singing?”

All these things turned out to be the precursors to the chief priest’s questioning of our Lord and herein lays the greatest sorrow. The very One whom these men had been trained to seek became the one they questioned and eventually destroyed. Jesus was the One who could bring purpose back to Israel, joy back to the temple, and hope back to the heart and yet, He was the One who drew their hatred and attacks.

Let us pray that that we will work (in our world, our churches, our communities and our hearts), to establish a kingdom that looks just like the Courtyard of the Gentiles on the day Jesus took his seat. Let us especially pray that we—who claim his title—will recognize his authority and not be found guarding the sanctuary from its rightful occupant.

Authority vs. Respect

The final thing we can learn from this opening verse is that the pious were more worried about authority than fruit. Under their rule temple authority had become the feeble substitute for prophetic compassion.

Authority is also a cheap surrogate for respect—a commodity which the Chief Priests held in low supply. What do you do when you have no fruit and no respect, but you want to hold on to your power? You seek authority—which the chief priests claimed by biblical lineage, mastery of theology and ritual and kowtowing to Rome when it met their needs.

Jesus’ contempt of the Chief Priests shows us how little he respected authority without deeds of compassion—even when that authority was biblically claimed.

A fireman once gave me a good analogy of authority versus respect. He spoke of a Fire Chief that the firemen had put up with for years. He was a controlling and nitpicking bureaucrat who wouldn’t fuly delegate the simplest task. His constant whine was; “Why am I the only one around here who gets things right.”

My friend told me that until that man retired—everyone did the least work acceptable to keep their job. However, now that he is gone and a new leader has replaced him, everyone is doing all they can to make their department one of the finest. What’s the difference? They are now working for a chief they respect.

When I asked; “Why do you respect the new chief?”

My friend answered; “Because he has given us a hard mission to achieve and he believes we can achieve it and he would never ask us to do something that he wouldn’t do himself. In short, he respects us.”


Can you think of people you have encountered that had authority without respect?
How have you dealt with them?
How did Jesus deal with similar people?
Have you ever felt in a position when you felt you were losing power and turned “authoritarian”? What caused that shift?
Looking back; was there another way to deal with the situation?
How could the presence of Christ have helped?
How do you think people would feel about Jesus “in your downtown” today?
What would threaten your community if Jesus were to ride into your downtown?
What, in us, makes Jesus seem a threat?

Matthew 21:24-27
[24] Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. [25] “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ [26] “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” [27] And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (NAS)

The only response

There are generally three ways in which Jesus responds to questioning:

He responds with a definitive answer
When people came to Jesus with a hunger and need for help Jesus never dallied. When they asked for healing Jesus gave it immediately. When they asked for comfort and salvation Jesus never hesitated. When they were hungry Jesus gave them food straight away.

He responds with a parable
When Jesus responds with a parable, it is usually to make a difficult concept easier for “the simple-hearted” to grasp. At other times, Jesus will use a parable to differentiate between God’s ways and man’s way. Quite often, Jesus will utilize a parable to correct the Pharisees and even his own disciples when they are being “complex-hearted.”

He answers a question with a question
Jesus always reserves this type of response for the adversarial, the critical, and usually for the religious pseudo-scholars. Indeed every man is merely a religious pseudo-scholar in the face of the simplest person who can point to the fruit of God in their life. For an example of this look at the blind man quoted later in this study as he questions the Religious Leaders [John 15:16-20].

Studying about God is no substitute for being his servant. There can be no doubt that we are called to passionately devour his word but only to the point that it makes us more obedient to his call. There are times--as with the Chief Priests, Pharisees and Scribes--that people fall more in love with the concept of being an elite scholar than with the call of being a lowly servant.

Adversaries still abound
Jesus knew there was no response that he could make to the priests that they would not use as ammunition to condemn him. Unfortunately, people like that are never in short supply. The world is full of adversaries. Their questioning is not for the purpose of understanding the bible more completely but to gain a victory for their pride. That is why Jesus does not answer their questions but instead places the onus of the response back into the lap of his adversaries. An adversarial person will question anyone but himself.

Paul instructs Timothy that the best response to people like this is to merely walk away, “Avoid such men as these.”

2 Timothy 3:1-5
[2 Tim 3:1] But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. [2] For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, [3] unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, [4] treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; [5] holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these.

God does not honor us when our hearts are hardened by pride. He treats us in such a way that our own words become a trap and reveal our folly. Jesus knows that directly answering the Chief Priests would merely give credence to their position. He knows that such men are only as brave as public opinion. If they think they will appear foolish they will disappear into the woodwork.

In a private conversation with one of the High Priests (Nicodemus), Jesus tells him clearly that such men only seek personal gain and that the desires of their heart will eventually be revealed:

John 3:10-21
[John 3:10] Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things? [11] “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness. [12] “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, {even} the Son of Man. [14] “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; [15] that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. [16] “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. [17] “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. [18] “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [19] “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. [20] “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. [21] “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (NAS)

Jesus clearly states that such people have already been judged for; “the light came into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the light.”

What stops the cynical?

Truth stops the cynical
The question that Jesus asks is the only one that would debilitate a cynic and Jesus uses it more than once with the pious religious.

Matthew 9:2-8
[Matt 9:2] And behold, they were bringing to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed; and Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven.” [3] And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This {fellow} blasphemes.” [4] And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? [5] “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, and walk’? [6] “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic— ”Rise, take up your bed, and go home.”

[7] And he rose, and went home. [8] But when the multitudes saw {this,} they were filled with awe, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (NAS)

Matthew 12:24-35
[Matt 12:24] But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”

[25] And knowing their thoughts He said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand. [26] “And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand? [27] “And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges.

[28] “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [29] “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong {man} And then he will plunder his house. [30] “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
[31] “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. [32] “And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the {age} to come.

[33] “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. [34] “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. [35] “The good man out of {his} good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of {his} evil treasure brings forth what is evil.” (NAS)

What does Jesus use to stop an adversary in his tracks? Deeds, fruits of the Spirit. Healing, restoring people to wholeness. No attacker can argue with the simple statement, “I don’t know as much about ‘religion’ or even scripture as I would like, but I do know what Jesus has done in my life, in my family, in the lives of those around me.”

You cannot argue with first-person testimony! The Chief Priests tried that too. Look at the incredible story of the blind man who became a witness to Christ’s authority:

John 9:24-41
[John 9:24] So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” [25] He therefore answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”

[26] They said therefore to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” [27] He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen; why do you want to hear {it} again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” [28] And they reviled him, and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] “We know that God has spoken to Moses; but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.”

[30] The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and {yet} He opened my eyes. [31] “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing, and does His will, He hears him. [32] “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. [33] “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

[34] They answered and said to him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they put him out. [35] Jesus heard that they had put him out; and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” [36] He answered and said, “And who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” [37] Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” [38] And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.
[39] And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” [40] Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” [41] Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (NAS)

“I was blind, but now I see! Explain that!” How can you argue with such a statement? The more the Pharisees tried, the more foolish they appeared.

Losing face stops the cynical
What else freezes a cynic in his path? Losing face in front of other people. When we are more concerned about what other people think than about telling the truth two things occur:

We are useless to God

We are easily manipulated by men
Jesus knew that asking the Chief Priests about the authority of John the Baptist would freeze them in their tracks. When being right is more important than being faithful our slide into deception is difficult to stop. The opinion of the crowd, the status of our position or the comforts of this world will inhibit us from being “complete” or “perfect” in the Lord (see Matt 19:16-21).

As soon as Jesus asks the Chief Priests about the authority of John, they are frozen by “what others will say.” The very men who have made a living preaching the word of God are frozen by the opinions of commoners. They are no longer viable and no longer leaders. In order to be a leader for Christ we must be able to put the opinions of man behind ourselves and the word of God above ourselves:

Psalm 5:8-12
[Ps 5:8] O LORD, lead me in Thy righteousness because of my foes; make Thy way straight before me.
[9] There is nothing reliable in what they say; their inward part is destruction {itself} their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.

[10] Hold them guilty, O God; by their own devices let them fall! In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out, for they are rebellious against Thee.

[11] But let all who take refuge in Thee be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and mayest Thou shelter them, that those who love Thy name may exult in Thee.

[12] For it is Thou who dost bless the righteous man, O LORD, Thou dost surround him with favor as with a shield. (NAS)

To draw near to God is to invite persecution
Jesus knew that we would confront persecutors and adversaries as we drew near to God. In fact, Paul tells us in one of the previously readings that we should expect such trials: “[2 Timothy 3:12] And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Basically, Christ was demanding accountability for the authority taken by the High Priests. Yet, the very power of the fruits of Jesus made the inactive believer invalid:

Luke 6:9-11
[9] And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do harm, to save a life, or to destroy it?” [10] And after looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did {so;} and his hand was restored. [11] But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. (NAS)

The closer we come to Jesus—the more we should expect persecution. The word for persecution [dioko] is poignantly spiritual. It means “a disciple who perseveres despite suffering.” How trivial this word has become in our culture as people think that having to wait at a stop sign or losing a channel changer implies persecution. Seen in a scriptural light persecution is an honor held for the disciples most feared by Satan.

Jesus knows that we will be persecuted because of our trust in him:

Matthew 5:10-12
[Matt 5:10] “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [11] “Blessed are you when {men} cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. [12] “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (NAS)

John 15:20-27
[John 15:20] “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. [21] “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. [22] “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. [23] “He who hates Me hates My Father also. [24] “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. [25] “But {they have done this} in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ [26] “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, {that is} the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, [27] and you {will} bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (NAS)

Jesus gives us guidance on how to respond:

By his example, through his Spirit and through the Word:

Matthew 10:16-20
[Matt 10:16] “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. [17] “But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to {the} courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; [18] and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. [19] “But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. [20] “For it is not you who speak, but {it is} the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (NAS)

Look at the power given to the early church when it responds to persecution with the testimony of Jesus Christ:

Acts 4:4-37
[Acts 4:4] But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. [5] And it came about on the next day, that their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; [6] and Annas the high priest {was there,} and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. [7] And when they had placed them in the center, they {began to} inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”

[8] Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, [9] if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, [10] let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-- by this {name} this man stands here before you in good health. [11] “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, {but} which became the very corner {stone.} [12] “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

[13] Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and {began} to recognize them as having been with Jesus. [14] And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. [15] But when they had ordered them to go aside out of the Council, they {began} to confer with one another, [16] saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. [17] “But in order that it may not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to any man in this name.”

[18] And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. [19] But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; [20] for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.”

[21] And when they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which they might punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; [22] for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

[23] And when they had been released, they went to their own {companions,} and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. [24] And when they heard {this,} they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, [25] who by the Holy Spirit, {through} the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? [26] ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ.’ [27] “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [28] to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur.

[29] “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, [30] while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus.”

[31] And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and {began} to speak the word of God with boldness. [32] And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one {of them} claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them. [33] And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. [34] For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, [35] and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need. [36] And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), [37] and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (NAS)

When we respond with pure testimony, these are the results:

Our influence increases among those in need and those who advocate for them
Our power to affect change increases
Our confidence in the Holy Spirit increases
Non-believers marvel at what God has done through us
The truth becomes more important than other people's opinions in our lives
Even really old men are healed (forty years and above)
The fellowship rejoices
The Holy Spirit expands in our lives
The implied warning

If it is true that the closer we come to God the more we should expect persecution, then we should expect that the opposite is true as well. The farther we are from God the less we will experience persecution. Why would the true adversary fear or persecute someone who was making no difference in the kingdom? In a culture that strives for comfort these words should be frightening! Comfort, position and power was all that these Chief Priests desired. They did not realize that the one who was giving them such discomfort was indeed their only hope of salvation. Instead of worshipping Jesus they crucified him for the sake of expediency and homeostasis.

Let us make sure that our desire for what is comfortable for homeostasis—"the way things have always been"—or for the admiration of men never supersedes our desire to invite him into our hearts and to pursue him though persecuted.

Philippians 2:14-18
[Phil 2:14] Do all things without grumbling or disputing; [15] that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, [16] holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. [17] But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. [18] And you too, {I urge you,} rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. (NAS)

Matthew 21:28-32
[28] “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ [29] “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. [30] “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. [31] “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. [32] “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him. (NAS)

The Right Crowd
There are so many times that my mouth has said, “I will sir,” but my actions have said, “I won’t.” It would be so much easier if I could point at these Chief Priests and accuse them of being appalling hypocrites. Yet, I see so much of myself in them.

I find myself not wanting to go where the Holy Spirit calls me. Preferring instead the places where I am most comfortable. Further complicating the matter is that the more I learn about Jesus, the more I find he calls me to places that are uncomfortable, indeed counter-comfortable.

I would like to think that Jesus is satisfied if I just go to church or profess him as my personal Lord and Savior. Yet, he is not. He will judge me according to my deeds [Matthew 16:27]. In fact, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and Religious Leaders for their “deeds.”

Matt 23:1-8
23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds ; for they say things, and do not do them. 4 “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 “And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.

They used their religious authority and positions to “bind and burden” others. Their deeds were only for show, to earn them a religious title. Let us do all that we can to make sure the same cannot be said of us. Let us throw away our titles and instead, embrace the position of servant. Jesus is calling us to the places where sinners—like prostitutes and traitors (that is how the Jewish people viewed tax collector's)—are found. Over years of traveling to those kinds of places, a sad revelation has stunned me. That, according to Christ parables, there is more sin in our churches than there is in our jails. I have found the cause of prostitution to be poverty and sexual abuse. I have found the cause of crime to be poverty and the early introduction of violence, drugs and/or alcohol to a person’s life. Those are things that we, in church, are quite able of speaking out against and doing something about—yet we don’t. We are so busy with praise and worship that we forget humility and servitude.

We can stop the repetitive cycle of crime by modeling our Saviors response to prostitutes and traitors, He ate them. I remember once telling a group of young people in detention that I was heading to the County Jail after our class. “Would you see my dad?” said one young man. Then another said the same thing, and another. Fully fifty percent of that room of thirty youth asked me to see their incarcerated father, brother or beloved uncle.

“Lord, I know we could break that cycle if we, who call ourselves Christians, would just go where you tell us to go.”

Do our churches look like Jerusalem on the day of Christ’s earthly judgment? Will we be chased out or reprimanded by Christ or will we be welcoming in the sinners, the Gentiles, and the children? Which kind of community am I making? Where will I be found when our Lord comes back for his rightful seat?

Over the years, I have begun to tell people that when Jesus calls for me, I would rather be found with the lost, than lost with the found. “Lord, give me the courage to live out that conviction.”

Copyright © 2007 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved.

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 1st Sunday after the Feast of Transfiguration

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