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Matt 21-23: The Response of the King to Opposition Print E-mail
Monday, 19 September 2005

How should we respond to opposition against the Kingdom of God?  We see in the New Testament that there is a war going on.  It is a war between the domain of darkness and the Kingdom of the Light.  It is real.  The enemy is real.  He is spending all his energies to oppose the Kingdom of Christ.  He is not flesh and bone, but he is real.  As Paul tells us, we wrestle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 5:12).  Thus, I return to my original question: how are we to respond to such opposition from the enemy?

Our text this morning begins with Matthew telling us of Jesusí triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  We might be tempted, if we did not know the rest of the story, to think that everything is great.  Finally, the people are beginning to recognize who Christ is and to honor him as King.  Yet, even though his coming in on a donkey is a clear fulfillment of Zechariah 9, and even though the people lay down their cloaks to honor him, we know that all are not convinced and even those who honor him on this day will quickly turn.  Even in the very next story we see that the opposition is mounting.  Jesusí enemies are plotting against him.  The scribes and the Pharisees are taking every opportunity to try and trick him with their questions. 

Thus, as the opposition is mounting their attacks, it will do us good, as the people of the King, to notice how our King responds to such opposition.  Letís consider four of his responses this morning from our text.

First, Jesus responds with righteous indignation and judgment (21:12-22, also 23:1-36).

In 21:12-17, we read the story of Christ cleansing the temple of the money-changers and those selling in the temple.  We see from his actions that Jesus is not just making suggestions or offering good advice.  He is angered by what they are doing.  And indeed, he has a reason to respond in such a way.  He goes on to point out that instead of being a house of prayer, they have turned the temple into a den of robbers (v. 13).  They are using the temple to make a profit and Jesus is justified in his anger against such sin and irreverence. 

In 21:18-22, Matthew tells the reader of Jesus cursing the fig tree.  It seems that the issue with the fig tree is false advertisement.  Even though it was not the season for figs, as Mark tells us, apparently fig trees would sometimes have early figs on them, signified by their leaves.  Thus, in some sense, the fig tree was advertising through its leaves that it had some early figs, but this was not the case.  The instance serves as an object lesson for the religious hypocrisy that Jesus condemns among the Pharisees.  The Pharisees, like the fig tree, promised something that they did not deliver.  As Jesus pronounces judgment on the tree, he will soon do the same against the Pharisees and their religious hypocrisy (see 23:1-36).

It is important to point out that Jesus is not flying off the handle here.  He is not loosing control or sinning in his anger as Paul warns us against in Ephesians 4.  Rather, his anger is justified and his judgment is righteous.  Which leads me to ask this question: do we respond with righteous indignation when it is necessary?

I say this with caution, but nevertheless, there are times in the life of a Christian when they should respond with righteous indignation.  One of the best examples I can think of is the issue of abortion.  Babies are being slaughtered every day in this country.  We as believers, must stand up and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.  Now does this mean that we buy a gun and try to take out the doctors?  No, that is clearly sinning in our anger.  Rather, we need to find ways, such as supporting crisis pregnancy centers, to fight against the powers that are fighting for abortion.  Should we be angry at such injustice?  Yes, and this righteous indignation should lead us to take action to help those who cannot help themselves.

Second, Jesus responds with teaching concerning who will receive the Kingdom (21:28-22:14).

Not only does Jesus respond with righteous indignation, but he also responds with a clear distinction between who will and who will not receive the Kingdom.  We see this in the three parables found in our text.  All of the parables point to the reality found in 21:43.  Look at that verse with me.  Each parable, in different ways, is pointing out that the Kingdom will be given to those who produce fruit.

In the parable of the two sons, it is not the son who says he is going to work who is pleasing to the Father, rather, it is the son who actually does the work.  Talk is cheap.  The Kingdom will not be given to those who know all the right answers and make all the promises.  No, the Kingdom will be given to those who produce fruit according to Christ.  In the second parable, we see the tenants refusing to give to the master what rightfully belongs to him.  We see the parallels between the vineyard and the Kingdom, the master and God, the tenants and the Pharisees, and the son who is killed and Christ.  The Kingdom will not be given to the scribes and Pharisees, it will be given to those who are faithful to the master and produce fruit.  In the parable of the wedding feast, we see that those who were invited first would not come, so the king invited others who would come.  And only those who are clothed in the wedding garment will be welcome at the feast.

All of these parables point to the fact that the Kingdom will be given to those who are faithful to the King in bearing fruit.  Jesus is making it clear to the Pharisees that they will be excluded based on their rebellious actions (see 21:45-46).

Thus, the question comes to us this morning: are we clear on who will receive the Kingdom?  Do we preach the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ or do we water it down?  Do we preach of the importance of repentance and works as evidence of our faith in Christ?  In the face of opposition, we are not called to change the truth of the gospel.  The Kingdom still belongs only to those who bear fruit through faith in Christ.  Jesus is very clear with the scribes and Pharisees concerning this issue.  We, too, need to be clear on who will receive the Kingdom.  We must point to Jesus Christ and his finished work of atonement on the cross and call all men to repent and believe in Christ and to follow him, bearing fruit in our lives.

Third, Jesus responds with wisdom and truth (21:23-27, 22:15-46). 
The scribes and Pharisees and religious leaders attack Jesus by trying to trick him with certain questions.  We see this again and again in our passage.

First, we see a question concerning Jesusí authority in 21:23-27.  Look at verse 23 with me.  Later they ask Jesus a question concerning taxes being paid to Caesar in 22:15-22.  Look at verses 15-17.  Then, the Sadducees ask him a question about the resurrection in 22:23-33.  And finally in 22:34-40, a Pharisee who is a lawyer asks him which is the greatest commandment.

In all of Jesusí responses to these questions he displays great wisdom and truth.  He is aware of the fact that they are trying to trick him and so he answers accordingly.  Concerning the questioning of his authority, he asks them a question in return about John the Baptist, which they will not answer for fear of the crowds.  Concerning the question about taxes being paid to Caesar, he makes the point that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesarís and to God what is Godís.  If the coin bears the image of Caesar then we should be willing to give him his due.  If man is made in the image of God, then we should rightfully turn our lives over to him.  Jesus displays great wisdom in both of these responses.

Concerning the question of the resurrection, Jesus explains that they simply do not understand what they are talking about.  The Sadducees, who according to Matthew did not believe in the resurrection, come to Jesus with a story of a woman who has all these different husbands on earth and then dies.  They want to know who she will belong to in heaven.  Look at Jesusí response with me in 22:29-33.  Jesus tells them right off the bat that they do not know the Scriptures.  He points them to the truth that in the resurrection there is no marriage.  Then, he confronts their disbelief in the resurrection by pointing out that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the living and not the dead.  Thus, Jesus uses the truth of the Scriptures to respond to the Sadducees question.

Concerning the question about the greatest commandment, Jesus simply quotes from Deuteronomy 6 that speaks of loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  He follows this with the second greatest commandment which is to love our neighbor as ourself.  Again, Christ is showing his wisdom and truth in all of these answers.

This leads us to ask ourselves this question: when the enemy opposes us, are we prepared to respond with wisdom and truth?  You may ask: we are not Christ, how can we be prepared to respond as he responded?  Yet, what is it that Christ is quoting from?  Is it not the very Bible that we ourselves can read and study and memorize.  If you are here this morning and you want to know truth then I tell you to take up the Scriptures and read.  Likewise, if you want to be wise this morning, James tells us to ask the Lord for wisdom and he will provide (see James 1:5).  As the King responded to opposition with wisdom and truth, so we need to respond with the same.

Let me say at this point a word about sharing our faith.  The Great Commission, found at the end of Matthew, is a declaration of war.  Christ calls us to go to the nations and to make disciples.  Whether you realize it or not, evangelism is an act of war.  It is going into enemy territory, namely the hearts and lives of those who do not know the Lord, and speaking the truth of the gospel.  As Christians we must be prepared to fight these battles.  At times it may be helpful to study about what other people believe and how they view the world.  Yet, before we tackle that task, we must at least be able to articulate from the Word of God what we believe.  We must be able to communicate the Christian worldview to those who do not believe.  As the world throws question after question at us about our worldview, we need to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have.  Like our King, we should respond with wisdom and truth.

Fourth, Jesus responds with woes and warnings (23:1-39).

In chapter 23, we see Jesus offer some serious warnings to the Pharisees and to all who would be religious hypocrites.  Again, this is not Jesus venting.  This is not him loosing his cool.  Rather, he is making a just judgment against their hypocrisy.  Let me make two observations from this chapter.

First, we are never to water down the seriousness of sin and hypocrisy.  One of the real temptations facing the Church today is that of making the problem of sin not that big of a problem.  It is what could be called Ďthe Iím ok, your okí theology.  It says things like, ĎSince God is love, we really can do whatever we want and he will forgive us because he loves.  So donít worry about sin or rebellion or hypocrisy.  Everything will be ok.í  This is not how our Lord responds to the sins of the Pharisees.  Rather, Christ pronounces serious judgment upon their hypocrisy and their practices. 

Thus, we too, need to be real with those who sin and rebel against the Lord and even those who practice religious hypocrisy in our day.  The answer to the sin problem is not to say that it is really not that big of a problem.  No, the answer is repentance and faith in the work of Christ, who gave his own life as a ransom for our sins.  When you are tempted to take sin lightly, I encourage you to consider the cross.  If sin is no big deal, then why did Christ have to die and suffer under the wrath of God?  We must never water down the seriousness of sin.

Second, we must weep while we warn.  Look at 23:37-39 with me.  Yes, Jesus does not water down the truth of sin.  Yes, he speaks of harsh judgment to fall on those who practice religious hypocrisy.  Yet, he does it with a tear in his eye.  Jesus knew that judgment would fall on Jerusalem in 70 a.d.  He knew the judgment would be just.  Yet, he still wept.  He was broken by the sin and rebellion of man against God.

We, too, need to weep as we warn those of the coming judgment.  We need to be broken over a lost and rebellious world.  Yes, they need the truth of the gospel and we cannot water it down, but we must proclaim it with tears in our eyes, just like our King.

There is a war going on.  The enemy is fighting us and opposing the Kingdom of God everywhere it can.  We must be prepared to respond as the King has taught us to respond.  Where there is gross injustice and irreverence, we must respond with righteous indignation.  Where there is confusion over who will win, we must respond with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Where there is question after question after question, we must respond with the truth and wisdom that comes from the Word of God.  And as we warn against hypocrisy and fight against rebellion, we must do it with a tear in our eye for those who will not repent.  This is how the King responded and it is how we should respond as well.  Amen.

~ William Marshall

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 February 2006 )

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