As part of Christian Union Sunday, Steve Blyth from CU preached from Matthew 11:1-15. In this passage, John the Baptist introduces Jesus to the world but is a confused messenger. He asks to check if Jesus is the one we’ve been waiting for and what he has come to do. Jesus reassures him from the Old Testament prophecies concerning himself and commends John’s message as he prepared the way. Yet we now have a greater perspective than even John as we live on the other side of the cross and Jesus’ resurrection. We have the privilege of introducing Jesus to others as we share the hope that we have in him.
All of us fit somewhere into a family tree. None of us would be alive were in not for those who have gone before us. Just as many family trees make for interesting studies, so too the family tree of Jesus whioch is recorded in Matthew 1:1-17, one that even has one or two ‘black sheep’ who might be something of an embarrassment to the family. Old Testament characters such as Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba all feature. These women were either from the wrong side of the tracks or who had some shortcomings that the Bible notes. King David is included too and even though he was a great King, even then his own sin and failure are not hidden from the pages of the Bible. God graciously included such people to show that he receives sinners, something that Jesus did through all His life. And what of His descendants? Well there are no physical descendants of Jesus, but He has plenty of children whom He adopts as His own. They are those who come to Him in repentance and faith and trust Him to save them.
When Jesus told the parable recorded in Matthew 22:1-14 it would have been a shocking parable to His hearers. To turn down an invitation from a King could leave you open to the charge of treason. Yet the King’s subjects treated him with contempt as they turned down his invitation. Not to be deterred, the King put other plans into action, inviting and compelling the ‘non-invited’ to attend. God has made His gospel free to all and all are invited to believe it and respond to it in faith. Those who reject the invitation or who simply do not respond will only face the inevitable consequences that Jesus outlined in the parable. But all who respond to the gospel in faith can look forward to the great Day when the Father plans for people of all nations to honour His Son.
When Jesus told the ‘Parable of the Tenants’, He really cut close to the bone. The Pharisees had just asked Him about the origins of His authority and He had just returned fire a parable to show that any repentance that they had claimed on their behalf was false. So He put the whole matter fairly and squarely before them in Matthew 21:33-46. In the parable, it is clear that Jesus wanted the Pharisees to not only see their hypocrisy but also their murderous intent, as was seen in the tenants of the parable who put the landowner’s son to death so that they might claim the inheritance. Sadly, Jesus’ words fell upon deaf ears. Everything that the parable told about the landowner’s son would and did happen to Him. Yet while Jesus told this parable that the Pharisees might see themselves, He also told it that we might see ourselves and in seeing, that we might know that salvation must come from God alone.
When Jesus spoke the parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21:28-32, he wasn’t telling a story about always following through on what you say, or how to show proper respect to your parents. The parable tells of one of the sons, who, when asked by his afther to go out and work in the vineyard, said ‘yes’ but did not go and the other son, who said ‘no, he would not go’ but then did go. The point that Jesus was making is that there are plenty who will gladly say ‘yes’ to God but their ‘yes’ amounts to nothing. The Pharisees were men like that. They said ‘yes’ on the outside, but inwardly their hearts were far from Him. They were hypocrites. The only cure for hypocrisy is repentance, shown to us by the second son who turned away (repented) from his selfish ways. Entry to the Kingdom of God is clearly marked ‘for the repentant’. No-one else but they will come in. This is why Jesus told the Pharisees that ‘tax-collectors and prostitutes’ will enter the Kingdom of God. It is because repentance leads to salvation.
In Matthew 21:23-27 we find the religious leaders challenging Jesus about His claims. No doubt the cleansing of the temple did not escape their notice and must have caused them some angst. So they asked Jesus, ‘Who gave Him authority to act and to speak as He did?’ In response, Jesus returned serve by asking them ‘Who gave John the Baptist authority to speak and act as he did – was it from man or God?’ Trapped in a web of their own making, all the Pharisees could say was ‘We don’t know’, fearing a revolt from the people if they said ‘man’ or having egg on their face if they said ‘God’. The authority of Jesus is a major question we all have to face up to. A non-response (like the Pharisees) is a poor response. There remains only one way to respond to the authority of Jesus and that is to bow before Him as Lord and King.
In Matthew 28:6, we find the words of the angel, ‘He is not here, He is risen’. In this world filled with news, the news of the resurrection of Jesus must be the best news of all. Why is that? For a start it is the best news because it is true. The confirming accounts of the four gospel writers, the evidence of the empty tomb and the dramatic change in the life of the disciples. all point to the certainty of what took place. It is also the best news because it most welcome. The disciples were cowring in fear after Jesus’ death, but news of His resurrection filled their lives with joy and hope. Then also it is the best news, because it proves God’s promises are true. These include those He has made about the offer of salvation to all who believe in Jesus, His Son, and also about the eternal destiny of those who believe in Him. His resurrection will be the basis for their resurrection! Believers have an eternal hope because of the resurrection of Jesus.
When Jesus spent time in the garden of Gethsemane, as recorded in Matthew 26:36-46, He faced an hour of enormous anguish that required angelic help to recover from. What took place in Gethsemane? What caused His soul to be ‘troubled to the point of death?’ And how is it that we can speak of the ‘victory’ of His time in the garden? What had He come to do there and how is it linked to His death on the cross? Matthew gives us answers to all these questions and more!
After Jesus made a clear declaration of who He was on Palm Sunday, then righted the wrongs of the Temple, Matthew 21: 18-22 records this curious incident of the fig tree which he cursed. Going up to the tree which was covered in green leaves, Jesus expected to find figs, but there were none. As a result Jesus cursed the tree and it withered and died. The disciples were amazed at what took place, so Jesus reminded them that faith filled prayer can move mountains. The cursing of the tree has puzzled many, but it stands in the Bible as a picture of what was true of Israel at that time. All leaves, but no fruit, just hypocritical religion. This ‘fruit-less-ness’ is linked of course to ‘faith-less-ness’. Where there is no faith, there will be no fruit! The challenge for us is to be people who are full of faith and fruit and empty of hypocrisy (the ‘greeen leaves’ of religion).
After Jesus made a clear declaration of who He was on Palm Sunday, in Matthew 21:12-17, He set out to make an even clearer statement the following morning, when he entered the Temple, and overthrew the moneychangers and the market that had become part and parcel of religious life, instead of being a place of prayer for all nations. Following these events which would have incensed the Jewish authorities, Matthew tells us that Jesus healed many outcasts and welcomed the praise of little children. The Bible tells us that when left to ourselves, man corrupts the worship of God and turns it into something that suits. It also tells us that when Jesus returns, He will cleanse the whole world, separating the sheep from the goats and the chaff from the wheat. Again, Jesus forces us to give a response to Him.