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Who Exactly is in Charge Around Here? (Part II)

Thousands of years ago God the Father planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, he fertilized the soil, and he left managers in charge to take care of the grapes. The vineyard is the Jewish nation. The wall around it is the city of Jerusalem. The managers are the priests of God’s temple. And the grapes are the people. 

And when the harvest time came, God the Father sent his Son Jesus to Jerusalem to collect his people! 

But as we saw last week, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem the priests said, “No! You are not the Son! You are not God’s anointed king. Only priests or prophets can anoint kings, and we did not anoint you. Therefore you are not the anointed king!” 

But then Jesus said, “Actually…do you remember John the Baptist? He was a priest and a prophet. He anointed me king. I am legit.” 

Jesus: 1. Government: 0. 

Then Jesus told the people the story about God’s vineyard. He exposed the religious rulers of Jerusalem. He told the people, “Look, your religious leaders are refusing to obey God. They are leading you straight into God’s judgement. But become my people! Accept me as your king! and I will save you and lead you out of judgement!” 

Jesus: 2. Government: 0. 

Then the government asked a question about paying taxes to Rome. They left Jesus with only two choices: A). yes, Romans are in charge, pay your taxes to them, or, B). no, I am in charge, pay your taxes to me! Option A would discredit Jesus; option B would get him arrested and crucified by the Romans. 

Jesus chose option C. He said, “Go ahead and give the government’s money back to the government, but give God’s people back to me!” 

Jesus: 3. Government: 0. 

Now, this week, the cage-match between Jesus and the government continues. 

The government is going to try to prove that Jesus disagrees with Moses. If Jesus disagrees with Moses, he cannot be God’s anointed king. In fact, if Jesus disagrees with Moses, then he should be put to death for rejecting God’s prophet and God’s law. 

Jesus, however, is going to prove that Moses agrees with him. In fact, he is going to prove that he is only one who truly understands what God’s law is all about. Which means he is God’s Son, sent to collect his Father’s harvest. Those who get in his way will be destroyed. Those who become his people will be saved. 

… 

So: a quick check of the scoreboard. Jesus: 3. Government: 0. 

Next round: 

[27] Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 

Now, I should explain that the government of Jerusalem was a lot like the government of Malaysia: there was parliament made up of at least two parties who were not very fond of each other. 

One party — the Pharisee party — was very strong in the kampungs. It was very conservative, very religious, and the Pharisees are the guys who have been arguing with Jesus all along the road to Jerusalem! We know them already. 

But the other party — the Sadducee party — is very strong in Jerusalem. That is why we are only meeting them now, in the city. The Sadducees were the urban, more secular elite. The bible tells us that the chief priest — the Prime Minister — at this time is a Sadducee. So the Sadducees are actually the ruling party at the moment; the Pharisees are the opposition party. 

Now, as Luke tells us here, the Sadducees do not believe in resurrection. They believe that once you’re dead, you’re dead: there is no afterlife. 

Which is strange for us, because we think, “How can priests not believe in the afterlife, and what would be the point of their religion?” 

How can priests not believe in the afterlife? Because these priests — the Sadducees — only believe in the books of Moses, the first five books of the bible. Moses did not talk about resurrection or an afterlife; therefore there is no resurrection or afterlife. 

So this is the setup for the scene: 

In Round One last week the ruling party and the opposition worked together to ask Jesus for his license to be king. These parties hate each other! — but they hate Jesus more. 

Round Two, the question about taxes, was a conservative opposition party question. They lost. 

So now, for Round Three, the ruling party is going to take Jesus down. They’re like, “Stand back, you pathetic conservative opposition party hacks: let us show you it’s done!” 

[28] “Teacher,” they said, “We’ve got a theological riddle for you! Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 

And we’re all like, “Really? If my brother died without kids, I would have to marry his wife and make her pregnant?” Or, from the ladies’ perspective: “If my husband died without getting me pregnant, I would have to marry his brother?” 

And all God’s people said, “Ewwwww!” 

But allow me to explain. God’s law on this point seems weird to us, but it actually served two very practical and compassionate purposes. First, this law provided life insurance for widows. Second, this law guaranteed that a family did not lose its property and become poor. 

First: life insurance. Today, if a husband dies, his life insurance kicks in and takes care of his widow. In those days children were your life insurance. If a man died without children, his widow could starve, especially in old age, without children to care for her. So God’s law commanded the dead man’s brother to marry her and give her children to take care of her when she got old. That is compassion. 

Second: the question of property. We live in an industrialized society, which means that our identity comes from our job, our career. But Moses lived in a farming society, which meant that a family’s identity and financial support came from their land. If a family lost part of their land, they were losing part of their identity and part of their ability to feed themselves. So, if a man died without children to inherit his property, then some distant cousin three times removed who really belongs to a different family might come in and say, “Oh, guess what? It’s mine now!” Then the widow would have no where to live, and the family of the dead man — his parents and brothers and sisters — would lose that section of their family lands. And if that happened too many times over the generations, a family could eventually lose everything! That family would be considered accursed. 

So God’s law commanded the dead man’s brother to marry the widow and give her children, so that his brother’s land would not pass out of the family. That is compassion! 

So to be perfectly clear, God’s law is not just weird; it actually has a deeply compassionate purpose. Our society is very different, so we have found different solutions to these problems — but still, our foundational principle should be the same: compassion

Okay: that’s the background for the Sadducee’s riddle. 

Here is the riddle: [29] “…there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman, but…no kids. So the second brother marries her. No kids. The third, the fourth, all the way down the line: no kids. Then the woman dies. 

[33] “Now then, Jesus, since you believe in this stupid anti-Moses resurrection thing, explain it to us: at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” 

Now we do have to admit: that is some pretty good kung fu. Seriously: is that woman going to live the rest of eternity with seven husbands? We know God would hate that idea of marriage! therefore, God must also hate the idea of resurrection. 

They are saying that resurrection contradicts God’s laws about marriage. 

Ha ha! Take that, Jesus! — and opposition party morons who believe in the afterlife… 

The Sadducees think they have trapped Jesus. They think Jesus has only two possible answers, A). Yes, you are right, Moses is right, there is no resurrection, or B). “No, you are wrong, Moses is wrong, and…go ahead and stone me to death now for rejecting Moses.” 

But Jesus, again, selects Option C. He says, “You know what your problem is, guys? You don’t have a clue what the resurrection world is going to be like. You guys are the sons of this world — you only believe in this world — so you are obsessed with questions of life insurance and property rights and inheritance, health and wealth and all that nonsense. [35] But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come will no longer have those concerns. Do you know why? Because there will be no more death. No death means no more need for life insurance, no more need for property rights or inheritance. Therefore, in the resurrection world there will be no more need for marriage.” 

Jesus has just told us that marriage is also part of God’s compassionate law. Marriage is designed by God for the care and protection of men and women and children. Marriage is a necessary, compassionate part of this age. 

But in the next age, the resurrection age, when we all get our bodies back, we won’t need marriage anymore, because…we really won’t need compassion anymore. There will be no more widows, no more orphans, no more abuse: just perfect relationships with one another and with our Father! 

Ha ha! Take that, Sadducees: resurrection does not contradict God’s laws about marriage, it fulfills God’s laws about marriage! 

Jesus: 4. Government: 0. 

But now Jesus counterattacks. The Sadducees still think Jesus disagrees with Moses. So Jesus tears them a new one in verse 37: “Have you noticed guys, that in the story of the burning bush, even Moses talks about resurrection?” 

“What? Really? How?” 

“Have you noticed that Moses calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ That sentence is all in the present tense! God tells Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.’ God does not say, ‘I was the God of Abraham etc.!’” 

And the Sadducees would be going, “Uhhhh, okay. What’s your point?” 

“This is my point: [38] God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive. 

“God is the great “I Am”, not the great “I Was.” To call God the great “I Was” would be — oh, gee, what’s the word I’m looking for? — blasphemy.” 

Jesus, in one sentence, has just proven that Moses believed in the resurrection, and that to reject the resurrection is to reject the eternal nature of God. The Sadducees have only two possible answers: A). God exists, and the dead also continue to exist in him; or B). the dead are not eternal…and neither is God. 

Neither of those answers is a good answer for the Sadducees. As always, Jesus’ kung fu is the best. 

And — for a moment — the opposition party agrees. Verse 39: Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 

And everyone waits for the Sadducees to answer. But…nothing. In fact, verse 40, from that point on, no one dared to ask him any more questions. 

Jesus: 5. Government: 0. 

… 

But Jesus is not finished. If he stopped there, the opposition party could go around saying, “Hey, did you hear, Jesus just proved that Moses believes in the resurrection. So when the election comes around, just remember: the Opposition Party is the Party of the Resurrection! Vote for us.” 

Jesus is not going let them get away with that. He is not taking sides. He is not for the opposition; he is not for the ruling party. He is neither liberal nor conservative; he is the government! 

So, to prove that he has not just joined the opposition, Jesus immediately attacks opposition party theology. He says to the people, “Hey, have you ever wondered why these guys say the Messiah is the son of David?” 

Well, the correct answer is: the bible says so. In 2 Samuel, Chapter 7, Nathan the prophet tells David the king, “Your son will be the Messiah.” 

Great! 

But then Jesus says, “Okay, that’s what 2 Samuel says. But, in the book of Psalms, David himself writes this: “ 'The Lord (God) said to my Lord (the Messiah): “Sit at my right hand [43] until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ' 

“Now: [44] If David calls the Messiah 'Lord,’ how then can the Messiah also be his son?” 

Huh? 

What Jesus is doing here is pointing out a “contradiction” in scripture. 

What? A contradiction in scripture? 

Well, yes: one verse says the Messiah is David’s human son. The other verse says the Messiah is a divine being who is invited to sit next to God. This is Jesus’ question: “how can the Messiah be the son of a human father, and a divine being at the same time? 

“Which one is correct, my opposition party friends?” 

And, if you notice, the opposition party does not answer. Why not? 

Because Jesus has left them with only two possible answers. They have a choice between, A). the Messiah cannot be both human and divine, therefore scripture contradicts itself, or B). scripture is consistent, and it teaches that the Messiah will be both human and divine. 

Neither of those answers is a good answer for the Pharisees. They can never admit that scripture contradicts itself. But they can never admit that the Messiah can be both Son of Man and Son of God; they think that would be blasphemy. 

So they say nothing at all. 

… 

This ends the theological cage-match. We take a look at the scoreboard, and…it’s Jesus: 6. Government: 0. 

Brief recap of the game: just like the devil at the beginning of Luke’s book, the government, three times, has tried to trap Jesus into saying, either, A). You guys are in charge, or B). Kill me now. But each time Jesus turned the trap around and left them with only two choices, either, A). You are God’s anointed king, or B). We’d rather blaspheme against John the Baptist, Isaiah, Moses, Nathan, David, and against God himself. 

I think we call that a blowout. 

Jesus beat the devil’s demon army easily. Now he has beaten the devil’s human army easily. 

And this leaves the people with a choice to make, either, A). join Jesus’ kingdom, or B). continue with the temple leadership. 

So why aren’t they rising up and crowning him king right then and there? 

Well, to be fair, we have to look at the situation through their eyes: 

On one hand there is Jesus: he wins theological arguments, he heals the sick, he casts out demons. But he is not connected: his best friends are fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes. 

On the other hand there are the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus beats them in theological arguments. But look how rich and well-connected they are: their best friends are governors and kings and emperors! 

On one hand Jesus is saying, “join me. I do not promise to make you rich in this life, but I do promise to make you like me: a child of God.” 

On the other hand, the priests are saying, “stay with us. Follow our religious rules and we promise you will become like us: rich, and powerful and blessed by God!” 

One of these choices leads to life and freedom! The other choice leads to slavery and death. 

But which one is which? How can the people tell who actually speaks for God? 

That is the question Jesus answers next: with all the people there watching and listening, [45]…Jesus said to his disciples, [46] “Watch out for these religious rulers. They are obsessed with wealth and social status and political connections because they think these things prove how blessed they are by God! But actually they are slaves to these things — and they are under God’s curse. These men will be punished most severely. Why? Because they use their religion to devour widow’s houses.” 

There is a painful irony here: the Sadducees and the Pharisees were obsessed with Moses’ theology about widows. But they had no compassion for real widows — and compassion was the whole point of Moses’ theology! 

So how can the people know who actually speaks for God? This is Jesus’ answer: look at the lives of your religious leaders. If they are greedy for money, obsessed with power, if they seem to love theology but actually they use their theology to devour widow’s houses…then they do not speak for God. 

But then we all wonder, “How were they using their theology to devour widow’s houses?” 

Jesus answers by looking up, and calling everyone’s attention to the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. [2] He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. [3] “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. [4] All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” 

This is one of the most misunderstood episodes in the gospels. For hundreds — perhaps thousands — of years, preachers have said, “See? The widow gave everything and Jesus praised her. You should give everything too! Live by faith mah!” 

But you know what? Jesus does not praise the widow for giving everything. He does not condemn her — of course not! — but he is not pleased with this situation. He sees this widow as a victim: she is one of those widows whose house has been devoured by the religious rulers. 

How did they devour her house? It went something like this: 

The priest says, “Oh, are you a widow? Hmmm, it sounds like you must have sinned, and God has punished you by taking away your husband. But if you give some money to the temple…God will bless you again. He will return four times more — no! Ten times more! You just have to give in faith.” 

And then, a little later: “Oh, that didn’t work? Well, maybe you didn’t give enough. Maybe you don’t have enough faith. You’re out of money? Awww. Well, if you sold your house, that would be a real act of faith. I’m sure God would bless you if you did that.” 

And then, “Oh, really, still no blessings from God? Sounds like you don’t have enough faith to really please God and release his blessings. You better keep on giving!” 

See, Jesus is not praising this situation. He is calling our attention to the pathetic end of a story that might have started years before. This widow, enslaved by her own priests corrupt theology, has finally given away her very last penny. Yes, she has given more than anyone else, because she has actually given her life to the temple! But Jesus is not saying, “yes! that is the way it should be!” Jesus is saying exactly the opposite! What did he just tell his disciples? “Watch out for those guys! Do not become like that: devouring widows houses, forcing them to pay for their salvation!” 

The people have a choice to make. Will they choose Jesus’ kingdom, or the devil’s kingdom? What if they cannot tell the difference? 

Jesus says, “This is how you can tell the difference: in the devil’s kingdom, the priests will tell you to give up your life to win God’s blessings for yourself

“But in my kingdom, I will give up my life to win God’s blessings for you.” 

… 

Okay. Well, as we have to ask every week: so what? What does this ancient cage-match have to do us today? Surely our situation is very different from that one? 

No, the situation in our age is very much the same. Our world is dominated by religions. Some of those religions are conservative, and spiritual, concerned about the afterlife. Other world religions are liberal, atheistic: they do not believe in an afterlife. Let me name some conservative ones: Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Animism…we could go on and on. But now let me name some atheistic religions: Buddhism (is actually a non-theistic religion), Humanism, Communism, Capitalism, Environmentalism (yes, that can become a religion!), Nationalism, Socialism, Fascism, even Atheism itself has some strongly religious qualities! Atheists have a theology: it’s called Science. And they have priests: they call them Scientists. When their priesthood says, “Believe this! Do this!”…most atheists just obey, even though most of them have not actually studied their theology for themselves. 

So: our situation is very much the same. No one in our world is immune from domination by a religious elite. 

Which means we have the same problem the people of Jerusalem had: how can we tell which religious systems are ruled by the devil, and which ones are ruled by Jesus? 

Here is the answer: the devil’s religious systems will always demand payment from you. Their leadership will always say, “You believe and do what we tell you to believe and do and you will enjoy the good life.” And the devilishly clever part is this: it’s true! If you could live perfectly and consistently within any given system, you would enjoy “the good life” — however that is defined. 

But how many people are capable of living perfectly and consistently within any system? 

That is the trap the devil used to make slaves of us all. He used our pride to suck us in, and then he uses our failures to chain us down. 

So, friends, here is our very very practical application: how can we tell if a system is devilish or Christian? A devilish system makes you pay for your blessings. It makes you pay for your failures — even to the very last penny. But a Christian system offers you the blessings of God for free. In the Christian system, Jesus pays for your failures, right down to the last penny. 

… 

If you are here today and you are from some other faith background, if you are Muslim, or Buddhist, or Atheist, or Socialist, I want to encourage you to look at the promises of your religion and compare them against the promises of Jesus. Does your system promise you the good life…but only if you pay? Only if you obey without asking hard questions? How does your system treat those who have no money to pay? Who have no power to obey? How does your system treat those who ask hard questions? Could it be that you are in slavery and you don’t even know it? 

Jesus’ system is the opposite. He does not promise that his people will be heathy and wealthy — but he does promise God’s blessings, God’s forgiveness, God’s everlasting love for free. He pays for us. He obeys for us. He can answer the hard questions of life because he has lived through the hard questions of life. And all this is available to you just for the asking. His call to all of us is, “Come! Be my people!” All you have to do is say, “Okay!” and it will happen. You will discover a freedom you never knew existed. 

… 

Now, if you are here today and you are a Christian, then this is Jesus’ command for us: “Watch out for those guys. Do not follow them, and definitely do not become like them.” 

Brothers and sisters, this warning is real because the danger is real. Only days after Jesus said this, one of his disciples proved to be a false disciple. He switched sides, joined the temple priests, and fell under the same judgement as the priests. 

Unfortunately, friends, the danger is just as real for us. History has shown us that many false disciples and false teachers — claiming to be Christians — have actually been servants of the devil’s system. So if you ever find yourself in a church where the leaders say, “Be like the widow! Give everything! Give more! Give in faith and God will give you a four-fold — no! a ten-fold — increase! Give and release the blessings of God in your life!” — if you ever hear leaders insisting that you call them by some special religious title, if they insist on a certain quality of life for themselves, if you hear them boasting about how long they pray! — then heed Jesus’ warning: such people will be punished most severely. Friends, teachers who say and do such things are not Christian teachers. So do not listen to them, do not follow them, or you will become like them, and you too will fall under the same judgement that will come upon them if they do not repent. 

Jesus has set you free, brothers and sisters! So stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the chains of the devil’s slavery! 

… 

But I do not want to end on that note. I do not want you to leave here today wondering, “Oh, what if I’m a false disciple? What if I’m falling back into the devil’s slavery?” 

Please do not become a slave again to fear. Jesus’ warning is very serious; but his solution is also very simple. You do not have to be a theologian to understand it; you do not have to be “super-spiritual” to accomplish it. Jesus’ solution is as simple as this: if you eat poison, you will die. If you eat good food, you will live. So, if you happen to visit a church and they are boasting about how spiritual they are, how rich God has made them, how they can “release God’s blessings” for you — all that Satanic nonsense — that is poison. Don’t eat it! Run away! Don’t go back! 

Instead, fix your eyes upon Jesus, your King, your brother, your saviour; fill your mind with his promises of God’s free blessing upon you; join a church that feeds widows instead of starving them, and you will be okay. Surround yourself with kind, compassionate, humble people, and you will become like them; you will become like Jesus. 

That is his promise! 

… 

So, in closing: what was this whole cage-match about? 

It was about answering this question: who has the right to rule God’s kingdom? Who has the right to claim the harvest of God’s vineyard? Is it the temple priests, or is it Jesus? 

Jesus says that he is the rightful king: the human Son of David, anointed by a priest. He also says that he is the rightful owner of the vineyard: the divine Son of God, baptised by the Holy Spirit! 

Jesus also says that the temple system is ruled by the devil, and by the sons of the devil — the sons of this world. That system is destined for destruction. And anyone who remains within that system when that day comes will be caught up in it and destroyed along with it — but anyone who has joined his people will be saved. 

And just so we are not left guessing, Jesus tells us how to tell the difference. The fruit of the devil’s system is obvious: rejection of God’s prophets. Abuse of God’s Word. Pride. Selfishness. Greed. Obsession with power, social status, money. Telling people to pay to release God’s blessing. Boasting about prayer and other spiritual things. And ultimately: rejection of God’s anointed king. Do not follow such people! 

But the fruit of Jesus’ kingdom is equally obvious: compassion, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control. Against such things there is no law! And where there is no law there is no slavery. 

So really, this cage-match leaves us with a rather simple choice: A). Do I want to continue in slavery? or B). Do I want Jesus to set me free? 

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (Part II)

Who Exactly is in Charge Around Here (Part I)?