Thursday, July 24, 2008

Walking in Truth

My Bible study group is working on Matthew at the moment. We are studying chapters 21 and 22 which is just after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem when things are heating up between Jesus and those who held the keys of power in God’s city. Jesus had just stirred the pot by causing a ruckus with the whole donkey ride incident and now he stirs the pot even further by cleaning up the temple. He looked right at the priests and accused “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” Them’s fightin’ words.

Those who were in power, the chief priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the elders, the teachers of the law and even the Herodians, were done being insulted, they were finished with worrying about this upstart from the boonies. These were the people who controlled the temple, the scriptures, the money and the people. Who was this Jesus to come and insult them? Each group had its turn to try and trick Jesus. It was a game of wills. It was a game of wits. However, Jesus was the only one who came armed.

Round one brought the chief priests and the elders. They wanted to know “by what authority are you doing these things?” They thought they were so clever in their trap to expose the charlatan in front of His fans. Jesus retorted with a question they could not safely answer. Was John the Baptist a prophet or a phony? His response to their shoulder shrug: was no answer at all. Because, if they were too afraid to believe in John the Baptist, then they sure couldn’t handle Jesus. These men of fear and lack of action were the sons Jesus spoke of in the next parable, who told their father they would go to work in the field, but didn’t.

Round two was conducted by the Pharisees who hedged their bet by bringing along the Herodians. They thought they had the perfect question. One answer and the Zealots would brand Jesus as a traitor, the other answer would force the Herodians to get Him arrested: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?” The Pharisees were so close to victory they thought they could taste it. A few words from Jesus and their problems would be solved. The world would return to the equilibrium they longed for. Jesus countered with the truth: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” In one sentence He not only answered their question but He also established separation of state and church. Scripture says the tricksters were amazed. I am thinking chins-scraping-on –dirt-stunned.

Round three was led by the Sadducees. A group of rich, influential men who believed life ended in death, period. They denied the oral tradition of the prophets and held only to the five books of the law. They were full of themselves and probably disgusted that the Pharisees had failed. The swaggered up to Jesus with the “mother-of-all” trap questions. If a woman followed the law and married brother after brother who died, whose wife would she be after the resurrection? You can almost hear them snicker. Jesus looked them right in the eye and gave them the news about their error. Not only did He declare there was a resurrection, but, the afterlife was going to be something different, something their brains could not wrap around. We are told they were silenced. I bet that didn’t happen to the Sadducees very often.

Round four reveals the Pharisees were not sufficiently embarrassed by their last attempt and have come back for more. Now they were running on pure adrenaline. If they could trap Jesus they would win over the so-called prophet and shame the arrogant Sadducees. They found their best lawyer and posed the question they knew would stop this Jesus in His tracks: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” After all, who could answer that? Apparently their memories are short; this is only 21 years after Jesus stayed in the temple for three days amazing the teachers of the law with His knowledge and understanding of scripture as a 12 year old. Jesus answered them immediately by summing all of the law into two commandments: 1. love God, 2. love your neighbor. I have a feeling “love” was a totally new concept to the Pharisees.

Round five is Jesus’ turn to ask the question. He wants the Pharisees to explain how King David could call his son Lord? In all their hours of studying scripture and arguing over every jot and tittle, in all their attempts to use scripture to glorify themselves, take advantage of the weak and to put burdens on God’s people, these experts had missed a very significant prophesy. David’s son would be David’s Lord. Jesus is Lord. When the table was turned and the question posed to the deceivers, they had no answer. They could not say a word and from that day forward they no longer dared to ask Jesus any questions. Instead of plotting the perfect trap they moved on to plotting the perfect death. But, Jesus had the last word on that, too. He didn’t stay dead; He rose again in three days. He established the kingdom of God and it didn’t include those whose lust for power drove them to lead God’s children astray.

This sequence in Scripture makes me think of the current presidential election. I get frustrated when it seems to me that the main objective of each candidate and the media is to trap one of the candidates in the wrong answer to a question. I don’t want to have a president who is good at playing games I want a president who can lead. Jesus’ answers, to the questions posed to Him, show us how He would handle the media. The powerful of His time, threw every intellectual trick in the book at Him, but, he didn’t flinch. He just cut through the trap with the truth. Furthermore, His truth is so new, so real, so refreshing, that we could not even have imagined it. We can only believe it through the power of the Spirit.

Our family has some potential traps in our life right now. I can see in my father-in-law’s eyes that the nursing home is a lonely and confusing place for him. He may be safe, but he is lost. I grieve over the reality that medication may be all that brings him comfort. My mother-in-law is dealing with much change in her life, helping her to see what is safe for her is a challenging thing and I worry over what she may lose in the next year. Our finances have been turned upside down and I do not know what challenges await me in school. And through all this change, my husband and I still need to take time to tend to our marriage and our children. There are potential traps around every corner, but we walk with our hand in the hand of Jesus. He leads us with truth. The answer to the question “where are we going?” is a no-brainer: we are following Jesus.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 4

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