A Faulty Foundation.

14 Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers,
    who rule this people in Jerusalem!
15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
    and with Sheol we have an agreement,
when the overwhelming whip passes through
    it will not come to us,
for we have made lies our refuge,
    and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;
16 therefore thus says the Lord God,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
    a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
    ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
17 And I will make justice the line,
    and righteousness the plumb line;
and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
    and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
18 Then your covenant with death will be annulled,
    and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;
when the overwhelming scourge passes through,
    you will be beaten down by it.
19 As often as it passes through it will take you;
    for morning by morning it will pass through,
    by day and by night;
and it will be sheer terror to understand the message. – Isaiah 28:14-19 ESV

In this section, God calls the leaders of Judah, “scoffers.” The Hebrew word is latsown, and it is used in the book of Proverbs to refer to the worst kind of fool. This individual is one who shows frivolous contempt for what is good and right.

“Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man
    who acts with arrogant pride. – Provers 21:24 ESV

From their place of power in the capital city of Jerusalem, these men derided God and His prophet, making light of any threats of pending judgment. In fact, they were bold enough to shake their fist in the face of God, bragging about their ability to thwart any plan He may have for their destruction.

“We have made a covenant with death,
    and with Sheol we have an agreement,
when the overwhelming whip passes through
    it will not come to us,
for we have made lies our refuge,
    and in falsehood we have taken shelter.” – Isaiah 28:15 ESV

While it is doubtful that this represents the exact words of these men, it conveys the heart behind their actions. They were convinced that they could make an alliance with a nation like Egypt and save themselves from the threat of the Assyrians. They were proud of their clever plans to gain the assistance and protection of other nations, having used lies and deception to accomplish their goals.

But what they didn’t realize was that they had really made a pact with death and the grave. They had unknowingly sealed their own fates and those of the people of Judah. Their attempts to save themselves had actually doomed the entire nation.

And yet, in spite of their arrogant and prideful scorning of God and His call to repentance, Isaiah announces that God has a plan for the nation.

“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
    a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
    ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” – Isaiah 28:16 ESV

God speaks in the past-tense, indicating that He had already done something significant in Jerusalem that would long-lasting implications on the fate of the people of God. While the leaders of Jerusalem were busy making pacts with foreign nations that would seal their doom, God had laid a massive foundation stone on which the future fate of the nation would rest. A cornerstone was a massive hand-carved rock that was used to establish the orientation of the entire foundation of a structure. Every other stone was aligned with it, ensuring that the foundation was sure and the remainder of the structure rested on a solid, reliable base of support.

And while the people of Judah most likely missed the significance of God’s statement, the New Testament authors did not. Peter, in speaking about Jesus as the living stone, rejected by men, actually quotes from this passage in Isaiah.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. – 1 Peter 2:4-8 ESV

Jesus was and is the cornerstone. And God revealed to the people of Judah that it had been His plan all along to send His Son as their Savior and Messiah. It would be on Him that the future hopes of Judah, Israel and the nations of the world would rest. As Paul makes clear, even the Gentiles who placed their faith in Christ were building on the foundation established by God in Jesus Christ.

…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

God had chosen to use the people of Israel as the means by which He would bring salvation to the world. He would send His Son into the world, born as a Jew into the lineage of King David. Jesus would not be born as an Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Canaanite, or Philistine. He would be born a Hebrew, to an obscure couple from the backwater town of Nazareth and He would make His entrance into the world in the unimpressive town of Bethlehem. And yet, He would be the cornerstone on which the fate of Israel and the nations of the world would rest.

God states that all who believe in this cornerstone will “not make haste.” They won’t be in a hurry to flee from danger or run from the threat of pending doom. They will rest in the promise of God. They will find His foundation sure, steady and reliable. But the people of Judah were not resting in God. They were unwilling to rely on His plan of salvation. Instead, they were running around trying to make alliances with everyone else but God. So, He warns them:

“I will test you with the measuring line of justice
    and the plumb line of righteousness.
Since your refuge is made of lies,
    a hailstorm will knock it down.
Since it is made of deception,
    a flood will sweep it away.” – Isaiah 28:17 NLT

God uses the imagery of a builder’s tools to convey His point. He will measure whether the people of Judah are aligned with the cornerstone. He will determine whether they fall in line with the righteousness and justice He had established for them as a nation. And He will find that they fail to measure up. So, He will tear them down so that He might one day rebuild on that solid foundation.

“I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death,
    and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.
When the terrible enemy sweeps through,
    you will be trampled into the ground.
Again and again that flood will come,
    morning after morning,
day and night,
    until you are carried away.” – Isaiah 28:18-19 NLT

Rather than building on righteousness and justice, they had erected a rickety structure that relied on lies and falsehood as its foundation. And when the storms of destruction came, it would fall.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Has Done Great Things.

1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 12:1-6 ESV

Isaiah has been talking about a future period of time, one he refers to as “that day.” This is a prophetic designation, describing a day in the future when God would accomplish great things on behalf of His chosen people, the northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah. Out of the once-great tree of the Davidic dynasty, relegated to a stump of its former glory because of the judgments of God, will come a shoot. That seemingly insignificant byproduct of the “root of Jesse” will be Jesus, the Messiah. He will appear on the scene, sent by God the Father, to be born of a virgin, and into the house of David. He will be the legal heir to David’s throne and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise made to David.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

There is a certain sense in which Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He took on human flesh in His incarnation. But when Jesus came the first time, while He was born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2), He was not recognized or accepted as king by His own people.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

They rejected Him as their king. In fact, they demanded that the Romans crucify Him, accusing Him of blasphemy for His claims to be the Son of God. When Pilate had attempted to release Jesus to the Jews, seeing no fault in Him worthy of death, he had said, “Look, here is your king!” (John 19:14 NLT). But the people scoffed at the idea of Jesus being their king.

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. – John 19:15 NLT

So, when Isaiah announces the arrival of the Messiah or king of Israel, he is talking about another event that has yet to happen. Jesus will appear a second time, at the end of the age, and He will set up His kingdom on earth. He will rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And He will restore the people of Israel to power and prominence. Isaiah describes exactly what He will do.

He will…assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
    from the ends of the earth.
– Isaiah 11:12 NLT

All of this will happen “in that day.” It is a day that lies in the future, as yet unfulfilled. But it will be. And in that day, the people of Israel and Judah will recognize the hand of God. They will know that He has shown them mercy and grace.

In that day you will sing:
    “I will praise you, O Lord!
You were angry with me, but not any more.
    Now you comfort me.” – Isaiah 12:1 NLT

It will be a day of rejoicing and gladness because they will recognize that God has redeemed and restored them. Not because of them, but in spite of them. They will know what it is like to trust God fully. They will experience His peace and rest in His protection. And Isaiah tells his audience that, when the day comes, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3 ESV). 

It’s impossible to read this statement and not recall another time in the lives of the people of Israel when water played a significant role in their relationship with God. It’s recorded in the book of Exodus. They had escaped captivity in Egypt and were on their way to the land of promise, when the arrived at a place called Rephidim. The only problem was, there was no water there. “So the people contended with Moses, and they said, ‘Give us water to drink!’” (Exodus 17:2 NLT). The text describes them as being “very thirsty” and they let Moses know about it.

“Why in the world did you bring us up out of Egypt—to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” – Exodus 17:3 NLT

Moses, sensing that the people were ready to stone him, feared for his life. But God gave Moses a solution.

“Go over before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.” – Exodus 17:5-6 NLT

God was going to be there. He would be on top of the very rock Moses was commanded to strike. And from that rock would flow life-giving water. Paul would later describe that rock as Jesus Himself.

All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 NLT

And Jesus, the source of that physical water, would also be the sole source of spiritual refreshment. In His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told her:

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:13-14 NLT

Isaiah predicts a day when the people of Israel will enjoy the water of life – Jesus Himself. Not only will they enjoy salvation in the form of their restoration to the land, but they will experience a renewal of their hearts.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

God is going to do something for the people of Israel that is far greater than supplying them with clean drinking water. It will be far more valuable than their return to the land. It will be of much greater significance than their restoration to a place of prominence on the world scene. They will have new hearts and a new capacity to serve God faithfully. They will be obedient. They will trust Him fully. No more false gods. No more falling away in apathy and apostasy. In that day, they will be His people and He will be their God.

And in that day, they will give God all the glory, because it will all be His doing.

“Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things.
    Make known his praise around the world.
Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy!
    For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.” – Isaiah 12:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Root of Jesse.

1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
    and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. Isaiah 11:1-10 ESV

So often, when reading the prophetic books of the Bible, we can end up viewing them as pessimistic in terms of their content. They are full of the news of pending doom and gloom, the righteous judgment of God promised by the prophets of God and directed at the people of God. And Isaiah has had his fair share of foreboding warnings for the people of God living in Judah. And yet, the prophets weren’t just the bearers of bad news. They also called the people to repentance, pleading them to return to the Lord and promising them His grace and mercy if they would do so.

Mixed in among the prophets’ messages of judgment were promises of God’s future blessings. In spite of the unfaithfulness of Israel and Judah, God would remain faithful. He would keep His covenant promises. He would do what He had pledged to do. But many, if not most, of His promises would not be fulfilled within the lifetimes of the very men who communicated them. In chapter 10, Isaiah spoke of a future day when the people of God would place their hope and trust in Him, rather than relying on pagan nations to protect and preserve them.

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. – Isaiah 10:20 ESV

Isaiah promised his fellow citizens of Judah that God would preserve a remnant of them. The day was coming when God would raise up a portion of His people and free them from the slavery and oppression of foreign rule.

In that day the Lord will end the bondage of his people.
    He will break the yoke of slavery
    and lift it from their shoulders. – Isaiah 10:27 NLT

While this promise was partially fulfilled when the people of Judah returned to the land after 70 years of in Babylon, their bondage was far from over. The following centuries would find them living under the constant threat of foreign domination, ending with their defeat and subjugation by the Romans. So, there is an aspect of Isaiah’s prophecy that lies unfulfilled. And chapter 11 provides us even great details concerning this future aspect of God’s promise to His people.

Chapter 11 opens up with the words:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. – Isaiah 11:1 ESV

Whether it sounds like it or not, this is meant to be a word of encouragement. You see, Jesse was the father of David, the great king of Israel. But David’s once-mighty kingdom would end up as a shell of its former glory, more of a stump than a flourishing tree. The once powerful nation he helped build would end up relegated to the status of a tree shorn of its branches and incapable of producing fruit. And yet, Isaiah states that, out of the stump, a shoot will appear. And, one day, that shoot will become a fruit-bearing branch.

But what is Isaiah talking about? Better yet, who is Isaiah talking about? Over in the book of Revelation, we are given a clue as to this individual’s identity. The apostle John is given a vision of heaven, where he sees God Almighty seated on His throne. In His right hand, God is holding a scroll. But when an angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?,” no one steps forward. And John, devastated at this news, begins to weep. But his crying is interrupted by the following news:

“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5 ESV

John turns to see “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6 ESV), a clear reference to the crucified and resurrected Christ. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and “the root of David.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes from the book of Isaiah, using the reference to the root of Jesse as a proof of Christ’s messiahship.

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers,and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name.” And again it says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.” – Romans 15:8-12 NLT

So, Isaiah was prophesying the coming of the Messiah, the Son of David, and the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. And this coming one would have the anointing of God Almighty.

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. – Isaiah 11:2-3 ESV

This is a clear reference to Jesus. And, in his gospel account, Matthew describes the baptism of Jesus.

After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. – Matthew 3:16 ESV

Jesus, in His role as God in human flesh, was directed by the Spirit of God. He was totally submissive to the Spirit, living His life according to the Spirit’s wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. During His earthly ministry, Jesus would live in the power of the Spirit. But Isaiah seems to be referring to another point in time, when Jesus will play a role other than that of Savior.

He will delight in obeying the Lord.
    He will not judge by appearance
    nor make a decision based on hearsay.
He will give justice to the poor
    and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word,
    and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
He will wear righteousness like a belt
    and truth like an undergarment.  – Isaiah 11:3-5 NLT

These verses speak of Jesus judging and administering justice. He is described as destroying the wicked and dispensing justice to the poor. This is a picture of Jesus in His royal role as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is no longer the Savior, but the Sovereign.

Isaiah goes on to describe a time of unprecedented peace. It will be a period on earth when things will be remarkably different than anything mankind has ever known.

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
    The cub and the calf will lie down together.
    The lion will eat hay like a cow.
The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
    Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. – Isaiah 11:6-8 NLT

These things have not yet taken place. They remain unfulfilled. Look closely at what Isaiah says about “that day.”

Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
    for as the waters fill the sea,
    so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. – Isaiah 11:9 NLT

This day has not yet happened. The earth is not filled with people who know the Lord. But one day it will be. God is giving Isaiah a word of encouragement to deliver to the disobedient people of Judah. In spite of their failure to remain faithful to God, He would prove faithful to His word. He would do all that He had promised Abraham He would do. And Isaiah sums it up in no uncertain terms:

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. – Isaiah 11:10 NLT

And the apostle John was given a glimpse into this future day, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

From the root of Jesse and the stump of David’s once-great kingdom, will come a shoot, the Messiah, who will grow into a glorious place of refuge, peace and prosperity for all those who place their faith in Him. Israel and Judah would prove unfaithful to God, but He will one day prove His faithfulness by sending His Son yet again. But this time, He will come as the Sovereign King of the universe.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Light of the Lord.

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore.

O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
    in the light of the Lord. – Isaiah 2:1-5 ESV

In the opening chapter of the book of Isaiah, we have God’s stinging indictment against His people, particularly, the southern kingdom of Judah. He has pulled no punches in describing their sinful state and outlining the degree of their guilt. And from the loftiest leader to the poorest peasant, all were equally culpable for His divine wrath. They had forsaken Him, the one true God, and given their time, attention, and trust to a plethora of false gods.

But that’s not what God had intended. He had chosen them to be His own possession. He had set apart the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, to be His own. Not because they had earned or deserved it, but because of His grace, love and mercy. God had made that point perfectly clear to them through His servant, Moses.

“The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-8 NLT

And here, in the book of Isaiah, God will remind His people how things should have been. His choice of them had been accompanied by great plans for them. The opening verses of chapter 2 are prophetic in nature, describing an as-yet-future reality for Israel. The events described in these verses have not yet taken place. But they are evidence of God’s preferred future for His people. This is what He has always intended for them. Look closely at what it says.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills
– vs 2

This is clearly a reference to Mount Zion, the mountain on which the city of Jerusalem is located. This is an indication of Jerusalem’s future global significance, not its topographical elevation. It has to do with status, not height.  Because the day was coming when Jerusalem would become a spiritual mecca, attracting people from all over the world.

…all the nations shall flow to it,
   and many peoples shall come… – vs 3

And these pilgrims will make their way to the capital city of Judah in order to seek the God of the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Non-Jews from all over the world will make their way to the city of David so they might learn the ways of Yahweh.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – vs 3

It’s quite clear that this is a picture of some future day in time, because this has not yet happened. Yes, we can see a partial fulfillment of it in 1 Kings, where we are told that “people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:34 ESV). But they were there to hear the wisdom of Solomon, not to learn the ways of Yahweh. What we have here in Isaiah is a picture of God’s preferred future for His people. It is what He desires for them, and what He intends to do on behalf of them.

The New English Translation renders the last part of verse 3 this way:

For Zion will be the center for moral instruction;
the Lord will issue edicts from Jerusalem… – vs 3

The nations will flock to Judah and Jerusalem in order to learn what God expects and demands. There they will find Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world, sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem. He will be the long-awaited king who will rule in righteousness over the whole earth for a period of 1,000 years. And every decree He issues will be right. Every decision He renders will be just. And Satan, the great deceiver, will be imprisoned throughout this 1,000 year period, eliminating his influence over the people of the world (Revelation 20:1-3). Righteousness will reign, both literally and figuratively. And as the King and Judge over the world, Jesus “shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples” (Isaiah 2:4 ESV).

And the world will enjoy a time of unprecedented peace for the very first time in its long and bloody history.

…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – vs 4

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to recognize that this has not yet happened. We live in a time marked by civil unrest and constant war. The announcement of global conflicts are a ubiquitous part of the daily news cycle. Peace is constantly discussed, but rarely achieved. But God lets the people of Judah know that the day is coming when He will restore peace to the world.

But at the point at which Isaiah was penning these words, this was all wishful thinking. It was far from the daily reality of life in the Judah. But it reveals the heart of God for the people of God. It is what He intends to do for them so, it is what He desires for them. Which is why verse 5 states:

O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
    in the light of the Lord.

It is a call to repentance. It’s a divine invitation to return to God and to once again walk in the light of His will as revealed in His Word. But the apostle John paints a vivid and starkly realistic picture of the state of the world, both then and now.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21 ESV

Thousands of years later, long after the book of Isaiah had been written, God sent His Son into the world to expose the sins of the world. He was a light shining in the darkness.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness… – John 1:4 ESV

But the people of God, the Israelites, refused to accept the light of God.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

They preferred the darkness over the light. They chose disobedience to God over acceptance of the Son of God. Even centuries after Isaiah penned his book, the people of God were still refusing the light of God. The long-anticipated Messiah had finally showed up on the scene and they had rejected Him.

In fact, it’s interesting to note one of the indictments God leveled against the nation of Judah.

Your princes are rebels
    and companions of thieves. – Isaiah 1:22

Fast-forward to the trial of Jesus before Pilate. When the Roman governor gave the Jews the choice between having Jesus released or a convicted thief, they had shouted, “Give us Barabas!” And when Pilate asked what they wanted him to do with Jesus, they had demanded, “Crucify him!” Time had not improved Israel’s attitude toward God and the light. They were still predisposed to prefer the darkness. And the rest of the book of Isaiah will feature the persistent and mercy-filled call of God for them to repent. He longed to forgive and restore them. He would have preferred not to have to punish them. But they would prove to be stubborn lot. His call would fall on deaf ears. His offer of restoration would encounter stiff opposition.

But in spite of them, God has a preferred future in store for them. He will one day do for them what they don’t deserve. And they will walk in the light of the Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Great Parenthesis.

32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. – Matthew 27:32-44 ESV

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 9.10.59 AMThe crucifixion is a well-known and highly venerated aspect of Jesus’ earthly life. It is the fulcrum on which the message of the Gospel balances. His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind is what makes the Gospel good news. Had He not died, there would be no remission for sin. God’s righteous indignation against the rebellion of mankind against His sovereign rule would remain unsatisfied. The debt owed by sinful men to a holy and righteous God would remain unpaid. The penalty of death and eternal separation from God would still loom large over the lives of every single human being, with no hopes of a solution to their dilemma.

But Jesus died. And that scene, described by the gospel writers, has been illustrated in countless ways by a vast array of artists. And while most are familiar with the details surrounding this well-documented scene, there is one aspect that begs further examination and concentration. Matthew records, “two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left” (Matthew 27:38 ESV). John puts it this way: “they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV).

It is fascinating to consider what these two statements reveal. While we’re familiar with the idea of Jesus being crucified alongside two common criminals, we probably don’t give this aspect of His death much thought. After all, there is so much going on in the story that appears to be of greater importance. The deaths of these two unknown criminals appear to have no significance. Other than the conflicting statements they make to Jesus while they were being crucified, these men seem to be unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

And yet, the gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it a point to include these two men in their description of Jesus’ death. And John makes it clear that these two men were crucified on either side of Jesus. In a sense, their crosses bracketed that of Jesus. And, as has been depicted in so many artistic renderings of the scene, John describes Jesus as hanging on the middle cross. On either side of Him was a criminal, an unknown and unnamed individual whose guilt had warranted his execution. Each of them deserved to die. In fact, one of these men would freely admit their guilt and the appropriate nature of their executions.

“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Why is this important? This scene depicts the sinless Son of God surrounded by two sinful men. He is innocent, while they are guilty. They are receiving the just punishment for their sins, while He is dying for the sins of others. These two men form a kind of human parenthesis, with Jesus in the center. One of the men, unrepentant and angry at his fate, would shout at Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). While the other man, just as sinful and just as deserving of his death, would cry out to Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 ESV). Two sinners, but two different responses to the Savior. All three men were being executed based on the crimes of which they had been accused. But one man, the one in the middle, was guiltless. The Jewish religious leaders had accused Him of blasphemy – of claiming to be the Son of God and, therefore, divine. But Jesus was the Son of God. He had been speaking truth, not blasphemy. He was innocent.

But notice the statement that Matthew describes being inscribed on the sign attached to the cross of Jesus: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” John records that this sign, meant to carry the crime of the one being crucified, had been demanded by Pilate. And the charge it carried had been written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish religious leaders had been incensed at the words inscribed on the sign and had demanded that Pilate have them altered. They wanted the statement amended to say, “This man said, I am King of the Jews” (John 19:21 ESV).

But Pilate had refused to change a thing. The sign remained and the charge stuck. And of this particular charge, Jesus was guilty. He was the King of the Jews. He was guilty of being exactly who He had claimed to be all along. He was the Messiah of Israel, but His own people had rejected Him. He was the sovereign King of the nation of Israel, but they had refused to acknowledge Him as such. Just as the ancient Israelites had rejected God as their King and had demanded that He give them a king like all the other nations, the Jews of Jesus day had rejected the King of kings.

Three men, all accused of crimes. Two of them were guilty as charged, having broken the laws of the land. Their crimes were deserving of death and they were simply receiving what the law required. But the man in the middle, Jesus of Nazareth, was only guilty of being the King of the Jews. He was dying for being the Savior of the world. He was sinless and, yet, He would die a sinner’s death. He was completely blameless and yet, He would willingly take on the sins of mankind in order that the penalty for our sins could be marked “paid in full” by God.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:24-25 NLT

It is not coincidental that Jesus, as He hung on the cross, was bracketed by two guilty sinners who were experiencing the just punishment for their crimes. In-between them hung the Savior of the world. They both had access to Him. They could both see Him and hear the words He spoke. But one chose to curse and insult Him, while the other begged to be remembered by Him. In the midst of his pain and suffering, caused by his own sinful choices, this man called out to Jesus and he received a response.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 27:43 ESV

And that’s they way it has always been. The life of Jesus has always been bracketed by two parenthetical marks, in the form of two diametrically opposed responses made by equally guilty sinners. One sees Jesus as nothing more than a man, equally hopeless and helpless to do anything about the sinful condition of mankind. But the other sees a suffering, yet sinless Savior who has a kingdom and the power to restore life to all those who submit to His Lordship. Jesus came to the world, a place filled with darkness and mired by sin. He inserted Himself into the hopeless state that plagued mankind, and provided a solution to man’s condition. And John puts it in terms that describe why Jesus’ death between two sinners forms the great parenthesis.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

And the Rooster Crowed.

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. – Matthew 26:69-75 ESV

peters-denial.jpgWhen Jesus had been dragged before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, two of His disciples had followed close behind. Upon their arrival at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, Peter had remained outside the door entering into the courtyard of the house. But in his gospel account, John indicates that another one of the disciples was also there who knew the high priest. He was allowed entrance into the courtyard and talked one of the servants of Caiaphas into letting Peter enter as well. So, Peter was not alone that night. It is likely that John was the second disciple to whom he mentions, referring to himself in the third person, as he does so often in his gospel.

But as Jesus was undergoing questioning by the high priest, Peter and John were waiting outside in the courtyard, along with the guards who had arrested Jesus. As they waited, a servant girl approached Peter and, recognizing him as one of the disciples of Jesus, pointed him out to all who were there. But Peter vehemently denied it, saying, “I do not know what you mean” (Matthew 26:70 ESV). A few minutes later, another servant girl pointed out Peter as a follower of Jesus, but this time he denied any knowledge of Him. Peter even denied any knowledge of Jesus. When another bystander heard Peter’s Galilean accent, he also accused Peter of being one of Jesus’ disciples. A charge Peter strongly denied. “Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man’” (Matthew 26:74 ESV).

And a rooster crowed.

The sound of a rooster crowing would have been normal and natural to everyone in the courtyard, because morning was fast approaching. But for Peter, it was a horrific sound that reminded him of the words of Jesus.

“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” – Matthew 26:34 ESV

Peter immediately recognized that he had done exactly what he had sworn to Jesus he would not do.

“Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” – Matthew 26:35 ESV

He had denied his friend, teacher, and Messiah. In the face of intense pressure and possible arrest, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus. His spirit had been willing, but his flesh was weak (Matthew 26:41). He had meant what he said. He had been sincere and well-intentioned, but this night was like none other he had ever known. His world was crumbling around him. All his hopes and dreams for the future were crashing in on him. The mob mentality that pervaded the courtyard that night got to him. He feared for his life and, before he knew it, he had denied Jesus. And the rooster had crowed.

But Peter had not been alone in His denial of Jesus. In fact, the entire scene was marked by a fierce rejection of Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. Even the servant girl who approached Peter had referred to Jesus as “the Galilean.” To the citizens of Jerusalem, anyone from Galilee was looked down upon as a country bumpkin – a rural, uneducated hick from the sticks. They even had a different accent when they spoke. They were unsophisticated and lacked culture. Even Nathanael, one of the disciples of Jesus, had expressed doubt regarding Jesus when he first heard about Him.

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”– John 1:46 NLT

Nazareth was located in the region of Galilee, and the entire area had a less-than-ideal reputation. And that night, in the courtyard of the high priest, you can see the mounting resentment toward Jesus, this upstart revolutionary from Galilee.

The denial of Jesus is the theme of this entire chapter. If John was the second disciple in the courtyard that night, you don’t hear him speaking up for Jesus. He didn’t come to Peter’s defense. The rest of the disciples were long gone, having fled Gethsemane and hidden somewhere in the city, in hopes of avoiding discovery.

Everyone was denying Jesus. Including Caiaphas and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin. They saw Him as a blasphemer, a radical lunatic who was claiming to be the Son of God. But, in their minds, His claims made Him worthy of death, not devotion. His boasts of being divine had earned Him their resentment, not respect. His miracles had left them unimpressed and convinced that He was in league with the devil himself.

As Jesus stood before the religious high council of the Jews, He was alone. Long gone were the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). In just a few hours, He would hear the very same people shouting, “Crucify him!” And all of this was in fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, the prophet. 

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT

John, most likely the second disciple in the courtyard that night, would later write:

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

And just hours later, when He hung dying on the cross, Jesus would shout, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV). His words would be a direct quote from a psalm of David, His ancestor. And later on, in that same psalm we find these words:

But I am a worm and not a man.
    I am scorned and despised by all!
Everyone who sees me mocks me.
    They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
“Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
    Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
    let the Lord rescue him!” – Psalm 22:6-8 NLT

Is this the one? You can sense the denial in their words. Everyone was denying the very one whom God had sent to provide a way of salvation. They were rejecting their Messiah and Savior. Jesus, the hope of the world, was denied by the world. Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, was rejected by the people of Israel. Jesus, the Master and Lord of the disciples, had been abandoned by them. He was alone. But He was undeterred. He remained committed to His cause and fully willing to follow through on His Father’s plan to bring redemption to a fallen world.

The rooster had crowed. The morning was coming. The end was near. The day of redemption was drawing close. But rejection had to proceed glorification. Crucifixion must come before resurrection. Persecution and execution was required so that men might receive absolution and justification before God. For Peter, the crowing of the rooster was the end of a horrible night. But for God, it was the beginning of a new day that would bring salvation to a lost and dying world. The sun was going to rise on the hill of Golgotha, where the Son of God would hang on a cruel Roman cross, the unblemished sacrifice offered by God as payment for the sins of mankind. It was not the end, but just the beginning.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Do Not Know You.

” 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:1-12 ESV

olive-oil-clay-ancient-lantern-lamp_n1srlxqq__F0000.png

Jesus has been trying to get His disciples to think of the Kingdom of Heaven with a long-term perstpective. While He was the Messiah, the one whom the people of Israel had long expected, He was not going to be establishing His kingdom at that moment. He has already told them that He was going to have to go to Jerusalem, be betrayed, falsely accused, tried, beaten and eventually crucified. But He would also rise again. His mission on this, His first coming to earth, was to serve as the sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind. But there was a day coming when He would return to earth a second time. But there was much that would have to take place before His return. And He told the disciples, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV).

And He had warned them, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV). The point Jesus seemed to be making had to do with preparedness. He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager expectation and anticipation that His return could happen at any moment. And this led Jesus to tell a few parables to drive home His point.

The first had to do with a wedding. It involved ten virgins who were anticipating the arrival of the bridegroom. The question that must asked is, “Who are these ten virgins and what do they represent?” Based on the immediate context, it seems clear that Jesus has been addressing His second coming, which will take at the end of the 7-year period of tribulation. Since the church is to be raptured before the tribulation begins, these ten virgins cannot act as representatives of the church. It makes much more sense to see them as Jews who will be alive during the period of the tribulation. And, as the text will reveal, the ten virgins break down into two groups. Five of them are prepared, while five are not. This would seem to indicate that the first five represent Jews who will come to faith during the days of the tribulation, which the book of Revelation tells us will take place. John was given a vision in which “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9 ESV). Then John was told their identity. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 ESV). There will be many who come to faith during the period of the tribulation, including Jews and people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

But the second group of five virgins represents all those Jews who will remain unrepentant and unbelieving during the tribulation, all the way up to the point of Jesus’ return.

In the story, all ten virgins share a common expectation of the bridegroom’s arrival. They are eagerly anticipating his coming. This is why the ten virgins appear to indicate Jews, because they alone would have anticipated the arrival of the Messiah. During the days of the tribulation, Jews living at that time will long for the arrival of the Messiah. For believing Jews, they will understand it to be His second coming. For unbelieving Jews, they will view it as His first coming. But all will greatly desire His arrival

But again, the issue is one of preparedness. There is a delay. The bridegroom has not shown up as expected. But, as part of the welcoming party, they were to have been ready, because, as Jesus had said, the groom was “coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Sadly, the story reveals that half the group were foolish, failing to take oil for their lamps. They were unprepared. They thought they would have plenty of time. But when news of the groom’s arrival was made known, they had lamps, but no oil. They begged the first group to share their oil with them, but were refused and told, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves” (Matthew 25:9 ESV). They were on their own. It’s likely that the reference to oil in the story was meant to be a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The believing Jews had the Spirit of God within them. The unbelieving Jews did not.

And when the groom arrived, the wedding feast began. But by the time the second group of foolish, unprepared virgins showed up, it was too late. The door was shut. They were left on the outside. And the wedding feast would seem to represent that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, revealed in chapter 19 of Revelation.

7 Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. – Revelation 19:7-8 ESV

One of the things that will happen at the end of the tribulation will be that Christ, the bridegroom, will hold a feast for His bride, the church. And John was told, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). Those who come to faith during the tribulation will be participants in this great celebration. But those who fail to accept Jesus will be left on the outside, looking in. And as Jesus indicated, their destination will be “that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51 ESV).

One of the saddest statements in the Scriptures is found in this parable. It is the words of the bridegroom, spoken to those virgins who showed up late and without oil for their lamps. He told them, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12 ESV). They had been invited. They even had lamps. But they without oil. They did not have what was necessary to respond when news of the groom’s arrival was announced.

The apostle Paul would later tell the Ephesian believers: “In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV). Those who lack the Holy Spirit will find themselves outside the feast. And, as Paul makes clear, the receipt of the Spirit is based on belief in the Son.

Again, the point of the parable is preparedness. How are the Jews living during the tribulation to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah? By placing their faith in Him as their Savior. He alone could save them from the persecution of the Antichrist and the judgments of God. He alone could preserve and protect them. Carrying a lamp with no oil is similar to placing your faith in your church attendance or good behavior. It is not enough. Your good works cannot save you. Your membership in a local church does not guarantee you a place in the Kingdom of God. Without the oil of God’s Spirit, you will find yourself on the outside looking in, and hearing these sad and sobering words from Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

It’s impossible to read this parable and not reflect on the words of Jesus spoken years earlier in His sermon on the mount.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’” – Matthew 7:22-23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God’s True Feelings About False Religion.

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. – Matthew 23:13-36 ESV

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Woe_unto_You,_Scribes_and_Pharisees_(Malheur_à_vous,_scribes_et_pharisiens)_-_James_Tissot

At this point, Jesus makes His message much more direct by turning His attention directly to the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. This is the part where He pronounces His seven woes or warnings against them. It is important to recognize that this is all about two distinctly different ways to approach God. What Jesus has to say is less about their behavior than the focus of their ministry.

Woe #1: They had a false view of the Kingdom of Heaven and how to enter it. Not only was their errant view making entrance into God’s Kingdom impossible for them, it was  slamming the door in the face of every person under their influence. They had made the attainment of righteousness all about human effort. In their minds, entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven was reserved for law-keepers, and they viewed themselves as the quitessential keepers of the law.

Woe #2: Their false view of the Kingdom of Heaven was having deadly consequences, because their refusal to accept Jesus as Messiah was condemning themselves and others to hell. They were eager to convert others to their way of thinking and to their view of the Kingdom, but the result was that these individuals ended up as lost as they were. By following the teaching of these men, the people of Israel were being deceived into believing a lie. They were placing their faith in the faulty confidence professed by these false teachers.

Woe #3: In spite of all their knowledge of the Mosaic Law, they were blind to that which the law and the prophets pointed. Jesus had already told these men that He was the primary focal point of the Hebrew Scriptures.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39 NLT

But in their arrogance and prideful knowledge, they had missed the  whole point. They had misunderstood what really was of value in the Kingdom of Heaven. It was the Temple, that God had set apart as His own, that was holy, not the gold used to cover it. It was the altar, the place God had set aside for sacrifice, that was holy, and made anything placed on it holy. Ultimately, it is God who makes heaven holy and gives it its value. They focused their attention on the wrong things. They were materially minded, not spiritually focused. Their whole practice of making and keeping oaths was little more than a series of man-made loopholes and escape clauses designed to give them an easy out from having to do what they swore to do. They could appear holy and righteous, without having to accept any of the cost or consequences. And Jesus pointed out that they were really minimizing and trivializing the holiness of God.

Woe #4:They misunderstood the true nature of the Kingdom because they tended to major on the minors. Since they believed that entrance into the Kingdom was based on keeping of the law, they ended up nitpicking the law to death. Jesus accused them of being meticulously observant of laws concerning tithing of fruit, grain and other produce – to the point of absurdity. But in doing so, they conveniently overlooked the more important commandments: Justice, mercy and faith.

Jesus borrowed from their own Scriptures to remind them of God’s own words concerning this matter.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

In all their zeal to tithe unscrupulously, they were failing to keep the two greatest commandments To love God and love others.

Woe #5: They had a false understanding of what constitutes righteousness in the Kingdom. God was interested in the INSIDE, not the OUTSIDE. Yet their focus was solely on the externals. They made behavior modification their goal, rather than heart transformation. But Jesus had taught just the opposite. “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

These men were all about appearances. They lived to impress and were addicted to the praise of men. As long as they looked good, they believed that they were good. External appearances and outward behavior were the criteria by which they judged a man’s righteousness, but God looks at the condition of the heart.

Woe #6: This one supports the previous one. It reveals their false concept of what it took to become clean or righteous. Again, they had replaced heart transformation with behavior modification. They spent all their time obsessing about outward appearances, while ignoring the internal state of their souls. Rather than heart-felt repentance, they focused on outward reformation. Rather than acknowledge their sin, they simply attempted to cover it up with good deeds and religious effort.

Jesus described them as painted tombs. Not exactly a compliment. Their outward display of righteous behavior was like putting makeup on a pig. It didn’t change reality. A well-manicured grave, covered with flowers and its tombstone meticulously clean, can’t change the fact that beneath the surface lies death and decay.

Woe #7: In failing to recognize their own sinful condition, they had become just like their ancestors – rebellious, stubborn and resistant to God. The Israelites had built tombs and monuments to honor the prophets of God, but had failed to listen to them. In fact, they had killed many of them. And Jesus made it clear that the religious leaders of Israel had done the same thing in His day, rejecting the most recent prophet of God: John the Baptist. And in just a matter of days, they would arrange to have the very Son of God put to death, just as Jesus had predicted. After Jesus was out of the way, they would end up persecuting and killing the disciples as well.

“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city.” – Matthew 23:34 NLT

Misplaced passion

Why was Jesus so upset with these men? What drove Him to treat them so harshly? They were passionate. They were zealous. They were religious. BUT THEY WERE DANGEROUS! They had become obstacles to the Kingdom of Heaven. Their misplaced zeal had led to them to become stumbling blocks.

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.’” – Luke 17:1-2 NET

These men DID NOT represent the way to the Kingdom of Heaven. They didn’t even know the directions. But where do we see this today? In the myriad of false and pseudo-Christian religions. We see it in anyone who denies that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. We need to learn to look for these characteristics.

  1. Posing as spokesmen for God, but denying people access to the Kingdom of God
  2. Giving people false hope by offering them a false gospel
  3. Providing easy work-arounds to true holiness and commitment to God
  4. Judging righteousness based on their own standards, rather than God’s
  5. Refusing to acknowledge sin, while emphasizing self-righteousness
  6. Putting undue emphasis on the praise of men, rather than that of God
  7. Failing to see their status as enemies of God

The spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well today. It’s evident in every religion that refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only way. It’s prevalent in many main-stream denominations that preach a gospel of works, not grace. It can be found anytime legalism and rule-keeping replaces love of God and others. It shows up whenever our religion becomes more important than our relationship with Christ. It takes the form of hypocrisy. When what we say we believe fails to impact the way we behave. When we love the praise of man more than pleasing God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Render Unto God.

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. –  Matthew 22:15-22 ESV

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It’s probably safe to say that none of us actually enjoy filing our taxes. We see it as a necessary evil and a burdensome obligation. We do it because we have to. It’s required by law and that law carries some pretty stiff penalties for those who choose to ignore it. Taxes were no different in Jesus’ day. In fact, they were worse. The Romans levied heavy taxes on the Jews. On top of that, the Jewish tax collectors added their own exorbitant fees. And then there was the Temple tax that every Jew had to pay, which in actuality, was used to support the lavish lifestyles of the priests themselves. These men lived in luxury while the average Jew barely made ends meet.

In his book, The Message and the Kingdom, Richard Horsley writes, “…impressive archeological remains of their Jerusalem residences show how elegant their lifestyle had become. In spacious structures unhesitantly dubbed ‘mansions’ by the archeologists who uncovered them in the 1970’s, we can get a glimpse of a lavish life in mosaic floored reception rooms and dining rooms with elaborate painted and carved stucco wall decorations and with a wealth of fine tableware, glassware, carved stone table tops, and other interior furnishings and elegant peristyles.”

This staggering combination of tax obligations were overwhelming to the Jewish people, making everyday life practically unbearable and the very mention of taxes intolerable. Palestine was a veritable powder keg waiting to ignite and, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the refusal of the Romans to lessen the tax burdens would result in the Jewish War and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

By now we know that the Jewish religious leadership were looking for any and all opportunities to trick and trap Jesus in order that they might have Him arrested and eliminated. They were certain that it was just a matter of time before He said something that got Him into trouble with the people or with the Roman authorities. If they could get Him to say something the people would disagree with, He would lose His popularity and His growing following. If they could trick Him into saying something that could be taken as divisive or potentially anti-Roman, then they could enlist the aid of the government in getting rid of Him. So they sent some “spies pretending to be honest men” (Luke 20:20 NLT). In other words, they didn’t come dressed as priests, Pharisees, or religious leaders. They disguised themselves as average Jews, hoping to blend in with the crowd and catch Jesus off-guard and unprepared. Their question was well-planned and had a clear motivation behind it. “They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus” (Luke 20:20 NLT). After attempting to butter Him up with false flattery, they asked their question: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17 ESV).

Render-Unto-CaesarBut Matthew makes it clear that Jesus saw through their ruse. He knew they were trying to trick Him and even accused them of hypocrisy. But in spite of His awareness of their less-than-sincere motives, He chose to answer their question. He asked for a Roman coin, which have have carried the image of Caesar, a fact that He got them to verify. Then He told them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21 ESV). The simple interpretation of this passage would be to say that Jesus is simply encouraging civil obedience. The people of God must be good citizens. They must set a good example, even if the government is corrupt and oppressive. But I think Jesus has an even more important point to His statement.

It’s interesting that He pointed out that the Roman coin carried the image of Caesar, the Roman emperor who was also considered a god by his own people. Jesus told them to give this coin to Caesar. It is stamped with his image and, therefore, belongs to him. But Jesus also stated that they were to give to God what belonged to God. What is stamped with God’s image? Back in the book of Genesis, we read, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NLT). Every good Jew would have known this story and would have understood what Jesus was saying. Men and women are made in the image of God. They are stamped with His image. Therefore, they belong to Him. Jesus seems to be teaching, that instead of worrying about the temporal things of this world, like money and taxes, the people needed to give themselves to God and His Kingdom. All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had said, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT).

Not only were those in Jesus’ audience that day made in the image of God, but as Jews, they had been chosen by God as His special people. They had been handpicked by God and then redeemed out of slavery in Egypt. They were His people – His prized possession. He had told them, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT). These people had been oppressed and burdened before, and God had rescued them. They were being oppressed and burdened now, but it had far less to do with taxes than it did with sin. God wanted to rescue and redeem them from slavery to sin and death, which is why He had sent His Son. But their minds were elsewhere. They saw their burdens as earthly, not spiritual. They wanted a Messiah to rescue them from taxes and the tyranny of the Romans. But Jesus had come to rescue them from a life enslaved to sin and a sentence of death.

Jesus wanted these people to give to God what was rightfully His – their lives. He wanted them to turn over their lives to the very one who could save them. Jesus stood before them as the Son of God and their Messiah. He was the answer to their problem, but they failed to recognize Him. Jesus had not come to foment insurrection, but to provide salvation. He had not come to lead a revolt against Rome, but to provide restoration with God. His was a spiritual revolution, not an earthly one. And He was subtly reminding His listeners that God, in whose image they were made, required what was due Him. And just as Caesar would punish any and all who refused to pay his mandatory tax, God would punish any and all who refused to give Him what belonged to Him. God had warned the people what failure to obey Him would result in. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him” (Deuteronomy 7:9-10 NLT).

As believers, we have a spiritual obligation to God. He has made us and He has redeemed through the precious, priceless blood of His own Son. Our lives are not our own. We belong to Him because He has paid for us at a great price. He has redeemed us from slavery to sin and made us His own. We are stamped with His image and so we should “give to God what belongs to God” – our very lives.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Question of Authority.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” 

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. –  Matthew 21:28-46 ESV

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In yesterday’s passage, Jesus was asked a question by the Pharisees designed to malign His actions by questioning His authority to do the things He did. They had asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” To understand the gist of their question, you have to consider the context. Jesus had walked on to the Temple grounds and angrily cleared out the moneychangers, overturning their tables. He drove away all those buying and selling animals for the sacrifices. And most importantly, Mark tells us, “he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace” (Mark 11:16 NLT). If you think about it, Jesus completely disrupted the entire sacrificial system for that day. He threw a wrench into the well-oiled machine of the corrupt religious system that had somehow replaced what God had established through Moses in the wilderness.

That sets up the passage we are dealing with today. Jesus had arrived back in Jerusalem from Bethany ande was immediately confronted by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law and the elders. They demanded to know who had given Him the authority to do what He had done. They were specifically talking about His disruption of the sacrificial system the day before.

By asking their question, they are inferring that Jesus had no right or authority to do what He did. His actions were not in keeping with accepted tradition. In their mind, Jesus was a renegade and a trouble maker. He was not one of them. He had not gone through the proper channels or training. He had no authority because He had never been a disciple of one of the great rabbis. He was an imposter and needed to be dealt with as such. Without knowing it, they were actually questioning Jesus’ kingship. Remember, just a few days before Jesus had rode into town to the shouts of “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10 NLT). Jesus had been welcomed as a king. But now they were questioning His authority and attempting to paint Him as a radical and a revolutionary.

Rather than answer their question, Jesus countered with one of His own. “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!” (Mark 11:29-30 NLT). Jesus put them squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If they said John’s authority was from heaven, they would be guilty of rejecting God. If they said it was of human origin, they risked alienating the people who saw John as a prophet. So they decided to plead ignorance. “We don’t know,” they responded. And as a result, Jesus refused to address their question regarding His authority. But in reality, Jesus did answer their question. He did so by telling three short parables. He turned to the crowd and began to teach in His usual method, using simple stories to teach a much deeper truth. But the context tells us what Jesus had in mind by telling these stories. The issue is one of authority and Jesus used these stories to address their original question.

Over in Matthew’s account, we have the three parables and they are the parable of the two sons, the parable of the landowner, and the parable of the wedding feast. In the first one, Jesus tells about a father with two sons, who orders the first son to go into the household vineyard and work. The son refused, but later repented and did what the father had asked. He orders the second sons to go and he initially agrees, feigning obedience, but later refuses, never doing what the father asked. Jesus asked, “Which one obeyed?” and they answered, “The first son.” So what’s the point? The religious leaders believed they were sons of the kingdom due to their heritage as descendants of Abraham. Jesus made it clear that corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes would get into God’s Kingdom before they did. Why? Repentance and belief. The religious leaders refused to repent. They refused to believe. They would not acknowledge Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and His authority as their rightful King.

In the second parable, Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a vineyard and then leased it out and moved to another country. When the grape harvest came, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers to whom he had leased the land, beat one servant, killed another and stoned the last. So the landowner sent a larger group or servants and they were treated in the same way. Finally, he decided to send his own son, hoping that they would show him the respect he deserved. But when he arrived, they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard and killed him. Jesus asked what they think the landowner will do to these farmers when he returns. “The religious leaders replied, ‘He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest’” (Matthew 21:41 NLT). Their own answer condemned them.

Over the centuries, God had sent His prophets to His people, and they had been abused, rejected, and in many cases, killed. So He sent more, and they were treated in the same way. Now He had sent His Son, but He too would be killed in just a matter of days. In telling this particular parable, Jesus was referring to a story from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7). Jesus makes sure they get the meaning of the story. “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Matthew 21:43-44 NLT).

Jesus was the stone that the builders will reject, but He will become the cornerstone. And Jesus, as King, had the authority to do as He wished – even if it meant taking away the Kingdom of God from those who rejected Him. The Pharisees didn’t miss the point. Matthew will later reveal: “When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them – they were the wicked farmers. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet” (Matthew 21:45-46 NLT).

Jesus had authority as the Son of God. The entire Old Testament message from the prophets spoke of Him. The nation of Israel had been invited to enter into His kingdom, but they would refuse. They had rejected the message of the prophets, of John the Baptist and would reject the offer of Jesus Christ. And the question you have to ask today, is whether Jesus Christ is the authority in your own life. Do you listen to what He says and obey it? Have you accepted His invitation, or are you too busy, too good, or too smart to buy into something so hard to believe? Does the way you live your life reveal that you sometimes question whether Jesus has authority over your life? Do you refuse to put on the righteousness He has provided because you prefer your life just the way it is? Jesus not only wants to be the Savior, He wants to be your King. He wants to rule and reign in your life. He wants to lead you and direct you. He wants you to worship and obey Him. He wants you to live in submission to Him. Because He loves You and He alone knows what is best for you. He is a gracious, loving, merciful, righteous King who longs to provide for and protect His people.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson