We Cannot Tell

Matthew 21: 24-27. ” And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell Me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven: He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men: we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus and said, We cannot tell.  And He said unto them, Neither tell I you by what auhtority I do these things.”

It was not yet time for Jesus to declare Himself to the religious rulers. There were still some things to be done before He went to the cross.  So, rather than answer their question, He posed one for them. He said if they answered His question, then He would answer theirs. With His question, He not only silenced them but He also answered the question. John the Baptist had borne witness of Him. John himself, the forerunner of the Messiah, was believed by the people to have been a real Old Testament prophet.

So here was a conundrum indeed.  If the religious leaders answered, “From heaven,” they would have endorsed John’s statement concerning Who Jesus was, and thereby condemned themselves for their unbelief and hatred of Jesus. Yet, to say John’s baptism was of men would deny his status as a prophet, and the people would have risen up against them. So they came up with a timeworn response to  question they had no desire to answer.

“We don’t know.”

And Jesus’ response was quick and final: “Then I will not answer your question, either.”  Always, Jesus had the final word. He was, after all, the King, the Christ, the Son of God. He did not need to answer their questions.

By What Authority?

Matthew 21:23. “And when He was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto Him as He was teaching, and said, By what authority doest Thou these things? and who gave Thee this authority?”

As Jesus taught the people who gathered around Him in the temple, muttering mumbling Pharisees, chief priests and elders of the people, approached him in all their dignity. I can imagine the frowns, the beard pulling, the harumphing and headshaking that went on as they expressed their disapproval. They, after all, had not given this Nazarene upstart any permission or authority to teach in their temple!

These so-called spiritual rulers of the people had begun to gather themselves in earnest now, getting ready for their final denunciation of Jesus. They had followed Him throughout His ministry, questioning and gathering evidence against Him, even trying to trap Him to do Him physical harm. If they could only catch Him in one major crime, they would be able to silence Him.

So they approached, robed in their own righteousness, and put Jesus to this question:  By what authority do you teach?  By what authority do you upset our moneychangers?  By what authority do You perform Your magic, creating chaos among the common, ignorant people who aren’t onto Your tricks?  And even more important, who has given you this authority?  Who?

I imagine that what upset them the most was the cleansing of the temple the previous day.  After all, there was money to be made, and Jesus had disrupted that sacred  business!

Jesus was now face to face with the mighty ecclesiastical rulers of the people, the Sanhedrin!  How would He respond to this august body of “holy” men?

Faith, with No Doubt

Matthew 21:21-22. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”

God’s power is always ready to answer our faith. The connection here is obvious:  Israel had no faith in God, and they were barren. When Israel once again has faith, the power of God will respond in kind. The mountain typifies any obstacle.  Any obstacle can be overcome through absolute faith and trust in God. At that point, the nation of Israel was like a mountain that was an obstacle in the path of the gospel. Because of the faith of the early Christians, Israel (the mountain) was indeed cast into the sea (the nations). Through the moving of that “mountain,” the Good News was spread throughout the earth.

Can we see obstacles removed today?  Of course we can.  Then why don’t we?  Because of our lack of faith. We are tired of the battle; we want to quit fighting; we don’t care enough about holding on to the fundamentals of the faith or about seeing a lost and dying world reached with the gospel.  Because of our apathy, we are losing our freedoms all over the world.  Even here, in the United States, our President tells us that we are no longer a Christian nation, and that in fact Islam helped create the very fabric of our nation.

I saw a video yesterday in which an imam had been invited to give the call to prayer in the church in Germany in which Martin Luther is most honored. A brave Christian woman stood in the balcony and cried out against what was going on as the imam started his call. Of course she was escorted out, but what she said was powerful:  Jesus Christ is still Lord!   I wonder if any American Christian today would be brave enough to publicly voice an objection to the inclusion of Islam into a Christian church.  Do we have the faith to move that mountain, or are we too intimidated by political correctness?

We need to pray as the father of the demon-possessed boy prayed:  “Lord, I believe.  Help Thou mine unbelief!”

The Fig Tree

Matthew 21:17-20. :And He left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and He lodged there. Now in the morning as He returned into the city, He hungered. And when He saw a fig tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!”

As always, there is far more to this incident than meets the eye. The first thing that occurs to me is that Jesus, Son of God, Son of man, God incarnate, had a very human need.  He was hungry. Such a seemingly small thing, but it reminds us again of Who He was, and what He came to do.  He was God. He was man. He was the only One Who could perform the act of salvation for mankind because He was sinless, divine, and human. No other faith offers a Savior. Only Jesus. 

The fig tree, in scripture, is a type or picture of the nation of Israel. As a nation, Israel had rejected Jesus as Messiah. When Jesus inspected the tree, looking for fruit, He found nothing but leaves. There was nothing to satisfy His hunger, to feed and sustain Him.  The cursing of the fig tree stands for the national rejection of the people. Israel yielded no fruit; therefore, the barren tree was cut off and cast into the fire, while the root remained (Luke 13). 

The disciples were amazed at how quickly the curse Jesus spoke  came to fruition. He used their amazement to teach a lesson on faith and prayer, which we will look at tomorrow. 

Friday Counseling Issues: Forgiveness

I like to go back to the most literal meaning of a word. For that, I go to the Online Etymology Dictionary, and here is what it says about the word forgiveness: 

forgive (v.) Look up forgive at Dictionary.comOld English forgiefan “give, grant, allow; forgive,” also “to give up” and “to give in marriage;” from for- “completely” + giefan “give” (see give).
The modern sense of “to give up desire or power to punish” is from use of the compound as a Germanic loan-translation of Latin perdonare (such as Old Saxon fargeban, Dutch vergeven, German vergeben, Gothic fragiban; see pardon (v.)). Related: Forgave; forgiven; forgiving.

In financial terms, here is another definition  from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/debt-forgiveness.html:

“Writing-off of a portion of one or more loans to a financially troubled firm by its lender(s). The objective is to help that firm in its debt restructuring so that it remains viable and is able to pay off the remaining part of the loan(s).”

To forgive, then, has always meant to give up the right to  demand justice, whether in human relationships or in financial terms. It is to grant pardon, to remove the neccessity of repayment for a wrong or a debt. 

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about forgiveness.  We believe, for instance, that if we forgive, then the person who wronged us gets away with it.  Or, if we forgive, then we have to accept continuing hurt and pain.  Forgiveness somehow makes us doormats for the bad guys. Worse, we tend to believe that forgivess is weakness.  Just the opposite is true, and I hope we will see that clearly as we talk through this topic. 

Often, we believe that forgiveness is simply saying, “Oh, that’s ok, don’t worry about it.”  I want to say that doing so is a cop-out.  It’s not true forgiveness. No one has done anything wrong, and the person who has been asked to forgive pretends he wasn’t hurt.  

Next week, I plan to start working through a handout that I offer my clients on this topic.  We’ll be starting in Matthew 6, with what we have come to know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” I’d encourage you to read through from verses 9-15. 

Please be in prayer for me as I write and study; and for anyone, including yourself, who may have some forgiving to do. This is one of the most important issues I address in my work.  We need to get it right. 

Sore Displeased

Matthew 21: 15-16. “And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David: they were sore displeased. And said unto Him, Hearest Thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou has perfected praise?”

Sore displeased. That means they were ticked off, mad as a wet hen, wrapped around the axle! Their handy little banking and stockyard businesses had just been disrupted, and they were NOT happy. Then, to make matters worse, the chief priests and scribes stood and watched miracle after miracle, as Jesus healed the lame and the blind. And,  of all things, those bratty little kids were following Him all over the place crying out “Hosanna! to the son of David!”

It was enough to sour a rabbi’s stomach.  Was there no respect, no order, no adherence to tradition?  This must be stopped, and stopped now!

So they went to Jesus, all up on their dignity, and  they said, “Don’t You know what these raggedy little children are saying?  They’re calling You the son of David!  Outrageous!  Insufferable!”

And Jesus, as always, had the last word.  I love this. Jesus said, “Haven’t you read?”  And He quoted Psalm 8:2.  This is a Messianic Psalm, partially fullfilled here in Matthew 21:16. Here are the first two verses:

O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy Name in all the earth! Who hast set Thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

The meaning of that prophecy is clearly established in Hebrews 2, where Jesus, the Son of Man, is seen in His complete domionion over the earth.  The enemy will be silenced by perfect praise.

What a day that will be!

The Lame and the Blind

Matthew 21:14. “And the blind and the lame came to Him to the temple; and He healed them.”

“Have you heard?  Did you know?  Jesus, the Nazarene, is here!  Yes, in the city itself!  I heard He created an uproar at the temple today.  I heard He chased the moneychangers out of the temple, and threw tables upside down. All the animals that were caged were set free!  Can you imagine?  Our high priest and all his followers were beside themselves with fury!   But I was told that no one dared to stop Him, that His wrath was so great that no one could withstand it!  Oh, I wish I had seen!

“And did you know that He’s healing people again?  Yes, yes!  Right here, right now!  Blind, lame, they’re coming to Him in droves and He’s touching them, or speaking a word, and they are healed!  Come!  Come with me!  Let’s go see how close we can get!  Maybe we’ll see Him. Maybe we’ll see this Man of Galilee Who has set the scribes and Pharisees all on edge.  Come!  Come now!”