Forget about pleasing God for a moment and put yourself into the sandals of one of the wealthy leaders of Israel. You have two choices: you can either be a pompous Pharisee or a snooty Sadducee. Either way, you view yourself as an icon of righteousness, you love looking down your nose at the commoners, and you are utterly addicted to their worship. If you’re a Sadducee, the Temple is your castle where you and your fellow Sadducees reign supreme. If you’re a Pharisee, your strongholds are all the synagogues that stand in various communities throughout Israel. You don’t give a flip about pleasing Yahweh, but you’re extremely religious. As a Jew, every aspect of your life revolves around Judaism, and the foundation of Judaism is the glorious Torah.
The Torah must not be challenged. You need the people to revere Scriptures so that you can use those Scriptures to control the people. For you, it’s all about making a hefty profit off the gullibility of others. You’re super rich and always looking for a way to get richer. You want a steady supply of worship, money, and fame, and you feel seriously threatened by anyone who can block your access to these things. Now that we’ve gotten a glimpse into how your carnal little mind works, let’s consider your view of Jesus.
When Jesus first started touring around with His scruffy band of losers, He was annoying, but you were comfortable with blowing off the rumors you kept hearing about Him as ridiculous exaggerations. Those comfortable days are now over. In just a few short years, that irksome son of a carpenter from dumpy Nazareth has gone from being a mild irritant to threatening everything that you hold dear. The Man won’t shut up, He won’t back down, and He won’t stay out of Jerusalem. Not only is He totally upstaging you with miracle after miracle, He is effectively turning your own followers away from you. Instead of bowing to your authority, He openly mocks, insults, and curses you right out loud. Instead of admiring how righteous you are, He scoffs and rolls His eyes in disgust while He calls you a hypocritical sinner. But most threatening of all is the way He keeps challenging the laws of the Torah. He has no respect for the Sabbath Days. He just recently declared Yahweh’s dietary laws to be null and void, and He even goes so far as to claim equality with God Almighty. Not that long ago, He actually stood up in the Temple—the Temple of all places!—and brazenly referred to Himself as I AM! Why on earth is this epic Blasphemer still alive and breathing? How is that He can freely travel from one end of Israel to the other without ever getting injured? Certainly there have been a few pathetic attempts to harm Him, but no one has had the guts to follow through. The Temple guards have proven to be useless cowards, the people admire Him, and now rumors that He could be the promised Messiah are circulating throughout Israel. But He can’t be the Messiah, because He’s an obnoxious, arrogant Rebel who has demonstrated quite clearly that He will be impossible to control. No way can Israel afford to have such a loose cannon at the helm.
But suppose Jesus were to seize control—where would that leave you? Kicked to the curb, no doubt, because Jesus clearly hates you as much as you hate Him. And then there is the problem with Rome. Israel’s relationship with the Empire is already precarious and Jesus is making everything worse. The enormous crowds He attracts would be impossible to manage if Jesus should start any trouble, and the Romans are known to go ballistic whenever there’s a riot. The last thing you need is some nobody from Nazareth bringing war down on Israel’s head. Isn’t it bad enough that you already have to pay Roman taxes and have the land polluted with Gentile lowlifes? Does Jesus mean to start a full on insurrection? And once He lights that stick of dynamite, then what? Will His idiot disciples hold back Roman soldiers with fishing nets and rocks? Israel isn’t ready for war, yet if Jesus isn’t stopped, war is what she’ll have.
As you can see, from the perspective of the Jewish leaders, Jesus is a serious threat to national security, never mind their personal realms of power. And now there’s this disturbing business about Lazarus—some guy who Jesus supposedly called out of his tomb a full four days after he was dead. What will happen when news of this reaches Rome? How long before the emperor orders an official investigation of this Jewish radical? Something must be done about Jesus—something extreme, and something final.
Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This Man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow Him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in Him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”
Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one Man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” (Jn. 11:47-50)
After watching his underlings panic, head honcho Caiaphas pipes up with the obvious solution. “Hey, dingdongs, use your brains! We don’t have to just sit here watching Jesus take us down! We need to off Him!” Caiaphas doesn’t balk at the idea of cold-blooded murder, and neither do his cronies. But wait—wasn’t there something in the Torah about Yahweh ordering murderers to be executed? Oh, who cares about Yahweh and His stupid laws? Judaism is just a game we play to keep the people under our thumb. The important thing is to silence this Nazarene before He bring everything crashing down on our heads.
Now Caiaphas undoubtedly voted to kill Jesus for the usual carnal reasons, so you shouldn’t put much stock in John’s ridiculous interpretation of this speech.
He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world. (Jn. 11:51-52)
No, Caiaphas is really not trying to prophesy for Yahweh here. If Caiaphas gave a flip about Yahweh, he’d be revering Jesus, not pushing for His execution. Caiaphas is the high priest—he’s one of the most powerful men in New Testament Jewish society. Caiaphas is only thinking about what’s best for Caiaphas here. He hates Jesus–a fact which he’ll really flaunt during Jesus’ trial. So is Caiaphas really trying to toss out some deep insight about how Jesus has come to save the world and unite the children of God? Not hardly.
Remember that there’s a big difference between reporting facts and inserting your personal interpretation of those facts. In the historical books of the Bible, you will find a mix of facts and opinions. You need to look to the Holy Spirit to help you discern which opinions are correct and which are just foolish thinking on the part of the writer.
So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death. As a result, Jesus stopped His public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with His disciples. (Jn. 11:53-54)
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about people wanting to kill Jesus, but now that the high priest and the top leaders are conspiring together, we know that the threat has become much more serious. But then again, Jesus is God Almighty and He reigns with absolute sovereignty. So is anyone going to succeed at bumping Jesus off before He is in the mood to go? Not hardly, and Jesus will be sure to flaunt this fact in everyone’s faces before He allows the little rats to arrest Him. Our Gods always have Their way in this world.
Now while murderous plots are brewing in Jerusalem, Jesus is strolling through a village between the regions of Samaria and Galilee when ten leprous men see Him. Of course they want to be healed, because their skin disease is ruining their lives and forcing them to live as impoverished outcasts.
As He entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. (Lk. 17:12-14)
Sometimes Jesus lays His hands on people, sometimes He goes through theatrical rituals, other times He just speaks a word, and in this case, He tells the lepers to leave and go find a priest who they can show their healed state to so that the priest can declare them fit to return to normal society. The lepers aren’t healed right off, but as they head off together, they are suddenly cured. How exciting! No doubt the whole group starts sprinting forward with joyful exclamations, but one man turns back and runs over to Jesus to express his appreciation.
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for what He had done. This man was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Lk. 17:15-18)
Never missing an opportunity to rip on Israel, Jesus calls everyone’s attention to the fact that it was only a hated Samaritan who paused to remember Yahweh. His language makes it clear that the group of lepers must have included some Jews, who are now so caught up in getting their lives back that they’ve forgotten all about God. Every time Jesus draws our attention to how consistently Yahweh’s own chosen people are utterly ignoring Him, it’s so disturbingly sad. After watching Yahweh chase after Israel for centuries throughout the Old Testament, how is it that she is still treating Him with such cold contempt? Jesus just gave you your life back, and you can’t even take two seconds to say thanks? Really?
As Christians who care about pleasing our Gods today, we need to take a good hard look at the way Israel treats Yahweh in the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to help us to never be anything like her. She is so horrible to Him, and she isn’t doing any better today as she whines incessantly about her Old Covenant promises while refusing to even acknowledge that Yahweh has drafted a whole New Covenant for the world to abide by. Is it right for us Christians to be applauding this rotten attitude? When we claim to be pro-Israel today, what exactly does that mean? That we’re all for spiritual brats acting like God owes them all kinds of special favors while they spit in His face? The fact that Judaism is still an active religion in this world is a major insult to both Yahweh and Christ. The Old Covenant has been thrown out, yet there are idiotic rabbis in Israel today waxing on about how great it would be to one day see the Temple rebuilt so that the sacrificial system can be brought back online. As a Christian, you need to think about the stands you take. You insult your Gods when you publicly defend those who are willfully defying Them and then say that it’s the Christian thing to do.
THE PARABLE OF WORKERS IN A VINEYARD
Working His way back down towards Jerusalem from up north, Jesus starts talking about one of His favorite subjects: the Kingdom of Heaven. You’ll find many parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospels. The real purpose of these stories is to give us insights into how our Gods operate and how They want us to respond to Them. So you want to be looking for lessons about God’s Character and what soul attitudes He wants you to have whenever Jesus launches into a kingdom parable.
In Matthew 20, we come across the infamous parable of workers in a vineyard. Like many of Jesus’ longer parables, this one packs a disturbing punch as it reveals things about God that we honestly don’t like and at the same time increases our awareness of our own hypocrisy. The truth is that we’re all for God being generous to us, but we’re quick to get huffy when we see Him being generous to others.
“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage—one denarius—and sent them out to work.
At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.
At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’
So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (Matt. 20:1-16)
The landowner in this story represents God. He hires several batches of workers: one crew is hired on in the early morning, others at midday, others in the afternoon and still others in the evening. It’s interesting to note that only the early morning crew was told how much they would earn when they were hired. One denarius was the standard wage for a day’s work in these times. To the later shifts, the landowner just said, “Come work for me and I’ll pay you whatever is right.” If they’d known they’d be getting a full day’s wage for just a few hours of work, perhaps they would have boasted to the others and caused a ruckus. Because the later shifts weren’t promised a specific wage ahead of time, they would have been as surprised as the morning crew at pay time, only in the opposite emotional direction. While they were staring in joyful shock at the sum of money in their hands, the first crew was stewing with anger.
Now if you put yourself in the sandals of the morning crew, then you don’t like this parable and your first reaction is to agree that the landowner is being unfair. Jesus knows how we humans think, and He’s very good at setting up stories that spark certain reactions in us. Yet let’s take a closer look at the master’s heart attitude. Why is he paying the last crew more? Is it out of a desire to cheat the early crew? No, it’s out of a desire to be generous to the later crews. Motivation is what determines whether an action is good or not.
Comparison is the key element which we add to this story and thus twist its message. We assume that as the master is paying the evening crew a full day’s wage, he’s thinking of those morning workers and the difference of salary between them. We project the same thing onto God today: that He is thinking of us as He works with other souls, therefore we can pick up hints about His feelings towards us based on how He treats others. When God heals someone in front of us while leaving us with some chronic ailment, we hear Him saying that He loves us less than them. If He lets those who have defied Him their whole lives into the same Heaven as those of us who have tried so hard to honor Him, we hear Him saying that He values us less than them and doesn’t appreciate all that we’ve done for Him. The older brother in the prodigal son story projected such personal messages onto the way his father welcomed his younger brother home. When a feast was thrown for the returning rebel, the faithful older brother became hurt, complaining that his father never threw a party over his presence before. The clear assumption being made was that the father loved his eldest son less and was proving it by the way he treated the younger son.
In order to be released from all these draining and depressing conclusions that God loves us less than others, we need to realize that God does not compare us to other souls. He responds to each of us on an individual basis and when He wants to communicate something to us, He isn’t going to go around dropping vague hints. The master in the field was not thinking of the morning crew as he paid the later crew: he was only thinking of showing generosity to those who hadn’t had the chance to work a full day. Likewise, when God blesses others around us, we should see Him as focused on them, not glancing back at us with some disapproving look in His eye. God gives every soul His attention all of the time. His focus on you isn’t diminished because He’s doing miracles for someone else.
Notice it was the master who set out at various points in the day to hire on his workers; it wasn’t like he spoke to them all in the morning and some refused to come. Until they were invited, the later crews didn’t know an opportunity for work was available. Likewise, none of us can meet our Gods’ requirements for salvation until we receive an invitation from the Holy Spirit, and He invites us all at different times. How many testimonies do we hear of souls never finding out the truth about God until later on in life? How many pray for guidance only to go years and years before receiving any feedback? We who were called young have been given a gift: we should be cherishing our opportunity to walk with the Lord all of our lives instead of envying those who get saved at the last moment. And we should recognize that we are all benefiting from our Master’s generous and merciful Character.
God treats us all differently and He intentionally keeps His plans for other souls confidential. Once when Peter tried to ask about Jesus’ plans for the disciple John, he was told “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (Jn 21:22). Jesus’ point was that Peter needed to stay focused on his own walk with God, yet Jesus’ words were turned into a rumor that John would live forever. We humans just can’t help poking our noses over the neighbor’s fence to see what’s happening in another section of the world. We’re naturally curious and comparative, yet we’re also extremely insecure, which is why God blocks us from finding answers to many of our questions. And while He’s blocking us, He teaches us to change what questions we’re focused on. What opportunities is God giving you to please Him today? How are you responding to Him in your soul? What is He teaching you? When we keep our focus on our own walks, we stop caring about how God is handling some other soul. If He wants to abundantly bless someone else, let Him—it should comfort us to know that we have a God who delights in being generous. If we’re going through a hard time right now and we feel like we’re working hard with very little to show for it, let’s not toss up our hands in despair. Instead, let’s remember that we’re each just starting our journeys with God. Maybe this is your tough season and God is holding back the blessings in your life. That’s okay—your time will come. Meanwhile, there is plenty of important growing and learning to do so that when the easy times do come, you’ll be ready to enjoy them without losing your grip on what really matters. God is good and we can trust His wisdom in each of our lives. There’s no need for comparing and envying.
Now whenever Jesus throws out a line like “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last,” He’s usually addressing a pride problem. This parable is part of His response to a question that Peter throws out in the previous chapter.
Peter asked Him, “We’ve given up everything to follow You. What will we get?” (Matt. 19:27)
Naturally the disciples want assurance that they’ll be first in line for extra goodies on the other side. At first, Jesus tells them exactly what they want to hear and promises that their reward will be great. But then He launches into a parable that delivers a countering message, for the twelve would most identify with that early morning crew who worked all day only to feel cheated later on. So what’s with the apparent doubletalk? Why does Jesus first say, “Oh sure, you twelve will really rake in the rewards on the other side,” only to then tell a parable which shows the workers who have worked longest and hardest feeling ripped off and disgruntled? Well, arrogance abounds among these disciples, and as Jesus grows more infamous in Israel, the twelve are getting more and more eager for glory and honor as members of His inner circle. Even though they’ve proven to be slow learners who keep resisting the spiritual lessons Jesus is throwing at them, in their minds, they’re expecting great things. Well, God tires of us telling Him how He ought to judge us. Israel abounds with pompous preachers like the Pharisees and Sadducees who are always trumpeting their own righteousness. And then there’s Israel’s raging superiority complex and the fact that the Jews in general view themselves as God’s favorite people. Everyone’s pride could use a good kick in the head and Jesus’ disciples need to be reminded that Yahweh doesn’t take orders from them. He’ll pass out the rewards however He pleases, and if He wants to be unfair about it, He gets to. Jesus warns His disciples that plenty of those who consider themselves to be extra deserving of eternal rewards now will find themselves at the back of the line in Heaven. His point is that the disciples need to stop thinking about how glorious they are and focus on pleasing God instead. But is anyone listening? Not really, because no sooner does Jesus finish this parable than the brothers James and John come over to Him with an obnoxious request: could Jesus please reserve the greatest seats in Heaven for them? The two brothers could sit on His right and on His left—doesn’t that sound like a nice plan? And this question comes after Jesus has already said that the twelve will have some great rewards on the other side. Obviously great isn’t great enough for James and John. They want to be first. They want to be exalted even higher than the other ten disciples. How is Jesus going to respond to this lust for glory and power? We’ll find out in our next lesson.
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