Sitting in Moses’ Chair: Matthew 23:1-36

Focus Passage: Matthew 23:1-36 (NASB)

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the group of people He seemed to have the most difficulty with were the scribes and Pharisees. These two groups of people were the most religious of the religious people living at that time, and in many ways, their religion was their life.

While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include Jesus cautioning the people about becoming like the scribes and Pharisees, only Matthew goes into great detail describing where the scribes and Pharisees had missed God’s plan. Matthew tells us that Jesus said to those listening, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.” (v. 2-5)

It is interesting that Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees teaching as being worthwhile, but their actions as being worthless. Jesus told the people, “Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” (v. 3)

The role of the religious leaders was to show God to the people, but the only picture they were painting of God was a harsh, demanding dictator that was standing by, ready to punish those who messed up. The religious leaders had set up rules and laws to protect them from coming close to breaking God’s laws, because in their minds, God is very strict and protective of His law.

When these first century Jewish leaders compared God’s will for His people on a spectrum measuring obedience and compassion, they firmly believed that He would only be compassionate on those who were obedient. Obedience was at the foundation of what they taught, but they didn’t even live up to their own standard. This may be why Jesus shared a few verses later, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (v. 13-14 [Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47])

The problem Jesus had with the religious leaders while He was present on earth is they had built the wall between humanity and God so high that it was impossible to get through – and then after they had that wall built, they didn’t go through themselves. Because of their teaching, and especially their actions, the scribes and Pharisees turned people off of even wanting to know God.

This warning to those living in the first century also cautions me to live out what I teach. The leaders in the first century spoke more conservatively than they acted, but perhaps it is better to err in the other direction. It may be better to live in a more conservative way than what we communicate to others. If we live and share God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance towards those who have repented, we are accurately representing His character as displayed through Jesus’ life on earth!

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Flashback Episode — The Second Trial: Luke 22:66-71

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When describing all that happened following Jesus’ arrest and leading up to the cross, all four gospels describe the details differently. Each gospel writer has the details in a unique, but similar order, and some events that are placed in different places in each gospel’s “order of events” may actually describe the same event.

While these discrepancies might be reasons for a skeptic to doubt, all this uniqueness in my own mind speaks to four independent investigators asking witnesses questions of a single event. It’s possible that the order of the details is different, and that makes piecing the timeline of the event together a little more difficult.

This brings us to our passage for this episode. Two weeks ago, we read Mark’s gospel, which described a trial Jesus faced at night. This trial had numerous false witnesses contradicting each other, and when it looked like the trial was about to fall apart, in almost desperation, the high priest challenges Jesus on His claim of being God’s Son.

However, in Luke’s gospel, the first trial we see take place is after Peter’s denial and it happens when morning came. Luke doesn’t describe any false witnesses, but he does draw our attention onto the direct challenge of the religious leaders that they use to condemn Jesus.

In my mind, as I piece the gospel record together, there were two trials. The one during the night was a practice trial to get information that these leaders could then challenge Jesus on during the official trial in the morning.

Let’s read about the morning trial that Luke describes. This event is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 22, and we will read it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 66, Luke tells us:

66 In the morning the council of the people’s leaders, the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings, gathered together. They brought Jesus in front of their highest court and asked him, 67 “Tell us, are you the Messiah?”

Jesus said to them, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. 68 And if I ask you, you won’t answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be in the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne.”

70 Then all of them said, “So you’re the Son of God?”

Jesus answered them, “You’re right to say that I am.”

71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We’ve heard him say it ourselves.”

Let’s stop reading here because this marks the end of this trial. Following this, the religious leaders take Jesus to Pilate.

However, what I find interesting in Luke’s trial that makes me think this was a different trial than what Mark describes is that the religious leaders open with a direct question and Jesus responds with a similar, but distinctly different answer.

The religious leaders are working against the clock because they have the Passover to get ready for, and they want Jesus condemned to death as quickly as possible, since this is likely the only chance they feel they will get.

After fishing for information and for a charge to bring against Jesus during the time they had Him at night, the religious leaders settle on Jesus’ claim of divinity and His role as God’s Messiah. They take this information to the official trial that is first thing that morning.

In Luke’s official trial, I am amazed at Jesus’ response, especially after a passage we read earlier this year. In this response Jesus gives, I believe He directly references the question He asked the religious leaders that they could not answer.

Earlier that week, Jesus had presented a divine picture of the Messiah when He quoted David saying in the Psalms: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Take the honored position—the one next to me [God the Father] on the heavenly throne until I put your enemies under your control.’(This event can be found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 20, verses 41-44.)

Now with that in mind, let’s read Jesus’ response again during Luke’s trial. Verses 67-69 tell us that Jesus responded by saying, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you, you won’t answer.  But from now on, the Son of Man will be in the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne.

Do you see the similarities in these two verses?

Reading these two passages together gives me a picture of what Jesus is doing right now. Following Jesus’ return to Heaven, God the Father gives Him the honored position next to Him and Jesus is reigning in Heaven as the “Defeater of Sin and Death”. These two passages together describe the time we are currently living in, which is a time where Jesus is victorious but sin hasn’t yet been destroyed.

In this passage, we discover that Jesus not only responded strategically here, but He responded in the exact way that the religious leaders needed Him to respond to condemn Him to death.

Also, with this response, the religious leaders condemn themselves. Not only do they reject that Jesus is God’s Son, but they also reject Jesus as God’s Messiah, and they reject God Himself because they don’t believe Jesus fits their picture of God.

By rejecting both God the Father and Jesus as the Son and the Messiah, their judgment displays their allegiance to the powers of this world and not to the religion they claimed to follow. These religious leaders had taken their tradition and formed it into their religion in place of the religion God had given to Moses for the people.

It is no wonder the religious leaders rejected Jesus. Jesus came with an accurate picture of God that said every human being is a sinner who needs a Savior. While the religious leaders intellectually believed this, otherwise they would not have judged Jesus as a sinner, they disliked this truth being shared openly by an outsider.

It is the same way with us today. While it is not pleasant to see ourselves as sinners, that is who we are. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are victorious sinners who have had our sins washed away, but until Jesus returns to rid the world of sin, sin will always be something our lives are challenged with, and sin is always something that is included in our past.

This is the way God designed it to be, because if there was no sin in our past, not only would we be deceiving ourselves, but we also would be rejecting the need of a Savior to wash us clean. Jesus came to save sinners, and those who don’t see themselves as sinners needing a Savior won’t accept the gift that Jesus freely offers to those who place their faith in Him.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. Be sure to recognize that you are a sinner who needs a Savior and that your past needs Jesus’ sacrifice to cover it. Choose today to live a victorious life that doesn’t look like your sinful past, and choose to live each day moving forward for Jesus.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God and to Jesus each and every day. Through prayer and Bible study, you grow your personal relationship with God and through the personal relationship with God, you are able to discover and learn the truth that God wants to teach you. While others can give you ideas to think about, filter everything you learn through the truth of God’s Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 37: In the gospel of Luke, we read about a different trial Jesus faced that morning, and with the question the religious leaders ask Jesus during this trial, we see an amazing picture of who Jesus claimed to be, and what He is doing in Heaven right now!

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

One Difficult Command: John 13:31-38

Focus Passage: John 13:31-38 (NIV)

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

Read John 13:31-38 in context and/or in other translations on!

During the supper Jesus shared with His disciples on the night of His arrest, He shares with them a profound idea that might sound obvious on the surface, but it has a slight twist that makes it unique. At this “Last Supper”, Jesus gives the disciples a new command.

John tells us that while they were together after Judas Iscariot had left, Jesus told them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (v. 34-35)

On the surface, this sounds like Jesus simply is restating the “Love your neighbor as yourself” commandment He had shared earlier in His ministry as one of the top two commandments of the law. But loving one another is different from loving your neighbor.

Loving your neighbor could be understood as loving those who live near you, loving the strangers you pass by on the street, or even loving that annoying person who works near you at the office. In essence, these are people who you only casually know at best, and you unlikely would be friends with them if it were not for the geographical connection.

Loving one another is the opposite side of this coin. In this statement, Jesus commands His followers to love those they are close to, like those who are part of their family, friends, and church group. In some ways this is easier, but the challenge here is that the closer you get to know someone, the less of a mask they are able to put up, and the more you really get to know who they are. If you find something that you don’t like about them, is your response going to be breaking the friendship, or is it one that displays love and/or forgiveness? The answer is very dependent on the situation, but when in doubt, we should err on the side of showing love even if the relationship needs to end.

But in this command is also the command to love those who call themselves followers. This might be the hardest challenge of all. When we look at the broad group of people who identify themselves as “Christians”, there is very little that we could call united. There are “Christians” who hold to almost every possible belief and ideology that exists today. Sadly, the one thing that was suppose to unify us apart from a belief in Jesus is our love – for each other and for others – and this is more than simply tolerating those who believe differently than us.

Jesus’ single command for His church was to be known as the most loving place anyone could go – and while being loving does not mean ignoring the truth or discounting sin, it does mean caring for the individual in spite of the sin and helping lift them into a better place than they were before. It also means forgiving even if the other person doesn’t deserve it. With a love like this, we can accurately represent Jesus in our world today.

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Receiving Jesus’ Reward: Matthew 20:1-16

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As we come closer to the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion in Matthew’s gospel, we come to a parable Jesus shares about a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard. Like many of Jesus’ other parables, this one is attributed to the kingdom of heaven.

However, as I have read this parable, I have always been amazed at the implications and things I learn from the details in this parable, and I’m sure that this time will be no exception. Let’s read what Jesus shared and then unpack some things we can learn from this teaching. Our parable and passage are found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 20, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Jesus tells those present:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Whenever I read this parable, one portion of the parable bothers me when we compare it with how this parable is framed. At the start of this parable, Jesus frames this parable as being about the kingdom of heaven, and at the end of the parable, we find people who are being rewarded by this landowner who are grumbling against the landowner because they don’t feel they have been treated fairly.

This detail comparison strikes me as odd because regardless of what represents the kingdom of heaven in this parable, I find it challenging to picture people complaining about the unfairness this parable presents.

Don’t misunderstand me though. Looking around at people here on earth, including those in the church and those out of the church, I can easily picture a group of people accusing God of being unfair. However, it is harder for me to picture this happening in heaven.

However, while God, who I believe is represented by this landowner, is being accused of being unfair, is there anything actually unfair happening in this parable?

If we judge this parable through our human standards, we might be able to make a case that what the landowner does is unfair. After all, those who worked for fewer hours should receive less than those who worked for more hours, especially with all other variables being the same. If someone who came later in the day worked harder and produced more than someone who was present but not all that diligent, then a case could be made for paying the one who performed better for a shorter period of time the same, or worse for that matter, as someone who worked longer but who wasn’t as productive.

However, the details of this parable remove the accusation of the landowner being unfair. Those who began first thing in the morning agreed to being paid a fair day’s wage. After the day’s worth of work, they seem to have forgotten what they had agreed to. However, forgetting the details of an agreement doesn’t make the agreement any less binding and it doesn’t make what was agreed upon any less fair.

Those who worked a full day were paid what was fair for a full day’s worth of work. In contrast, those who started later get more than they deserved for their work. Those who started later get to experience generosity because they receive more than they would have normally earned for the time they spent working.

It is interesting when we take this idea and extend it into the spiritual realm. If we ignore for a moment that those who worked the longest complained, we can see an amazing spiritual parallel in what Jesus did for us.

Let’s take the day of work in the vineyard in this parable and translate it into a lifetime of service. When we look at our lifetime service record, the only one in history with a spotless record is Jesus. Jesus began way before we even knew anything about God and Jesus will continue long after memory of us has faded from those alive on this planet.

If anyone has served for a long time, it is Jesus. Anyone and everyone who serves God is someone who started after the start of the workday because when we were born, regardless of how smart we were or what family we were born into, we had no understanding of serving God.

This also means that when God pays us for our lifetime of service, He gives us more than we deserve. Instead of limiting the reward He has planned to give us and basing it on how well we served, God decides to reward us as though we served Him like Jesus served. We are given the rewards of perfect service when our service record is anything but perfect.

And the amazing thing about this understanding of this parable is in the last phrase Jesus shared in this parable. In verse 16, Jesus tells those present, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Jesus deserved to be rewarded for His life of service, but Jesus chose to be last and to place us first. Jesus is the only one with a spotless record of service, but instead of leaning on His perfect record, He decides to trade it with our imperfect record and take the punishment for our sins. I can understand those who are skeptical of a selfless God like this, but would a God of love act any other way?

Looking at the details of this parable, and how the landowner continues to seek out people to help in his vineyard, we can conclude that God is always looking for more people to help in His vineyard. While the workday is still in progress, it is never too late to accept God’s invitation to work with and for Him.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always open the challenges by saying, intentionally seek God first and place Him first in your life. Choose to accept Jesus’ gift of His service record in place of your own. Choose to accept God’s invitation to serve in His vineyard and discover what life is like with God.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to intentionally grow closer to God each day. Through prayer and Bible study, we are able to open our hearts to God and we are able to let Him enter our lives. Prayer and Bible study help us serve others better and these habits help us live the life God has called us to live.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 36: In the parable of the vineyard workers, discover how God is extraordinarily generous with us and how we ultimately are rewarded with more than we deserve.

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