The parable we see today is similar to the parable of the prodigal son. In both parables God’s Grace is shown to two parties while one grumbles about unjust treatment. Most of the poorer workers in Jesus day were paid at the end of every day, usually a denarius. The vineyard owner went out first at 9:00 am looking for workers. He followed that at noon, 3:00, and about 5:00. At that point there would have been only one hour of work left in the day. When it was time to pay the workers the owner paid the last hired, first. They each received a denarius. That made those hired early on believe they would get more. After all, they had worked much longer. But each worker received the same pay…one denarius. The early workers began to grumble and complain. This was not fair. The owner of the vineyard countered the grumbling, reminding the workers they had all received the agreed upon wage. The early workers grumbled because they were evil in their outlook but their master was sovereignty generous. Being jealous here also carried the meaning of having an evil eye. As we read Matthew’s gospel you will notice that every prediction of Jesus’s suffering is connected to instruction on the nature of discipleship in light of that suffering. This teaching called the disciples to follow His example of service and sacrifice. Jesus again predicted both His suffering death and resurrection. For the first time He made reference to crucifixion. But no one understood what that meant. As they walked along, the mother of James and John came to Jesus to ask a favor. Her question may have been inspired by her sons, but it is a very big ask. She wanted her two sons,James and John to sit on either side of Jesus…one on the left and one on the right. Perhaps Jesus was taken aback but He was gracious in His response. He told them they had no idea what they were asking, and asked if they could drink the cup He was going to drink. They were sure they could. But this cup was filled to the brim with the wrath of God because of our sins and disobedience. No one could drink this cup and survive. Jesus then told them He didn’t get to choose who sat on His right and left. God the Father would choose them. James and John would drink from Jesus’s bitter cup. James was eventually martyred and John suffered significant persecution. The other disciples were indignant. Evidently selfish ambition wasn’t unique to James and John. In fact, the desire for power was a characteristic of pagan rulers, but it shouldn’t be a trait of those who follow Jesus.
Slaves worked in service to another as the property of that person. Slave is a common metaphor for the submissive relationship of a disciple to his master. Jesus’s disciples serve others, following His example. Jesus describes Himself as the Son of Man and He describes Himself as a voluntary offering as a ransom for many to pay the debt all people owe, thereby buying them out of slavery. It appears that Jesus and His disciples had traveled to Jerusalem from Galilee by crossing over the Jordan River and heading south on the non Samaritan side. They left Jericho and two blind men heard Jesus was coming their way. These men addressed Jesus as both Lord and Son of David. Their faith was in the son of David who they were sure was Jesus the Messiah.
Chapter 21 begins the passion narrative. Jesus’s triumphal entry into the city begins Matthew’s account of how the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection establish salvation. The Mount of Olives was directly east of Jerusalem across the deep ravine of the Kidron Valley and Bethphage was a small village on the east side of the Mount of Olives. Bethphage means house of figs. Jesus sent two of the disciples on a mission to find a donkey and her colt. It is quite likely that the owners of the animals knew Jesus and wanted to do something to help Him. The excitement builds until you could feel it. Jesus sat down on the donkey and the people cheered. Kings rode donkeys as well as dignitaries. Not only did the people cheer but they spread their cloaks on the ground along with palm tree branches. These actions fulfill Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9. The Messiah is humble and non violent. The crowds understood Jesus to be a prophet, empowered by God to teach and perform miracles. The fact that the people knew Jesus was from Nazareth serves to highlight Jesus humble origins. The crowds were in an uproar. Jesus strode into the temple, chasing out the sellers of animals for sale and over turning the money changer tables. Buying and selling took place within the temple courtyards, in the court of the Gentiles. The sellers made a healthy profit on each sale and the money changers too were making large sums of money from their “jobs”. All of this profaned the temple. Many people approached Jesus at true temple and are healed all of them. But the Jewish leaders were outraged at everything Jesus was doing. There was so much excitement that the children were running around and singing. The exuberance of their faith was set over and against the Jewish leaders stubborn refusal to believe. Jesus chastised the leaders because they had not read scripture so they didn’t have access to the messianic kingdom. It looks like Jesus and His disciples stayed outside of the city of Jerusalem at night, in Bethany with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. When they returned the next morning Jesus passed a fig tree. He was hungry so He was going to pick fruit and eat it. But there was no ripe fruit, only leaves. It was not the season for ripe figs. Jesus cursed the fig tree. This is a symbolic gesture symbolizing God’s judgement on Israel for rejecting the Messiah. The tree showed promise but no fruit and the Israelites didn’t bear the fruit of receiving the Messiah. Jesus was exhorting the disciples to trust and to pray accordingly.
The rest of today’s reading focuses on the Jewish leaders attack on Jesus’s authority. In each case Jesus’s wisdom revealed the leaders spiritual blindness. These debates also revealed Jesus’s status as Messiah and the consequences of rejecting Him. Unfortunately the leaders grew more resistant with each encounter and they began to plot how to kill Him. They wanted to know who had given Jesus the authority to do the things He was doing; things like healing and forgiving people from their sins. The sarcasm as thick from the religious elite but when Jesus proposed a riddle, they backed off and didn’t answer because they were in a position where answering would not result in winning everything. Jesus used John the Baptist as part of His riddle but John’s ministry was controversial too, especially after he denounced Herod’s sins. These leaders could not answer the riddle without incriminating themselves, and they lacked the integrity and courage to confess what they believed about John. So, because they could and would not answer jesus, He refused to answer them.
What follows next are three parables that serve to expose the guilt of those who had rejected the Messiah and forfeited their privilege as God’s chosen people. The new people of God are only those who embrace the Messiah. The first parable was about two sons. The older son was told by his father to go out and work in the vineyards but he said no, he wouldn’t go. This response most likely offended the Jews because they were taught to show outward respect for the authority of a father. The younger son said he would go but then didn’t. On the other hand, the older son changed his mind and went to work. By teaching this parable Jesus demonstrated the religious leaders failure to respond rightly to John the Baptist’s prophetic ministry. A person’s actions ultimately prove whether or not he is obedient to God. The second parable was that of the evil tenant farmers. Here Jesus drew in Isaiah 5:1-7. The people of Israel who rejected God’s Messiah forfeited the privilege of being God’s people. The Christian community, made up of both Jews and Gentiles has now been called the people of God. The prophets had spoken God’s word to Israel. The tenant farmers represented the leaders of Israel, whom Jesus held responsible for the deaths of God’s prophets. Finally the owner of the vineyard sent his Son. They would respect him. But the leaders didn’t respect Jesus; they looked for ways to eliminate Him and eventually had Him crucified. The religious leaders pronounced their own condemnation and, then the Lord will come in judgement. Verse 42 points to Psalm 118:22-23. What Jesus is saying is that the stone that was the most important, the cornerstone, was the one the builders rejected. Jesus was referring to His role in the Kingdom of God and to the religious leaders rejection of Him. So, either the privilege of being God’s chosen nation no longer belonged to the Jews, or the religious leaders had lost the privilege of being leaders of God’s people. Now the Christian community is the one that will produce the proper fruit. That would be a life of trust and obedience that demonstrates the inauguration the kingdom. Then the religious leaders realized Jesus was speaking of them.
Again in the parable of the wedding feast we see Israel having rejected God’s word in the past now rejects the Messiah and is judged as a result. The king is the Lord whose Son is Jesus. The feast represents the kingdom of the Messiah. Those who were invited refers to the nation of Israel, who ignored God’s servants the prophets. Jesus is alluding to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD., and those who reject God’s invitation are not worthy to enter into the kingdom. Now everyone is invited. No longer is the invitation just to the nation of Israel. When the king came to the feast there was one who did not have the proper clothes on. Some believe that when a wedding feast was thrown the host provided the wedding garments for all who were invited. This visitor had been invited but had not prepared for the event. In the Book of Revelation the garment of fine linen worn by the bride of the lamb is said to be the righteous deeds of the Saints. The man ignored a basic obligation placed on him when he accepted the Kings gracious invitation to the feast. He was supposed to wear clean clothes. Coming as he did was an insult. In this parable the garments may refer to the righteousness of Christ graciously provided for us through His death. To refuse to put it on would mean a refusal of Christ’s sacrifice or, arrogance in thinking that the garment was somehow not needed. If we want to enter Christ’s banquet we must put on the righteousness He gives us. Because this man was unprepared, the king declared him unworthy and he was sent out of the banquet hall. The outer darkness refers to judgement, and weeping and gnashing of teeth expresses the intense pain and sorrow that result from condemnation for sin and unbelief. Many are called. In other words they receive an invitation but few respond in faithful obedience.
Roman taxation was a huge issue in Israel but the Pharisees who were usually against Rome had aligned themselves with them. Not because they agreed but because they hated Jesus. The question asked was designed to trap Jesus. They were sure He would answer in such a way that they could then arrest Him. But Jesus answered them in such a way they could not arrest Him or answer Him. The poll tax had to be paid with a denarius coin which bore the picture and title of Caesar on it. Some devout Jews believed the coin with the emperors head on it was idolatrous and therefore should not be used. Jesus differentiated this coin from the supreme honor and allegiance due the Lord. He was acknowledging two dominions; Caesar’s and God’s. God had top priority. After the discussion about paying tax, some Sadducees approached Jesus with a question about Levirate marriage which they considered proof that resurrection from the dead is impossible. The law that is the basis for their question comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-6 but Levitate marriage is also discussed in Genesis 38:1-26. Levirate marriage stated that if a man died without an heir, his brother was to take his wife, marry her and produce an heir for the deceased brother so the family line would be carried on. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection from the dead because their authoritative scripture consisted only of the five Books of Moses. Jesus rebuked them for denying the resurrection of the dead. He also called them on their lack of knowledge of scripture and the power of God. This power of God probably refers to God’s ability to raise the dead.
In His answer, Jesus was not disparaging the divine order of marriage and sexuality. Instead He was affirming that people will be transformed into a glorious new existence in which aspects of the present order, such as marriage, will not be present. And, since God spoke of being the God of Abraham in the present tense, that means he still lives, and thus that there is a resurrection. Many stricter Jews saw all commandments as equally binding which meant a careless response to this question could lead to the accusation of undermining the law of God. Jesus answered from the Shema, one of the core statements of God’s covenants with Israel. The Shema is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The heart, soul, and mind represent the whole person. We are called to do two things; love God and love others. Jesus turned the tables on the Sadducees and asked them to explain scripture. They realized they couldn’t and fell silent, not asking any more questions.
Chapter 23 is entitled woe to the scribes and Pharisees! This is an extended discourse and its actually runs through chapter 25. This discourse centers on judgement for rejecting the Messiah. During the course of His ministry the religious leaders had sought to find a way to accuse Jesus publicly of a crime, any crime. But they couldn’t find anything. Now Jesus turned to the crowd and to His disciples to openly indict the religious leaders for their numerous failures to conform to God’s righteous standards. The Pharisees were the official interpreters of the law of Moses and they judged religious and social matters on the basis of these traditions. With their interpretations of the law of Moses they had written some 613 legal prohibitions and commands. The need for the people to dot every I and cross every T became a burden many were no longer willing to carry and people walked away from worshiping the Lord. Pious Jews wore, on the forehead and upper left arm a small pouch or leather box called a phylactery. These containers held written copies of certain scriptures. Most Jewish males wore their prayer shawls all the time and these shawls had tassels on the corners. Some Jews lengthened their tassels so others would see them and think these folks were very holy and pious. The seats of honor in the synagogue were those closest to the scrolls of the Torah and facing the congregation. Jesus didn’t prohibit the use of titles; only the assumption of undue honor by those who transmit knowledge about God. Everything these men did was for show. While the Rabbi’s functioned in Judaism as mediators for dispensing knowledge about God, the new covenant has only one teacher, Jesus Himself. Jesus made it clear that His disciples were to lead by serving, a stark contrast to Israel’s religious leaders. From verses 13-36 Matthew collected seven statements…literally woe to you…and arranged them to climax with the murder of the prophets.
Jesus begins with a sharp warning of judgement from God. The leaders were hypocrites which here means leading people astray such that you will incur God’s judgement. They abused their teaching authority, and showed a preoccupation with power and prestige. They shut the door of heaven by their false teaching and opposition to Jesus, preventing people from hearing and believing the truth about the Messiah. Jesus called these leaders blind guides, hypocrites, blind fools, and white washed tombs. It was a Jewish custom to coat limestone tombs with a mixture of marble and lime to fill the porous surfaces, giving them a more pleasing appearance and helping visitors to Jerusalem to notice the graves so they could avoid touching them. That way they would not contaminate themselves. Jesus isn’t critical of adorning the tombs, but he sees a parallel between them and the teachers of the religious law. Both may have looked great on the outside but both were contaminated, impure, and rotten on the inside. By finishing what their ancestors had started that meant not only did they kill the prophets but they would kill the Messiah. They had a long history of killing God’s messengers. But even though Jesus spoke of severe judgement what He really wanted was for them to repent and receive God’s grace. By calling a name twice Matthew indicates strong emotion. The phrases “I wanted” and ‘you were not willing’ illustrate the opposition of Israel to Jesus’s will. Eventually God would once again withdraw His presence from the temple and the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. This would happen in 70 A.D.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W