In Jesus’ Words: Two truths about heaven and hell (Matthew 21:33-22:14)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus continued his conversation with the Pharisees, “Listen to another parable..”, he replied.

Jesus had just finished telling the Pharisees the parable of the two sons, and how the tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom of heaven before them because they had believed and repented. Jesus kept trying to get the Pharisees to understand. Pleading with them. Jesus did not want to see His chosen people miss the point and miss heaven, just because they were trying to hold on to a very short timeline of earthly power.

Jesus tells the parable of a vineyard owner and the tenant farmers who take care of the vineyard (an image that would have been relevant to the Jews of that time). When the owner sends his slaves (representing Old Testament prophets) to gather the harvest, the farmers beat them and kill them. Finally the owner sends his son (Messiah) and they reject him and kill him also. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit.”

Still, the Pharisees must have stood there with blank looks on their faces because the next verse says, “Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables..”  Or in other words, “Ok, I’m going to try this one more time…”  The next parable Jesus tells is about the wedding banquet. The invited guests (chosen people) paid no attention to the invite and went about their own business. So the king went out into the streets and invited others – both good and evil – to come in, and they accepted the invite. Jesus tells us that those who did not originally accept “will be thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The two truths we can know from these parables taught by Jesus are:

1. The kingdom of heaven is not determined by how good or evil you are.  
It is by accepting God’s invitation to believe and repent. Our righteousness for heaven is granted to us through Jesus Christ, the prophesied Messiah. There is no way any of us could ever tally up a system (or religion) to count our rights or wrongs and make a case for heaven based solely on that. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone – to the person who has tried all their life to be good, or the person who was dealt a bad lot in life and didn’t have a fair chance, or even the person who was not fairly informed. It can only be by grace through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us.

2. Jesus tells us there is a hell and those who do not believe and repent will be sent there. (thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth).  It is not a comfy subject to talk about and many people try to water it down in today’s Christianity. But Jesus spoke about it often, and the truth does not change based on how we feel. Each of us will meet God someday, and the only thing that will matter at that time is God’s truth.

Today as Christians we get caught up in so many other obstacles, whether it is gay marriage, abortion rights, or a certain political party. But what really matters in the end are the two truths mentioned above. Everything else is secondary.

~ Matthew 21:33-22:14  Jesus’ two parables about heaven and hell ~

The Parable of the Vineyard Owner

“Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to collect his fruit. But the farmers took his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance!’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

“He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told Him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord
and is wonderful in our eyes?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. [Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder!]”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they knew He was speaking about them. Although they were looking for a way to arrest Him, they feared the crowds, because they regarded Him as a prophet.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come. Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them. The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.

“Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests. But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

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In Jesus’ Words: Tale of two sons (Matthew 21:28-32)

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Which one of these is right?  A person who is disagreeable and untrustworthy but eventually does the right thing, or someone who is polite and respectable but does not do what they say?

This is the question Jesus presented to the religious Pharisees in his parable of the two sons.  But once again the religious leaders were unable to trick Jesus or fully answer his questions, and it infuriated them.

~ Matthew 21:28-32  Parable of Two Sons ~

“But what do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go, work in the vineyard today.’

 “He answered, ‘I don’t want to!’ Yet later he changed his mind and went.  Then the man went to the other and said the same thing.

“‘I will, sir,’ he answered. But he didn’t go.

 “Which of the two did his father’s will?”

“The first,” they said.

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him, but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.”

In this story, both sons had the same father (God).  The first son represented the despised sinners of the day – prostitutes, adulterers and thieves.  Many of these people were attracted to Jesus.  He offered them hope and redemption, and they repented.  The second son represented the religious leaders of the day.  They loved their world and power more than their faith or finding the truth.  They spoke well, but did not back up their words with actions.

This is a recurring theme with Jesus, where he says sinners will enter the kingdom of heaven before the religious hypocrites.  Imagine… a heaven full of repentful sinners.  And for all those Pharisees and others who worked so hard for their status, where did it get them in the end?

The prophet Haggai also spoke of a similar situation to the Jewish people in 520 BC.

The Lord of Hosts says, “Consider your ways!”
You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!”
– from the book of Haggai, chapter 1

How often do we find ourselves in this situation today?  We are keeping up appearances and working hard, but it is toward the wrong things and it gets us nowhere.  Jesus is urging us instead to do God’s will, which is simply seeking the heart of God and His truth.  It’s as simple as that.  It is not being showy or working extra hard.  It is putting others first over our own selfish motives.  It is desiring the truth and being sincere in our heart.  These are things each of us can do every day, and in the end, we will be better off for it.

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In Jesus’ Words: By what authority? (Matthew 21:23-27)

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The average church sermon is probably only remembered for about twenty minutes after it has ended, or until we get to lunch.  But the words of Jesus have been remembered and recited for over 2000 years after he spoke them.

Jesus only directly answered three of the 183 questions he was asked, according to gospel accounts.  Sometimes he would put the question back on the person and sometimes he stayed silent.

Jesus asked more questions than he answered.  His own questions were intentional, to make people think or challenge their view.  He often asked people what they wanted or what they believed.  “Who do you say I am?’’  “Who do you seek?’’  

Jesus may not have regularly answered their questions, but he always spoke right to their heart. He asked though he already knew their answer.  And when they doubted, he would simply say, “Come and see.”  Jesus’ logic could not be undone then, and it still stands today.

~ Matthew 21:23-27  Jesus’ Authority Questioned ~

When Jesus entered the temple complex, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority?” 

Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question, and if you answer it for Me, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from men?”

They began to argue among themselves, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men,’ we’re afraid of the crowd, because everyone thought John was a prophet.”  So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

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In Jesus’ Words: fake faith (Matthew 21:18-22)

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Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God and not in God Himself.
– Muguel de Unamuno, Spanish philosopher

One morning while Jesus was traveling back to Jerusalem, He became hungry and searched a nearby fig tree for some fruit to eat.  The tree was full of shiny green leaves but had no fruit, and Jesus cursed the tree for being fruitless, or fake, and the tree withered.  Why such harsh actions?  Jesus had been dealing with the Jewish temple leaders and was disappointed to find them to be the same way.  They put on a show and talked about God but didn’t actually follow Him.  They boasted of a Messiah to come, but then didn’t acknowledge Him.  They believed only in the idea of God.  We must also be careful today that we do not fall into that same trap.

~ Matthew 21:18-22  The barren fig tree ~

Early in the morning, as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” At once the fig tree withered.

When the disciples saw it, they were amazed and said, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”

Jesus answered them, “I assure you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

A friend once confessed to me, “I never talk bad about Jesus just in case he’s real.”  It was kind of a sad statement, and I wasn’t exactly sure where my friend stood with her faith. Though none of us are perfect in our faith, if we’re honest with ourselves, we should be able to self-examine our lives to know if we truly believe and follow Jesus, or if we just like the idea of it.  Don’t cheat yourself out of Jesus’ promises to you.  With true faith and honest prayer and Jesus by your side, you will receive many wonderful blessings.feet with waves cropped

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In Jesus’ Words: Children’s praise (Matthew 21:14-17)

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~ Matthew 21:14-17  Children’s praise in the temple ~

The blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple complex, and He healed them. When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that He did and the children shouting in the temple complex, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” Jesus told them. “Have you never read:

You have prepared praise
from the mouths of children and nursing infants?”

Then He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

When Jesus came to Jerusalem, he came to the temple.  It was His Father’s house and the place where Jesus showed His authority over His spiritual Kingdom. The temple was to be revered, a place of prayer, and a place of praise.  We too should want to go to our Father’s house.  It seems we’ve lost some of the specialness of such a place, but it is my hope that we will never forget and never take it for granted.  And all children should have the chance to experience the extraordinary grace and love that comes from knowing Jesus. In the middle of our political and selfish chaos of who is right and who is wrong, I hope each of us will continue to do the small things every day to show Jesus’ love, especially to the children.  His light will shine through.feet with waves cropped

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In Jesus’ Words: Anger (Matthew 21:12-13)

jesus_and_moneychangers~ Matthew 21:12-13  Cleansing the Temple ~

Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!”

Until now in the gospel of Matthew, the disciple and author Matthew has shown us Jesus’ magnificent compassion for the people, his miracles and healing, and has given us his great Sermon on the Mount.  But now we come to a more serious Jesus.  He is angry at what is taking place in God’s temple.  The gospel of John also records another similar event in which Jesus “makes a whip out of cords” and uses it to drive out the money changers.  Can you imagine Jesus quietly but deliberately putting together a whip?  This passage brings up many things to think about – the reverence of God’s temple (church), the authority that Jesus showed in carrying out these things, and the thought of God being angry, as demonstrated through His Son Jesus.  I have chosen to discuss the latter one – God’s anger and what does it mean.

Though this was a small demonstration with Jesus, the idea of God’s anger or wrath is perplexing to many, and sometimes uncomfortable.  But if you read the accounts of evil that took place in the Old Testament, you may ask why God has not done more. The enemies of God during that time were so evil that we can barely imagine it today. They cut off their captives hands and feet, gouged their eyes, filleted them and skinned them alive, sacrificed their own children to the gods, and even cut off the heads of children and made their parents wear their children’s heads on a rope around their necks. Unbelievable evil. The prophet Habakuk gives us a glimpse of this in his prayer in Habakuk chapter 1.

Why do You force me to look at injustice?
Why do You tolerate wrongdoing?
Oppression and violence are right in front of me.
Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil,
and You cannot tolerate wrongdoing.

The prophet Nahum also sums it up nicely: “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power.” (Nahum 1:3)

First, we must recognize there is a higher power that created us and we are not of our own to do just anything we please in this world.  Ironically, as much as we might like to think we have control of our own destiny, there is so much more out of our control in this world – sickness, death, injustice.

Secondly, God hates evil and the effect it has had on his beloved creation. Evil (or sin) cannot dwell with God.  It is not who He is.  Otherwise God would be less holy and less trustworthy.

Third, God’s Old Testament wrath or anger is meant as a warning to keep us from falling into a deceitful trap which God knows is not the best for us.

Finally, through these warnings, God is drawing us to Jesus so that we may recognize our need for repentance and a Savior, and not have to experience God’s future judgment on sin and evil. This is why the birth of Jesus was such a celebrated celestial event! God’s promise to the world had finally come. Jesus changed the world. We no longer live in Old Testament times. God’s wrath and anger on evil was directed to the cross, where Jesus took our punishment. God wants to redeem us, to forgive us, and to bring us close to Him. But we cannot do that on our own. It is not a system of tallying up our rights and wrongs, or making sure we never make a mistake. That really would be a terrifying and unfair way to live. But instead God has given us a Savior who can fight the evil for us and fight our battles. With Jesus by our side, we never have to be afraid of anything in this world or the next. We are sealed with God forever. We are forgiven no matter what – past, present and future.

While it may seem scary or uncomfortable to think about hell and therefore how we can avoid it, it is much scarier to not think about it at all and leave our lives up to chance.

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In Jesus Words: Who is this? (Matthew 20:29-21:10)

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So many times in this life we want to be right more than anything else. We know best. We want to prove our point is the correct one. (the prideful righteous)

or

Too often we get caught up in dwelling on our past mistakes. We failed. We’ll never be good enough so why try. (the unredeemable sinner)

Neither of these positions is how Jesus wants us to be.

It can be hard to change our habits sometimes based on how we grew up. Some of us grew up in the church. Others of us far from it. The basics of Christianity do not change either way – we must be repentful and believe in Jesus as the one God sent as the Savior for our sins. But other than that, our life and purpose on this earth has more to do with our relationship with others, showing God’s love, and forgiving others. It is in those things that we are most like Jesus, the one we follow and believe.

The problem with the first position (the prideful righteous) is that we put “our” being right above the relationship with others. We might think we’re helping, but we fail to trust God in His ultimate plan, timing and direction. And if we choose not to fully forgive someone in the process of being right (not just forgive on the surface but also in our hearts and actions), then anger and bitterness can spread to others like a wildfire out of control. Our kids see it, other family members are affected, and on and on.

The problem with the second position (the unredeemable sinner) is that we are not fully believing in who God really is. God does not condemn us the way society does. God is ready to offer mercy and grace to anyone who asks for it in their heart. Anyone. No matter what. Good or Bad. “Whosoever believes.” It seems ultimately fair, and yet a little unfair when viewed through the eyes of our world. We think those of us that are “good” have a better standing with God. After all, we’ve tried all our life. We resisted sin. Well, at least the big ones anyway.  But God is fair to all.  Anyone can be saved.  We are all equally valuable and wonderfully made by God.

~ Matthew 20:29-21:10  Who is Jesus ~

Two blind men were sitting by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd told them to keep quiet, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” Jesus stopped, called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  “Lord,” they said to Him, “open our eyes!” Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and they followed Him.

Jesus came into Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two disciples telling them, “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you should say that the Lord needs them, and immediately he will send them.”
This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:
Tell Daughter Zion,
“Look, your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt; then they laid their robes on them, and He sat on them. A very large crowd spread their robes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road.
Shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David! He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One!
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, “Who is this?”

The chief priests and Pharisees asked the temple police, “Why haven’t you brought Him?” The police answered, “No man ever spoke like this!” – (John 7:45-46)

Jesus upset both positions – the righteous and the sinner.  Jesus changes lives.  The crowds may say keep quiet, stay in your place, but Jesus says differently.  Let Jesus take the burden and then let Him work out the rest.  All He asks you in return is to have faith in Him to works things out, to love others and to forgive.  Oh, and don’t forget to forgive yourself too – Jesus already has.feet with waves cropped

 

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