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.”
~ 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 preparedpraise 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.
“These peoplehonor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men.”
“You have revoked God’s word because of your tradition.”
It’s easier to believe in the big miracles – the feeding of the 5000, walking on water. Those events seem far away from us today and not much accountability is needed to believe in them. It’s harder when things gets personal, and that is just what Jesus is doing in these statements when talking with the elders. His words can be a little hard to take in, if I am honest with myself… Do my traditions stand in the way of someone seeing Jesus? Do people see Jesus or do they see my actions? Am I worshipping a doctrine or Jesus?
Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter – it is our motives. In this world full of opinions and contradictory messages, I always ask myself one question when trying to discern if someone’s actions and thoughts are true – what is their motive? Is it to show the love of God which allows people to draw near to Him, or is it self-serving and to prove a point? If it is done for our own benefit and not for Jesus, then it’s worthless. Jesus says it’s done in vain.
Always point back to Jesus.
No matter what situation we are in, whether having a conversation, an argument, or needing to make a tough decision, if we always point our conversation back to Jesus, it cannot easily be contested. Take the focus off us and more on Jesus, and Jesus will make Himself known.
~ Matthew 15:1-9 Jesus questions the motives of the elders ~
Then the Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus and asked, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat!”
He answered them, “And why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition? For God said: Honor your father and your mother; and, the one who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death.
But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple”—he does not have to honor his father.’ In this way, you have revoked God’s word because of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said:
These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men.”
The parables Jesus told were not just moral stories on how to live – they told us about heaven and hell. I imagine the questions people might have asked Jesus would go something like this: If you are the Son of God from heaven, then tell us what is heaven like, and is there really a hell? Wouldn’t you ask the same thing if you could? Jesus’ response is found in his parables. He did not really explain the physical nature of heaven in his stories, as our minds would not be able to fully understand that. But he did do a lot of explaining on how to get to heaven and avoid hell.
When people say to me today, “I don’t think here is a hell,” or “I don’t believe God would send anyone to hell,” this is my response:
Hell is the complete absence of God.
It is a place that is void of any characteristic that comes from God – love, peace, joy, righteousness, grace, forgiveness, hope, light, and good. Take away all of that, and take away your ability to call out to God anytime for help, from a place where God is completely unavailable and does not reside, and that is what hell is like. It’s like that old expression: You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. Appreciate God’s characteristics and beauty today, and call out to Him now while He is still available to you.
~ Matthew 13:31-53 Parables on the kingdom of heaven ~
Jesus presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into 50 pounds of flour until it spread through all of it.”
Then He dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached Him and said, “Explain the parable of the weeds in the field to us.”
He replied: “The One who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world; and the good seed—these are the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field.”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it.”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea. It collected every kind of fish, and when it was full, they dragged it ashore, sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but threw out the worthless ones. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous, and throw them into the blazing furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“Have you understood all these things?”
“Yes,” they told Him.
“Therefore,”He said to them, “every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old.” When Jesus had finished these parables, He left there.
Jesus could have easily been talking about the fair-weathered or pretend Christians of today when he was telling the parable of the Wheat and Weeds. Hardly a week goes by where we do not hear the surprising and shocking news of someone who is not the person they had pretended to be. Jesus never asked us to be perfect (for He is the only perfect one), but he did ask us to be authentic.
It reminds me of a time earlier this summer when I attended a small seaside church near the beach. The sights and sounds of the ocean always bring to my mind images of Jesus’ ministry – the fisherman disciples, their boats and fishing nets, shipwrecks and storms, and Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach for his disciples. So as I sat in church on that Sunday morning, listening to the music and pondering my thoughts, I saw a man walk in late just as the music had finished and the preaching started. The man shuffled his way through the row of people and took the empty seat next to me. He was nicely dressed – perhaps a little too nice for a seaside church where sandals are more the norm; and he smelled nice too – of expensive cologne and wearing an impressive watch. As the preacher began his sermon, the man opened his Bible, took out his notebook and fancy pen, and shouted a few loud “Amen’s” here and there, nodding to the preacher. I saw that he wrote down the title of the sermon in his notebook, while saying a few more “Amen’s”. I was impressed for a few minutes. But then he never wrote another word in his notebook. At the end of the sermon, when the music started back and the preacher gave an invitation for anyone who wanted to follow Jesus, the man packed up his things, climbed over all the people again, and left.
I don’t think Jesus was impressed with his show. Jesus would rather see someone come to the church in their wrinkled and disheveled clothes, worn out from the stresses and burdens this world can sometimes bring, falling down on their knees, pouring out their heart to Jesus and asking for His help. Authentic and Repentful.
The reason some people were angry with Jesus during his ministry on earth and chose not to follow him was because Jesus was not impressed with their wealth or status. How aggravating that must have been for them!
Jesus used ordinary people – fisherman, tent-makers, tax collectors and sinners, a prostitute, and a murderer (Paul) – and He made them extraordinary. Now that is impressive.
~ Matthew 13:1-2, 18-30 Parable of The Sower, and The Wheat and Weeds ~
On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore.
“You, then, listen to the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.”
He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this!’ he told them. ‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up?’ the slaves asked him.
‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn.’”