5 Marks of a False Leader – Matthew 23:1-12

For good or bad, people tend to resemble their leaders, as they assemble around those who reflect their own priorities. When they are led in a false direction, in one sense people cannot blame their leaders, because leadership is merely a reflection of their hearts; however, when God judges a people, while not exonerating the individuals, there is a particular responsibility that He holds leaders to. When the prophet Hosea came to announce judgment on the nation of Israel, in Hosea 4:4, 9 God says, “Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest… And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.”  Likewise in Ezekiel 34, God announced a scathing indictment of the shepherds of Judah for feeding and clothing themselves on the fat and wool of the sheep, not strengthening the weak, healing the sick, seeking the lost or gathering the straying, and judging the people harshly (Ez 34:1-4). The scattering of His people then is both a judgment as well as a protection. Finally God promises His people:  “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ez 34:11-12).

In the first twelve verses of chapter 23 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus identifies 5 marks or characteristics of false leaders. As God’s people today, we too ought to use this to help us identify true and false pastors of true and false churches. We can identify the nature of a leader by: The works they do (vs. 3), the burdens they render vs. 4), their need for an audience (vs. 5), and their love of honor and titles (vs. 6-7); all of these ultimately point to their pride (vs. 11-12). This is followed by some of the most shocking and harshest words ever spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ directed toward the Pharisees (the leaders of the Jewish people). Some have stumbled over the words of this chapter in light of Jesus’ command to love your enemies. But when we consider God’s jealous love for His people, and the sway that human leaders have over them, we can understand the righteous indignation that the God-man, Jesus Christ has toward the people who are leading His people astray.

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Laying the Foundation – Ezra 3:8-13

“[T]he people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” (Ezra 3:13 ESV)

We pick up the narrative about God’s people returning from captivity in Ezra 3, wherein we witness a crucial event: the laying of the foundation of the temple. This is what they came for. Recall the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia, wherein he instituted a God-given directive to return to Jerusalem “to build the house the Lord.” The temple was that glorious seal of God’s presence among his people, and though it had been destroyed, God supernaturally made a way for his people to rebuild it! In our text we see the fulfillment of Cyrus’ decree.

But something unexpected happens in response to the laying of this foundation. After the foundation was laid and the Levites led the people in celebratory singing, the older men, who had seen the original temple, were weeping. Unlike their younger brethren, they did not look at this new temple foundation with joy. The text specifically contrasts the weeping with the shouts of joy, making it clear these were not tears of joy.

The text does not specify why they were weeping. The prophet Haggai gives us a clue: “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” (Haggai 2:3) Perhaps these older men longed for the glory days of Israel and the beautiful Solomonic temple and this foundation simply failed to live up to expectations. Perhaps they were grieved over their own sin which led to the destruction of the first temple. Whatever the case one thing is evident: God’s work conjures varying responses from his people.

Believers in any season of life should be able to relate. We experience times of great joy and times of great sorrow. Sometimes we experience the entire spectrum of emotions in just one worship service or one season of prayer. Despite the differences in their responses, young and old worked side by side to accomplish the same goals of rebuilding the temple. Likewise, we must be mindful that God’s working will be received differently by our brothers and sisters. Some will weep, others will rejoice. Some will have their pride demolished while others will be uplifted from despair. So long as we inhabit this current world, we will experience diversity in our emotions. Let us minister to one another within this diversity while also looking forward to the day when God wipes away every tear!

An Eye for an Eye – Justice and Mercy – Exodus 21:12-36

In our text the Lord elaborates further on His law and covenant which He had given to the people of Israel. In the sixth commandment the Lord commanded Israel, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). Here in chapter 21:12-14 the Lord gives Israel regulations to apply the commandment to specific cases or situations. We find that not every case warrants the same punishment, as our just Judge decrees that His people and nation are to administer different punishments depending on the details of the crime, both in the wilderness and as they enter the land. In the first of three types of crimes in our text, we see the intentional killing of one made in God’s image is a capital offense, punishable by death. But if the killing was unintentional, the Lord would appoint a place of refuge. In verses 15 and 17, the Lord elaborates on the fifth commandment, “You shall honor your father and mother” (Ex 20:12): “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.” Honoring God also entails honoring those He put in authority over us in this life, namely our father and mother.

After this, the Lord addresses personal injury in verses 18-27. Some acts of violence against others do not lead to death. It is from this section we find the well-known verse:But if there is harm then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Jesus quoted this text in Matt 5:38-39. Lastly in verses 28-36, the Lord addresses criminal negligence, which deals mainly with animals.

These laws deal with justice and are based on the Lord’s righteousness. But we also see the Lord’s mercy in our text. Israel was not to be as the nations around them, but to be a people set apart for His purpose as displayed in His law. They were to be just when justice was called for, and to show mercy when mercy was called for. While we are not the people of Israel, or under the Law as they were, these verses have much to teach us about the Lord and His righteousness. There’s much wisdom to learn from this text and from what the New Testament has to say about these things.

 

The Parable of the Wedding Feast – Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus stirred considerable controversy among the religious leaders upon His final entry into Jerusalem. His Palm Sunday entry into the city followed by Monday’s cleansing of the Temple provoked the religious leaders to ask Jesus by what authority he was doing these things (Mt 21:23). We saw last time that these confrontations find their climax in Jesus’ prophecy of 21:43 that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to a people producing fruits. Without giving them a direct answer to their question, Jesus told three parables, all of which pointed to the failure of the Pharisees and Sadducees to rightly lead Israel. The first parable (21:28-32) centered on their failure during the ministry of John the Baptist. The second parable (21:33-42) focused on the continual failure of the leadership throughout the history of Israel, culminating in their rejection of Jesus and the turning over of the kingdom to others who produce fruit. Now in the third parable of the wedding feast (22:1-14), Jesus reveals the continual rejection of Jesus’ mission, even in the church, until the final Day of Judgment. Each parable highlights a particular segment of God’s history of salvation. Taken together, these parables challenge and call all of us to an urgent faith that goes beyond a formal profession; they call us to a true conversion-wrought, fruitful, and persevering faith that is a product of the new birth.

Like the great marriage supper of the Lamb described in Revelation 19:7, the parable of the wedding feast directs us to consider the eschatological blessings of our eternal future. In keeping with Jesus’ first two parables, the people originally invited to the banquet most likely represent Israel. Despite the incredible joy and blessing that this future feast promised, some of those invited are more concerned with their regular affairs of life and do not care much about it. Others actively resist the invitation with hostility (much like the wicked tenants in the previous parable). Whether passive or active, rejection of the invitation results in inexorable judgment. Following the rejection of many, the king extended his invitation indiscriminately; this makes for a natural transition from the broad rejection within Judaism to the extension of the invitation to the Gentile world. Sadly however, even among those who appear to accept the invitation, are some who are no less liable to eternal punishment, because they are found unworthy (unreceptive of the Gospel message). As believers we ought to ask ourselves, “Why was I a guest?” and “Am I wearing the right garment?”

Pursuit of Holiness – (Romans 6:11-14)

In our last study on the subject of holiness, we looked at the necessity of holiness.

We saw that when God saved us, He not only imputed Christ’s holiness to us, but He also called us to a life of holiness.  Paul captures this in his opening greeting to the Corinthians: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints..”  They were separated from the world and set apart to be holy.

Now that we are convinced of the necessity of living a holy life, the question remains as to how do we practically pursue it; and why is it that so many Christians feel constantly defeated in their struggle with sin, to the point that some have given up the fight and are resigned to wait for their glorified, sinless bodies.

While some have resorted to a list of do’s and don’ts as a way to have a measurable success in this area, others tell us that we need to stop trying in the flesh and simply trust in Christ’s active and passive obedience on our behalf; He will then live His life in us and we will experience victory over sin; they say that we started in faith and we need to continue in faith.

However, when we look into the scriptures, we see that we are not only to acknowledge that we have been delivered from the guilt and power of sin through our union with Christ, but that we are also to make no provision for the flesh:

Rom 6:11-13

11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

The fact of the matter is that as long as we are still in this world, we will be battling against sin; there is still an active devil whose aim is to tempt us so that we may fall into sin.  There is also our flesh that is easily enticed and drawn into sin.  But praise the Lord that we are not fighting this battle against sin in our own strength. God is committed to our sanctification and has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live a holy life.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Is in Charge? Matthew 21:23-46

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, he publicly affirmed what had, up to then, only been hinted at, that he was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. His intentional fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 (Behold, your king is coming to you; … humble and mounted on a donkey) served as a bold announcement that Jesus was the very King of Israel. This event set up a series of hostile encounters, over the next four days, with the religious authorities of the Jewish people – the Pharisees and Sadducees.  These confrontations, which are the subject of chapters 21 through 23 of Matthew’s Gospel, find their climax in Jesus’ prophecy of 21:43 that the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to a people producing fruits (a statement which hearkens back to the cursing of the fig tree in verses 18-22). Finally in chapter 23, Jesus utterly condemns the hypocritical leadership of Judaism with seven pronouncements of woe, ultimately condemning them for the murder of the righteous prophets that God had sent to warn and help the nation.

Palm Sunday’s entry into the city followed by Monday’s cleansing of the Temple prompted the religious leaders to ask Jesus by what authority he was doing these things (Mt 21:23). Without giving them a direct answer, Jesus told three parables which point to the failure of the Pharisees and Sadducees to lead Israel righteously. The consequence for their consistent hypocrisy and failure to heed the commandments of God, is revealed in this parable trilogy. The first parable (21:28-32) centers on their failure during the ministry of John the Baptist. The second parable (21:33-42) centers on the continual failure of the leadership throughout the history of Israel, culminating in their rejection of Jesus. And the third parable (22:1-14, which God willing, we will look at next time) reveals the continual rejection of Jesus’ mission through the church until the final Day of Judgment. Each parable highlights a particular segment in the history of salvation.

Though the church has historically understood these parables to be spoken against Israel, they most certainly apply to all of God’s people. Taken together, the parables challenge and call us to an urgent faith – not a mere profession or formal outward faith, but a true conversion-wrought faith that is a product of the new birth.

The Exiles Return – Ezra 2

“Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town.” (Ezra 2:1)

Ezra chapter 2 is a bunch of names. Sound exciting? Not just any names, either – some very difficult-to-pronounce names, along with some numbers. As you read it, you may wonder, can’t we just skip this passage?

Indeed, it would not be a sin to include this chapter in a sermon on chapter 1, or a study on the whole book. There is no command to treat this passage separately. However, when we consider the significance of this list of names, and its place in redemptive history, we come away with more than we’d expect.

Chapter 2 gives us a list of the names of those exiles who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and Judah. This history alone is worth savoring: God promised, years beforehand, that the captivity would conclude and his people would return – and here it is, written for our encouragement, God fulfilling his promise!

Now, why doesn’t the text merely tell us it happened, and move on to more dynamic elements of the event? What’s with all the names? Commentators have offered a few suggestions as to why: 1) the list of names gives credibility to land rights upon return, 2) the list distinguishes true Israelites from those who were not given approval to rebuild the temple, and 3) the list is a record of the line of families that constitutes Israel’s rich history, leaving for them (and us) a historical legacy that serves as a reminder that God has preserved his people.

Relishing in how good God is to his own children is enough to inspire worship for eternity. But there are other practical applications to reading this list as well. It reminds us that God is concerned with details. It foreshadows another list, wherein exiles in this present world will one day cross the river into the heavenly Jerusalem, namely the Lamb’s Book of Life, and raises the question, is my name written there? And it teaches us about the significance of names. God knows you by name!

As you think about the “bunch of names” in Ezra 2, rejoice that your name is written among the “bunch of names” in the Book of Life, right alongside the so-called giants of the faith! And remember, the only reason your name is written there is because of the accomplishments of the One who is given a name above all names, our Lord Jesus Christ!