It’s gonna get ugly
4 Kings, 1 Throne. It’s gonna get ugly!
In Matthew’s account of Jesus the Revolutionary, his primary preoccupation is with Jesus’ authority as King and the revolution He brings as that King. You will have noted throughout the preceding 20 chapters that Jesus’ Kingdom is both appealing and repelling; is met with acceptance and rejection, with joy and scorn. You will also have noted that Jesus’ life and teaching confronts both the religious kingdom, ruled by the pharisees and teachers of the law, and the Roman kingdom ruled by Caesar. Even closer to home we might see that Jesus confronts each and every person, pressing on matters close to the “throne” of every human heart.
4 Kingdoms: Israel, Rome, Me, and the Kingdom of Jesus. But there is only 1 throne.
The repeated underlying theme of these accounts is that one must choose who will rule on the throne: either follow Jesus in his upside-down, self-sacrificing, radically inclusive, radically-surrendered way, or follow the ways of the religious and/or political order, or follow your own way. Throughout this week we will read in Matthew 21-23 of the tension and conflict between Jesus’ Kingdom and the other kingdoms coming to a head – a confrontation that ultimately leads to his death and resurrection (next week’s readings).
As we read, however, we must continue to wrestle with the confrontation that Jesus brings to the kingdom of our heart. Truthfully, the throne of my heart already has a king on it – ME! And I don’t like to turn over power, control, authority and direction. My nature is to hold on to self, to control and to autonomy.
But allow Jesus to confront, to challenge, to direct and redirect our hearts.
We can trust Him, because the way he chose to use his power was to lay it down; the way he chose to rule, was to die.
He did not come to make war ON us, but FOR us – against sin, pride, selfishness and death.
Take 2 minutes to pause and be still, to breathe slowly. Let your scattered senses be re-centred on the presence of God. He is with you in this place.
Read Matthew 21:1-17 (click here to read)
“one of these things is not like the other” the song goes. These two mini-stories, of Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and then going to the temple to wreak some havoc, seem like they don’t belong together. But Matthew puts them together as if no time elapsed between them – almost as if Jesus arrives into Jerusalem on a donkey and rides straight to the temple steps. It likely didn’t happen that quickly, but Matthew puts them together because they belong together. They are both accounts of Jesus confronting two of the kingdoms he had come to do “battle” with – the religious/political Kingdom of the Jews and the Military Empire of Rome. In both cases, he’s making a statement that His Kingdom is not like the others.
In the first case, his ride into Jerusalem on a donkey deliberately mimics another Revolutionary’s ride into Jerusalem (Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish revolutionary who rode into Jerusalem on a war horse, a few centuries earlier, to take back the temple from the Greek Empire which had taken it over and desecrated it). Jesus’ ride signals another revolution, preparing to confront Israel’s enemy. And yet, he chooses a donkey, not a war horse. And he has no army with him; just a motley crew of nobodies from backwaters towns outside of the centre. He clearly is not going to make war on Rome. He is going to make war on sin and death, by spilling his own blood. They could not have seen it coming nor could they understand it when it happened.
In the same way, the mess he makes in the temple was confronting the Jewish religious and political kingdom. In turning over the tables in the temple, he was making it impossible, at least for a few hours, for anyone to offer sacrifices or continue on with their rituals of worship. It was His way of saying, “this whole system is obsolete. It has to go. God is doing a new thing, because the old religious traditions and laws have become corrupted and ineffective”. He was not starting a new religion, he was ending all of it.
Jesus’ confrontation still happens today. Because we still need his rule. Our hearts, just like the hearts of the Jews and the Romans, buy into the lies of power, control and wealth.
Take some time and ask yourself these questions:
- In what ways have I believed that more power, influence or recognition are what I need, or make me more important?
- In what ways am I looking to have more control or more money, in my relationships, my job or my household?
- In what ways have I judged others because of their failure to live up to my standards, God’s standards or the rules of what’s right/expected?
Ask Jesus to help you respond to his call for surrender, humility and self-sacrifice, in any of the above areas where He might be speaking to you.
Take 2 minutes to slow down your breathing, opening your hands to “heaven” in a posture that says “God, I want whatever you have for me today”.
Read Matthew 21:18-45 (click here to read)
This section of Matthew’s gospel ends with the religious leaders realizing that Jesus was going after them hard; criticizing them as failed leaders, failing to do what God wanted and failing to recognize what God was doing. It left them only two choices: either agree with Jesus, and allow Him to be the true interpreter of God’s voice and ways, or get rid of Him. Jesus had already predicted what they were going to do.
The fig tree in the first part of this section represents Israel as a whole; it’s lack of fruit was a statement about Israel’s failure to truly represent God to the world, to be a people that brought all nations into the saving love of God and his household. But remember Matthew’s entire biography started by reciting the Israelite lineage of Jesus, in a subversive way describing him as the true Israelite – the one who would finally “bear fruit”; the one who would do what Israel’s faith and people were always meant to do, but never could. But He was also God’s messenger, sent to plead with God’s people to turn back to Him, to let God spread his love and grace to the world through them; a people of love and grace. But the tenants in the parable (representing the religious leaders), instead of hearing the voice of the landowner through his son, decide to kill Him, showing that they are unwilling to change. Their response is contrasted with the “sinners” and “tax collectors”, who show that they are truly open to God’s voice and calling by their welcome of Jesus.
If Jesus is truly Lord and King of our lives, we need to be continually willing to let Him confront and challenge and change our ways.
Pray: Jesus, you are my King. Thank you for your love.
Pray: Jesus, I quiet my heart and mind now, and ask you to speak to me. Is there anything in my life – a relationship, a decision, a pattern of behavior or way of thinking, that you want to talk to me about?
Wait for a few minutes to see if Jesus impresses anything on your mind and heart.
If anything comes to mind, ask Him what He wants to say to you about it. Take time to listen again.
Now write a prayer of response, and close with a word of gratitude and thanks.
Take a few minutes to review the last 24 hours, reviewing any of the big and small blessings God brought your way in this time. Say a prayer of thanks to God for his goodness that enters your life in so many different ways.
Read Matthew 22:2-14 (click here to read)
Another parable about a banquet. Why so many food stories? It makes me hungry…
The reason the wedding feast/banquet appears so often as a setting for Jesus’ parables is that his hearers would know that he was unmistakably referring to God and His Kingdom and who gets to be a part of it – both now and in the age to come (see Revelation, the last book of the Bible, as it paints a picture of the heaven being a never-ending wedding reception, eating and celebrating the forever union of God and his people).
This parable is, however, surprising and unsettling in some ways. At first glance, it reads like many of Jesus’ parables, teaching and life example: God has determined to include those that others have excluded; God is not looking for people who simply have morally upstanding lives but rather those who are willing to respond to His invitation of friendship and allegiance. The first part of the parable certainly stresses that, and repeats the themes of the last few day’s reading – the ones God first chose ended up rejecting Him, and now he opens the doors wider to ANYONE. This story was playing itself out in reality, as the tax collectors, prostitutes and general “Sinners” were turning to Jesus, faster and more joyfully than the religious leaders and the morally upstanding.
But what about this person, who at first gets included, and then subsequently excluded because he didn’t have the right clothes? It seems counter to the way of Jesus. Read N. T Wright’s explanation in “Matthew for everyone”:
“We want to hear that everyone is all right exactly as they are; that God loves us as we are and doesn’t want us to change. People often say this when they want to justify particular types of behaviour, but the argument doesn’t work. When the blind and lame came to Jesus, he didn’t say, ‘You’re all right as you are’. He healed them. They wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything less. When the prostitutes and extortioners came to Jesus, he didn’t say, ‘You’re all right as you are’. His love reached them where they were, but his love refused to let them stay as they were. Love wants the best for the beloved. Their lives were transformed, healed, changed…The point of the story is that Jesus is telling the truth, the truth that political and religious leaders often like to hide: the truth that God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which love and justice and truth and mercy and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying you don’t want to stay at the party. That is the reality. If we don’t have the courage to say so, we are deceiving ourselves, and everyone who listens to us.”
Reflect on this reality for a moment: love wants the best for the beloved.
If Jesus loves you, you can bet there are things in your life He’s going to want to change. It’s His way of not only lovingly making us into the person we really want to be, it’s also his way of getting us ready to enjoy all that is waiting for us in the New Creation, the life to come.
Is there any area of your life where you have been resistant to Jesus’ changing work?
Have you said “not now”, or “I can’t give that up” or “I can’t confront that issue”?
Invite him to speak words of comfort but also challenge into that situation?
Is there any Jesus-follower you know who is resisting Jesus’ changing work in their lives? Something they don’t want to give up, some issue they don’t want to deal with, or a character flaw they don’t want to acknowledge?
Pray for Jesus to speak to them about it. Ask Him to gently and lovingly bring correction, healing and freedom to their lives.
Close with a prayer that invites Jesus to continue speaking to you throughout this day.
Slow your breathing down for two-minutes, calling to mind something beautiful in creation you saw recently – a sunrise/sunset, new trillium flowers springing up, lush green grass or a colourful evening sky. Whatever it is, think on it as you remember God’s beautiful presence is with you even now.
Read Matthew 22:15-45 (click here to read)
This section of Matthew’s gospel covers familiar settings again: Jesus’ opponents trying to debate, trick and discredit him in front of the people. It was their continual ploy to attempt to show that He wasn’t “From God”, that He wasn’t to be trusted, listened to or followed. Unfortunately for them, it was one failed attempt after another. But more than just besting them at their own game, Jesus was trying to redirect their obsession with laws and minutia towards what he called the “heavier” matters of God’s law, i.e. LOVE. This section contains one of Jesus’ most famous teaching, where he boils down all of God’s laws to two commandments, both having to do with love: Love for God, and love for others.
His point was not that other “laws” don’t matter (still not right to kill, commit adultery, covet what others have), but rather that we are meant to do everything for the purpose of, and with, love.
His criticism of their law-keeping was that it was love-less, and therefore life-less,
and therefore powerless to change them into the kind of people God was calling them to be: people of love.
Take a few moments to consider what the next 24 hours holds for you.:
- Which people are you planning on interacting with or likely to encounter? Is it a meeting? A planned phone call or zoom connect? With family? Friends? A co-worker, boss or direct report? Is it your wife or husband or child or parent?
- How could you love that person well in this encounter? Ask Jesus to direct you in any specific ways you could show love.
- Imagine yourself in that conversation or interaction, speaking, listening or acting with love. Ask the Holy Spirit for the power and grace to live this out today or tomorrow.
Begin today with music, listening to this song and thanking God for His faithful presence in your life:
Read Matthew 23 (click here to read)
Jesus rants…yes he does. Exhibit A: Matthew 23.
The word “woe” is not one we use in our vernacular. One way to translate it is “you are cursed”. Strong language. But it makes sense when we see this is as a bookend to Matthew 5, Jesus’ first sermon where he laid out what “blessings” there are for those who follow God’s ways. He outlined several behaviours, attitudes and conditions of the heart that would lead to a blessed life. In light of that, and the previous days reflections, we see that Jesus is finally pronouncing, as clearly as ever, that the religious leaders – who were meant to represent God to the people and bring the people to God, had utterly failed; and God was condemning them as such. They had missed out on God’s blessings, and were under his curse as a result. Why? Was it just that they had interpreted a few passages the wrong way, or had been a bit too proud?
Ultimately, they had failed to do what Jesus had earlier said were the most important things to God:
to love Him with all their hearts, and to love the ones He had given to them.
They, instead, loved being in control, loved honour and the opinion of others, and they loved money. Those were their god. Those were the things in which they found their meaning, purpose, significance, salvation and delight…instead of God, and His true Son Jesus Christ.
Hard words. And still very close to the throne of our hearts.
We will live in a culture that says “love everyone” but at the same time says “run as freely and as hard as you can after control, others’ opinions (fame, recognition, honour) and money”.
Jesus’ warning to them is as fresh in our ears today as it was then:
“Choose life. Choose me. Those other things will rule you with an iron fist, will eat you up the more you consume them. But I am not like that. I came to love you, serve you, truly free you, and give you different ‘riches’ than the feeling of being in control, or the affirming words of others, or actual $$”
Take a few moments to reflect on this question:
“Which of these three things – control, approval of others or money – do I subtly look to in order to feel good about myself, satisfied, valuable, safe or happy?” (maybe another way to ask is “which of these things make me most anxious when I lose them or can’t get them?”)
Pray a prayer:
- asking Jesus to help you kick those false gods/kings off the throne of your heart
- expressing your desire not to be ruled by them
- Thanking Him for all the ways that he is not a cruel and ruthless King like these other false gods/kings are to us.
- Asking Him if there is anything specific He wants you to do in response to whatever He has shown you.
Close your time with 2 minutes of silence, breathing His presence slowly in, and breathing out any fear, anxiety or doubt.