Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 5 March 2017

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Repentance for Pharisees and Sadducees

 

In chapters 1-2 of Matthew, the stage is being set for the story that is going to unfold in the remaining chapters. In the first two chapters, we read about Jesus as a baby. We find out about his family tree, the mum’s pregnancy, place of birth, where he spent his childhood (Egypt and Nazareth), and we grow in understanding about his destiny. For instance, I read to you again three verses from the very first chapter:

 

Matthew 1:21-23: [An angel appeared to Joseph (the human father that would raise Jesus) in a dream, and said:] ‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us’.

 

 Jesuswould be the name of the newborn child, and the name meansGod saves” (people from their sins). And, in fulfillment of an old prophecy, “Immanuelwould be his other name by which he would be known, and it means God with us”. “God saves” – “God with us” – Jesus! Here and in other places, the first two chapters of Matthew raise expecations for what is to come. How is the name of this child to become program in the rest of the book?

And in chapter 3 (what we are studying today) – finally – the story begins to unfold. By now Jesus is grown up, but he is not the first that appears on the scene. There is another man that begins the work:

 

Matthew 3:1-3: In those days, John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

 

Matthew 3:5-6: People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

 

Before anything else is happening, John calls people to himself to a location east of Jerusalem, the capital – a wilderness area beside the river Jordan – and, so the explanation from the prophecy in Isaiah, prepares people for the coming of Jesus. And, apparently, he is quite successful. Plenty of people come to him from across the nation. But what about his message and charge: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” which Jesus – before even a single one of his miracles was recorded – would continue – Matthew 4:17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Is this what people must hear first? Repent!

Since the exile to Babylon – more than five hundred years ago – the people of God had been without a king (and for more than four hundred years the prophetic voice in the land had grown silent, no new book in the Bible after Malachi) and for the last sixty years (or so) they had suffered from the brutality of the Roman Empire, the latest foreign menace, which occupied and oppressed the country, spilling blood and demanding taxes.

 

PILATE, PONTIUS by Isidore Singer, Isaac Broydé: Fifth Roman procurator of Judea, Samaria, and Idumæa, from 26 to 36 of the common era; successor of Valerius Gratus. According to Philo (“De Legatione ad Caium,” ed. Mangey, ii. 590), his administration was characterized by corruption, violence, robberies, ill treatment of the people, and continuous executions without even the form of a trial.

 

http://europe.newsweek.com/how-romans-used-crucifixion-including-jesus-political-weapon-318934?rm=eu: New York Times bestselling author Stephen Mansfield described crucifixion in a 2014 article as “an act of state terror.” By the time crucifixion was a staple of the Roman Empire, its justice system had employed strangling, stoning, burning and even boiling in oil as methods of torture and execution. But crucifixion sent a more lingering message.

 

How would you feel about listening to a preacher demanding repentance if in our own city corruption reigned and people were being tortured to death publicly, hanging and dying on crosses – our own neighbours and friends? Was this not the time for King Jesus just to come and help? His people needed no further pressure but deliverance.

However, God begs to differ. Repentance comes first. Later Jesus would encourage people to take this step of repentance by blessing them with healings and miracles, but unless there is repentance [to turn from sin, to feel regret or contrition, to change one’s mind], there is no sharing in the kingdom that has come near. At the Renewal Conference last year, Rolland Baker shared a testimony from the orphans which his grand-parents picked up from the streets in China:

 

Rolland and Heidi Baker

 

Rolland Baker transcript (a few years ago): I am what I am and I am where I am because of what God has done in my grand-father’s life … Now my grand-father started off as an evangelical Hudson Taylor classical missionary. He grew up in Ohio, had Pennsylvania Dutch in him, and he wanted to be a missionary and he wanted to obey the great commission and he wanted to get out there as far away from white men as possible. He wanted to go to the ends of the earth and he was burning up with zeal and nothing would stop him. And this is exactly what he did. He got on a ship to China (six months to get to Shanghai, another six months to get up the Yangtze River), slaves along the river, … up into the mountains of Tibet and my father was born in a little town ten thousand feet up the Tibetan hills … His first two children died of disease. My father was born over a pigsty in a little mountain hut up there – three days yak journey from the closest white man. He started his missionary career. And he worked and he preached and he served and did everything he knew to implement the Great Commission for five years and got one person saved and he wasn’t sure about him. He did everything that he knew to do …

He quit. This is not for me. Missionary work does not suit me. I am not doing this anymore. He got onto a yak’s back, went down the mountain, on a river barge and drifted back to Shanghai, got on another boat, went back to the States, sold Hoover vacuum cleaners to get out of debt … No more missionary work for me … really really tired … Most missionaries in China back then worked their lives for twenty converts … in a very Buddhist demonic society … with meagre results. My grand-father said: “Look God, things have to change but I can’t change them. I am not going back there unless you send me back there unless you go with me, unless you give me some power. I am just not going to do it.”

And that’s when the Pentecostal revival hit in the early 1900s. He’s back there in Ohio and he got completely blasted Pentecostal style. He was the most Pentecostal person I have ever known. Heidi is number two. He did not go another day after that when he didn’t get up at 5am and praying in tongues for two hours … But now God speaking to him, God talking to him, God’s with him. Things are very very different. It’s now God has to do it. He has to make the change. Now my grand-father’s desperate, he just cannot tolerate, cannot contemplate anything but God’s immediate personal presence in his life. And this time, God says: “You go back to China. You don’t sign up with any big denominational organization. You don’t raise your support. You don’t do anything. Just take your wife – my grand-mother – just go back out there and I will be with you …

This time, he goes back, doesn’t know what to do, but he tries at first to be a missionary again. My grand-mother tries to find something to do, goes out their little courtyard there and sees gutter children in the ditch. All China was a wild-west kind of a place, no civil government, no social benefits, no police, no control. It was just wild and crazy – wild bands of robbers and bandits would blow into town. It was just run by just whoever in town had the most guns and killed the most people. My father would look out of his bedroom window and he would watch the robbers shooting each other and executing each other. He watched executions … heads on pikes … violent, bloody, demonic … China in the old days. There were no child labour laws, nobody looking out for anyone, every man for himself.

And there were tin mines around my grand-father’s city and there were commercial capitalistic chieftains that went around the villages and said to the parents (living poor in huts): “Look, I pay you so much money if you give me your children and they work for us.” They would take the children up these tin mines and the tin mines had these tiny little tunnels – so small only a small child could crawl into them. They took advantage of these children and forced them into these mines and worked them with no intention of even feeding them and they just worked them in these tiny tunnels of mines until they died and they would throw the bodies out into the trees and would go to the villages and get more children …

A few of these children managed to survive and crawl into town. It took them a long time and by then they were very very sick, malnourished, diseased and they would end up in rags and in the gutters and my grand-mother would go out and see some of these children surviving and she just began to take them in, hose them off, give them new clothes, two out of three died within a few days. They were so far gone.

Now my grand-father tried to do real missionary work. My grand-mother had nothing better to do. Pretty soon my grand-father took some interest but his missionary friends said: “Harold, you are wasting your time. These kids will never be influential. They never amount to anything. They will never change China. They are useless. Why don’t you deal with nice children? Why don’t you deal with the leaders? Why don’t you train pastors? Why don’t you do something effective …” My grand-mother is hosing off children, finding more kids.

The kids didn’t appreciate it. They didn’t want to study the Bibles. They just wanted to go out play, cause mischief, steal, perfectly normal kids … My grand-parents tried to keep them in chapel a little bit. They were not interested, wouldn’t listen. They didn’t know anything but all of a sudden the Holy Spirit falls and you can read the story in the book “Visions Beyond the Veil”. My grand-father’s book …

But it’s all about what God did, not what my grand-father did. All he could do was watch. God fell on these children. He didn’t just fall on them. He took them up to be with in visions for days and weeks and months. They didn’t come out of visions, just long enough every day to get a bite to eat or go to the bathroom or nap for a few hours and they were back on the floor or back walking around, they were caught vividly caught up with God and the angels.

At first, they were extremely convicted [of their sins] for days. They wept for their sins – ten year old children. You would think that they were – because they were that victimized – that they had nothing to repent of. They were just poor little children. There’s no reason to heap guilt on them but the Holy Spirit so convicted them. They wept for days and days without knowing anything about salvation. All they knew was that they were lost. And they were chained and dragged off to hell and saved at the last minute and taken up to heaven and then – as the book goes on and on and on – they were just with the angels and with Jesus and in paradise and being shown the truths of the things of God and it went just on and on and on and these children became the pillars of the church in the South Hunan province [a good number of them died as martyrs] and today there is a church of half a million Christians as a result in that area.

These children went out into the villages and prophesied with adult vocabulary and with great power. The Spirit of prophecy was so heavy on them that they would sit down and ask their friends: “What did I say?” And they would go back to their child-like voice and vocabulary. God just fell on them and used them, conquered them, captured them, did anything he liked with them.

And those are the tools he chose, those are the methods he picked. It’s the greatest example of the revelation of the knowledge of God that I have heard in church history. I don’t know anything in church history that would equal what happened to these small band of orphans that my grand-father had. I’ve studied history … read all the mystics. I’ve read every account of revival that I can get my hands on. I’ve never heard of anything like this. These children were in visions. They saw of the future, of the communist takeover of China, of the great tribulation. They saw the future of the church. They saw the last days. They saw such power in the last days. They saw evangelists transported instantly from place to place. You know in Africa the worst problem is transportation. No such problem in the last days. They were able to call fire down from heaven upon unrepentant towns and villages. They saw the rapture. They didn’t see when the rapture was but they saw the bones coming out of the grace and being clothed with bodies. They saw visions of the Old Testament. They saw David and Goliath and Moses and Jonah and Noah. They didn’t know the Bible. They didn’t know the stories but they would come out of these visions and say: “Grandpa Baker, is there anything in the Bible about a little boy and a big giant and a sling and a little rock …”

And when I was three years old and five years old, I would sit on my grand-father’s lap and listen to him talk about power encounters and angels and demons. There was so much that he had to share with me. I never heard the same story twice. My father was fifteen years old when that revival hit and he grew up to start Bible schools. He started one in China. He started one in Hong Kong. He started one in Taiwan. He pioneered churches. His first graduating class in Hong Kong was in 1949. The entire graduating class felt called to go back to China. The entire graduating class went back to China and all of them were executed. They dug their own graves and were executed.

Revival in China has shaped me and my life. Revival in China grows in the midst of the most intense persecution, the most intense suffering – beyond what the mind can comprehend. I remember once hearing in a church in China a pastor’s experience of torture and prison and all the people in the church were weeping as he was telling his testimony and I and many were thinking: “This church really loves its pastor. This church is so sensitive, so sympathetic. It is so moved. It is so sorrowful over what this pastor had to go through. What incredible congregation with such love.” That’s not why they were crying. They were weeping because they had not yet been considered worthy to go through the same thing.

China has completely changed me and shaped me. In the early 90s, I was working on computerize the alphabets and translations for remote tribes up in the province my grand-father was. He worked among minority tribes. Typical of my grand-father, he never went to normal people, to the easiest places, the most common places. He sought out the most remote places, the minority races. The people that were neglected by everyone else. I was working on this Bible translation and we had to print it in Hong Kong, smuggle it into China … Then we had to get up the mountains past the communists and we enlisted the help of this young man. He had already been tortured. He had been hung up behind his back and his feet burned in fires and tortured and all of that and when I asked him to help, he broke down and wept: “I am just not worthy of such a great task of bringing in the word of God like this.” He’s already so far beyond us, we don’t even how to relate to him as he says that.

And so I am sitting as child on my grand-father’s lap and I listen to him talk and talk. And I am telling you, it never occurred to me as a kid that God was all button-holed up in heaven and just would not come down on do anything. It never occurred to me. I cannot not remember ever not believing in Jesus. I cannot ever remember thinking that God would not just do anything. It’s illogical. It doesn’t make sense. Americans don’t get out much. You should go to China and see what a Buddhist priest is capable of. You should go to Africa and see what a witch-doctor is capable of. You should see what evil spirits Muslims get involved in after a while and see what kind of activity is going on. In … the capital city … and yet there is witch-doctors in every block. Everybody is going to a witch-doctor … Everybody knows there is the supernatural. Everybody knows there’s evil spirits about the place …

That’s how it all started on my grand-father’s lap. How can you backwards from that? We spent three years in London – university of Kings’ College. We would start a theological discussion at lunch and we wouldn’t finish till dinner and not resolve anything. We were arguing whether immediacy was possible. We were suggesting that perhaps immediacy might be a good thing and to the great chagrin of all of our professors. But I tell you being a kid on my grand-father’s lap kept me all through school and all through college, throughout all the temptations of everything else I might have done with my life. I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted to be a physicist. I like abstract things. I like equal science. I like things to make sense. I am the total opposite of Heidi.

 

Rolland E. Baker’s foreword to the book “Visions Beyond the Veil” by his grand-father: Now my wife Heidi and I are in Africa, working among the poorest people we can find, taking in orphaned and abandoned children and looking for lost sheep everywhere we can. And Jesus is again revealing Himself to ‘the least of these’, just as he did in Kunming, China, so many years ago in my grandfather’s orphanage. That outpouring was not in vain; it was not just for the benefit of a few isolated people in a faraway country. Its story has fired hearts among the spiritually hungry around the world for two, and now three generations, and it is being continued today in those who will be like children in His sight.

 

H.A. Baker: Visions Beyond the Veil, Minneapolis: Osterhus Publishing House, p51-57: Over and over again children had visions of hell and the lake of fire. The first time any one was under the anointing of the Spirit he usually had a vision of hell. He was bound in chains by demons and taken through a region of darkness. Some children could hear demons all about them in this region. If taken far, they could see a dim light in the distance which proved to be reflections from the lake of fire. Some children were forced so near they could see the lake of fire ahead. All the time they were pleading the blood of Christ, asserting that they would not obey and would not be subject to the slavery of their captors. They believed Jesus would surely save. We have already told how at this climax, before the lake of fire was reached, the Lord did intervene with His blood bought salvation.

The Bible pictures hell as a place of blackness and darkness, and it teaches that part of the devil’s angels are now reserved in chains of darkness awaiting judgment. The children saw not only darkness in hell, but also the Lake of Fire that was always approached through a region of stygian darkness. In vision, they were led to the edge of a great lake of molten fire in a semi-dark pit from which arose clouds of smoke. When the smoke settled low the fire in the lake was less distinct. When the smoke lifted a little, the burning lake with red and greenish flames and its inmates could be distinctly seen.

When the children were peering down into this pit in hell we saw them taking a firm hold on some piece of furniture or getting down on their hands and knees, cautiously bending forward to peep into the infernal regions. They looked a moment and then drew back, afraid lest they fall in. They were horrified at what they saw. Then very cautiously they looked again and drew back. Sometimes the children lay flat on their stomachs, lest they slip and fall while looking over the brink of the lake of fire.

The lost were seen going into hell. Some fell in, some walked over the brink, and some were bound by demon chains and cast into hell by demons. One boy saw groups of the wicked bound in bundles, ready to be cast into the furnace of fire. When the fire abated and the smoke settled down the moans of the miserable could be heard. When the fire at intervals increased in intensity and the smoke lifted a little there were shrieks and wails of agony.

One person was rolled on the floor and caused to cry out as would a suffering soul in hell. In the lake of fire were oceans of hands reaching up for help. Those below appealed to those looking in upon them to come to their rescue. We could hear the children talking to them just as you can hear someone talking over the telephone and get but one end of the conversation. We could hear one end of a conversation like this: “I can’t help you.” “No, I cannot do anything for you.” “But when you were alive you would not obey the gospel.” “No, it is too late; before you got here I preached to you, but you made fun of me and despised Jesus. Now you know I told you the truth.” “No, I cannot do anything; this is the judgment of God.” “If you had obeyed, you would now be enjoying heaven with us.” After some such conversation, the children were led away to enjoy the presence of Jesus in heaven or the glories of the golden streets of the Paradise of God ...

One boy saw his grandmother in hell, whom he had tried to win to Christ. She was once a sorceress and murderer who had withstood the gospel she heard in her village and caused many to refuse the light. Other children also had visions of relatives in hell. This tribal boy who saw his grandmother in hell was the boy who saw his little sister and his believing aunt in heaven ...

 

When Rolland Baker’s grand-parents took them in, the dying orphans had no interest in the Christian faith. God prompted them by revealing himself to them in visions (as we all depend on him to reveal himself to us). But he did not immediately comfort them. On the contrary, he confronted them first with their sin – children that had done nothing but work and suffer abuse – and they would weep for days, feeling convicted of their sin. They thought that their condemnation was just. God was just, and they were sinners.

This is what the Bible teaches:

 

Romans 3:10-27: As it is written:

 

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.

Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.

Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.

There is no fear of God before their eyes.

 

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between the peoples of this earth [original: Jew and Gentile], for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where, then, is [human] boasting? It is excluded…

 

This morning, none of us are righteous – without sin and pleasing to God. We are not. Because not everything that is coming out of our mouths is gold. All of us fall short of the standard of God’s own glory – his perfect goodness and love. And nothing can compensate for our sin. We cannot play the victims of life and feel sorry for ourselves when even the harshness of this life demonstrates the sinfulness of the human race. (We live in a fallen world that has been judged by God on account of our first human ancestors, Adam and Eve. Cf. Genesis 3. There will be a new life in heaven).

This morning, take another look at repentance. Sometimes life is hard and cruel (there are injustice and accidents and bad news [suicide of someone that has been close to us]), and we feel that God should repent – Jesus should do more and save more and fix more – but he is just and he is asking us to repent: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

In Matthew 3, people streamed to John from across the country – they must have sensed that they needed repentance and a cleansing of their heart, the joy of a fresh beginning with God – and when they came, John baptized them – immersed them in the river Jordan and washed them clean with the promise of forgiveness.

Then, the religious leaders came, and John – facing the hierarchy – seemed to lose the plot a little – no winsome greeting, no diplomatic tact, no deference to the spiritual heads of God’s people (the church today), but this:

 

Matthew 3:7: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

 

Is this how you treat spiritual leadership? (I am your pastor, and I feel like saying: “Please, don’t take lessons from John.”) John knew that there would be conflict with the Pharisees and the Sadducees (they didn’t come to him with nice intentions), but today we would be reluctant to confront people like he did. We rather remind ourselves that even Jesus was silent before his accusers in Jerusalem and we quote verses like this one:

 

Exodus 14:14: The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.

 

Matthew 26:59-63: The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.

Finally, two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent.

 

Acts 8:32: He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

 

However, John’s message and calling – the message of repentance – is a message of confrontation (stop doing what you are doing and turn around to Jesus), and sometimes there must be no mincing of words when correction comes, especially when spiritual leadership is involved, because they carry influence (either good or bad) with God’s people. [Neither John nor Jesus were elected or appointed to a position – neither one of them had a supervising church board – but God commissioned them nevertheless.]

I will trace how Jesus dealt with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and maybe we are in for a few surprises and lessons to learn. John and Jesus preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” And, in the design of God, this kingdom was not to remain on the fringe, the Nazareth of Jesus’ upbringing, but take root at the heart and centre of God’s people – also in the capital of Jerusalem. (The Holy Spirit would first be poured out in Jersualem and three thousand people would come to faith in the capital as a result of the first sermon being preached by the disciples.) Jesus came to save the nation, and this could not happen without dealing with the current seat of power, the spiritual leadership that had lost their way and was hostile to Jesus.

John the Baptist called thembrood of vipersbut, after this kind of brusque welcome, he explained what his misgivings were and warned them about what would happen to them unless they repented:

 

Matthew 3:8-10: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

The Pharisees and Sadducees were proud of their religion, especially their ancestor Abraham and all the promises that he had received for all of his descendants (including them). But none of the promises – none of the gifts of God – are worth anything (do anything for you) if there is no repentance which involves a genuine change of heart and results in obedience to God. For instance, as the Pharisees and Sadducees were proud of Abraham and God’s promise of blessings through him, you may be proud of your baptism – God’s promise of loving you and granting you a new life with him – but neither Abraham nor your baptism guarantees you anything unless you receive both with an attitude of humble repentance and a commitment to obey God.

The Pharisees and Sadducees presumed to be the religious elite, and did what they wanted – in their pride, being blind to their corrupted hearts. Jesus said this about them:

 

Matthew 23:3-7: …do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries [a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

 

Matthew 23:23-24: … You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

 

Everything they do is done for people to see.” This was Jesus’ judgement on them. Church leadership and the pompous performance of religious rituals satisfied their pride but the heart remained unchanged.

And I remind you that John, from the beginning, declared that the one coming after him – Jesus – would become dangerous to them, because he would judge them and remove them:

 

Matthew 3:8-10: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance… The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

Matthew 3:12: His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

 

Before we take a closer look at Jesus’ strategy of engaging the Pharisees and Sadducees, I give you a few quotes from Jesus which explain why the leadership needed to be confronted and, in time, be removed:

 

Matthew 12:30: Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

 

Matthew 15:14: Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.

 

Matthew 16:6: “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

 

Matthew 23:13: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

 

Matthew 26:31-32: Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

 

Leadership that is not with Jesus destroys the church. You cannot leave it alone. According to Jesus, the Pharisees and Sadducees scattered the people. They were blind guides. They were contageous as yeast, spreading pride and deceit among God’s people. They shut the door of God’s kingdom in people’s faces. And, by killing Jesus (the rightful leader of God’s people), they struck the rightful shepherd which scattered the sheep of the flock.

 

You may also consider the devastating influence of the leadership in Jerusalem that stopped the revival in Jerusalem (Acts 1-8), despite stupendous miracles where even Peter’s shadow healed all the sick.

 

Acts 4:1-4: The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadduceescame up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

 

Acts 4:21-22: After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

 

Acts 6:8-14: Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

Acts 8:1: On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

 

See also Acts 14:1-2: “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” And Acts 14:19: “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.”

 

From the beginning, John struck a fierce note with the old guard:

 

Matthew 3:7: But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

 

But what would Jesus do? He demonstrated patience but also resolve. In Matthew 1-2, we already noticed that Jesus had a strategy of walking away from conflict and threats. For instance, when King Herod threatened the life of baby Jesus, the family would withdraw to Egypt. And – later – when Herod’s son in Jersualem threatened to disrupt Jesus’ childhood years, the family settled on the fringe of the country – Nazareth – far from the capital. For a long time, Jesus would evade conflicts and confrontations when they threatened to get out of hand:

 

Matthew 14:6-13: On Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place…

 

Matthew 14:34-15:21: When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus, you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

 

Jesus would not withdraw immediately. On the contrary, he would engage with the Pharisees and Sadducees, debating and explaining the truth of God and his mission. Jesus stood his ground, only walking away when the conflict escalated and threatened to lead to a final showdown before the time was right.

The best illustration of the strategy is recorded in Matthew 12:

 

Matthew 12:1-45: At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

 

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.”

 

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

 

First, there was a conflict over Jesus’ disciples picking some heads of grain and eating them on a Sabbath and Jesus’ healing ministry on a Sabbath. Jesus reasoned with the Pharisees: “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.David provided an example of what would be lawful to Jesus and his disciples, because Jesus was greater than David. Jesus also made a good case for healing people on the Sabbath: If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

However, in both debates, Jesus was not just meek and mild, but spoke with an edge:

 

If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

 

[In full view of the hostile leadership,] Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

 

Jesus said confronting words and healed someone precisely, when he knew that this particular healing at this particular time would inflame the situation. He asked the man to stretch out his shriveled-up hand, and he did, and it was completely restored, which enraged the Pharisees so much that they went out and plotted to kill Jesus.

And that’s when Jesus withdrew. This was not yet the time for him to be killed:

 

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

 

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.”

 

However, the Pharisees would not leave Jesus alone for long, because he became too popular with the crowd. And Jesus would keep debating – reasoning with his opponents – but also intensify his attack on them. I am still in Matthew 12:

 

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 

The crowd was happy when Jesus helped and healed a demonized man. But the Pharisees confused people by saying: “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.Jesus presented arguments to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” But, when he made no progress, he was not shy in attacking them outright. And he ended up using precisely the same words against them as John: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?”

How would we feel about this kind of church conflict – a feisty challenger like Jesus? Jesus knew that he would carry the conflict right into the heart of Jerusalem, the capital. The Pharisees and Sadducees would kill him there, but there was power in his death, and – after his resurrection – judgement would fall on the old centre of power and the old guard would be completely removed:

 

Matthew 20:17-19: Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day, he will be raised to life!” (See also Matthew 20:17-19; 26-1-5.)

 

Matthew 24:1-2: Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

 

When it was finally time, Jesus openly challenged the current seat of power among God’s people. He even became physical when he cleansed the temple:

 

Matthew 21:12-17: Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants
    you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”

And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

 

This was God’s strategy for church renewal – a little uncomfortable for us today. Jesus also kept debating his opponents until they had nothing more to say:

 

Matthew 22:15: Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.

 

Matthew 22:34-46: Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

 

When his opponents had run out of puff, unable to refute him but nevertheless resisting, Jesus let it rip, speaking parables against them and declaring how they have cursed themselves (seven “woes”). He is calling them again abrood of vipers”:

 

Matthew 21:23-46: Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

Matthew 23:1-24:2: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and completewhat your ancestors started!

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore, I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

 

When Jesus was done, and had confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees in front of all the people at the spiritual heart of the nation, he was ready to fall silent and die. You don’t have to speak – you can save your breath – when none of your accusers are willing to listen to anything that you say and are just looking for an excuse to put you away.

 

Matthew 26:59-63: The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.

Finally, two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent.

 

Yet, Jesus did not remain dead, and he did not remain silent. In time, as he prophesied (on account of his sacrifice), Jerusalem and the old power structures of religious leadership would be completely destroyed (not one stone would remain on top of another), and we would continue his message in his name:

 

Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

What do you think? Sometimes it can be wrong quoting Scripture verses that encourage us to be silent when the church is confronted with false teaching and corruption:

 

Exodus 14:14: The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.

 

Paul, one of the early leaders of the church, certainly took a leaf out of Jesus’ book when he let fly against those that threatened his church with confusion and obscuring the very knowledge of salvation:

 

Galatians 1:6-9: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

 

Galatians 3:1: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?

 

Galatians 5:10: … The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.

 

Galatians 5:12: I wish that those who are troubling you [by teaching that circumcision is necessary for salvation] would even [go all the way and] castrate themselves!

 

See also Stephen in Acts 7:51-52: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? …”

 

What would be a modern-day example? Martin Luther certainly knew how to let it rip. But I may have a genuine modern example which I hope is not going to be too controversial this morning. The prime minister of Israel – Benjamin Netanyahu – visited Australia last month (22-25 February 2017), and Malcolm Turnbull, our prime minister, wrote on his web page:

 

https://www.pm.gov.au/media/2017-02-20/prime-minister-netanyahus-visit-australia-0: I am looking forward, with Lucy, to welcoming the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his wife, Mrs Sara Netanyahu, to Australia.

This is a historic visit – the first by an Israeli Prime Minister – and it demonstrates the strength of our relationship and its importance to both countries.

The friendship between Israel and Australia dates back to the establishment of Israel in 1948. It is anchored in our shared values, commitment to democracy and mutual interest in a rules-based international system and an open, global economy.

 

For us Christians, our country’s relationship with Israel is of an importance like no other relationship with another country. Because Israel is the nation that God has chosen first and which, through Jesus (born a Jew), would bless the whole world. There are promises given to Israel which are still valid today, not least what God declared to Abraham:

 

Genesis 12:1-3: The Lord had said to Abram, “… I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

 

There is a strong spiritual component to our relationship with Israel, and the very fact that Israel – the Jews – are so hated across the world (cf. anit-semitism, six million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany) only confirms that there is spiritual warfare over God’s calling on Israel.

When Benjamin Netanyahu visited Austalia, there were some stirrings that he should not even be allowed to come to Australia:

 

The Australian, February 25, 2017, GERARD HENDERSON: Netanyahu shows failings of Hawke-Rudd call for Palestinian state:

Pardon me. But I do not recall ever having heard of a certain David Zyngier. Yet the senior lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne was described by the ABC News as one of “a group of 60 prominent people” opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia.

Both the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster and Fairfax Media gave considerable coverage to the group’s statement that “Australia should not welcome the Prime Minister of Israel”. The ABC foreshadowed demonstrations against Netanyahu over Israel’s policies on its Palestinian neighbour and predicted he would be shepherded to the Sydney CBD by police. The Sydney Morning Herald’s story on the visit on Monday foreshadowed “Opposition to ­Israeli PM’s visit gathers pace”.

It was all a bit of a beat-up.

 

And then on the Saturday of Netanyahu’s visit, Greg Sheridon, the foreign correspondent of “The Australian”, put out a piece that reminded me of John the Baptist and Jesus charging the old guard leadership. I give you a few quotes:

 

The Australian, February 25, 2017, GREG SHERIDAN: Labor’s Hawke, Rudd and Evans invite ridicule by maligning Israel:

What a caterwauling coven of craven zeitgeist whisperers they are — Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd [two former prime ministers] and Gareth Evans [former foreign minister] — calling for Australia to formally recognise a Palestinian state, the three of them like the witches of Macbeth intoning sterile incantations; in this case not with the purpose of affecting reality but rather to signal once again their sublime and ineffable virtue.

Using the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to gain themselves attention, they indicate only the deterioration of Labor’s foreign affairs culture, though Bill Shorten and Penny Wong sensibly rejected their calls.

Hawke and Rudd, particularly, are always keen to lavish themselves with praise and moral credentials they simply do not possess. Thus Hawke in his Australian Financial Review piece described himself as a well-known supporter of Israel. What a lame, many-of-my-best-friends-are-black sort of credential this is. Hawke hasn’t been a supporter of Israel in any meaningful sense for 30 years.

His piece was full of weird basic errors of fact. He claims the Netanyahu government has approved thousands of new West Bank settlements. In fact it has approved just one. Apart from that one settlement, the individual homes and apartments it has authorised do not even keep pace with natural increase within the settlement blocs and do not extend their territory, which in total accounts for 3 to 4 per cent of the West Bank area.

Rudd was even more fatuous and hypocritical, claiming Netanyahu had repeatedly torpedoed peace — without giving a syllable’s attention to times the Palestinian leadership has rejected full-blown peace offers along the lines of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and compensating land swaps from Israel. Then there was Gareth Evans, the poor man’s Rudd, claiming the Arabs could provide for Israel’s security. What planet does this man live on? Most Arab states cannot provide for their own security, much less anyone else’s.

Let’s pause for a second to consider the moral courage of these Antipodean Metternichs, putting the Middle East to rights.

In a passage of fatuousness, unsurpassed in its banality and dishonesty, Hawke compared the Palestinians to the Jews in the Soviet Union and the blacks in South Africa and said they, too, had a right to be fully free.

Is this an act of moral courage on Hawke’s part? Presumably a moral giant like Hawke thinks the Tibetans, like the Jews in the Soviet Union and the blacks in South Africa, also have a right to be fully free. Has he risked his lucrative Chinese business interests by courageously standing up for the Tibetans over these many years since he left the prime ministership? Does he draw attention to the plight of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, one of the few places in the world where people are actively persecuted for being Muslim? Does he speak out for free trade unions in China? To do that would have constituted real moral courage. Do you remember Hawke doing any of that?

Or take Rudd. I have always admired his ability as a foreign policy practitioner, but his greatest weakness in foreign policy has always been lack of a moral compass, evident in his willingness to say whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear and always to stay exactly in the middle of conventional wisdom. Like Evans, his chief skill, is simply to give a high-gloss, bureaucratic distillation of conventional wisdom.

Sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong. And sometimes this trait of Rudd’s leads him into laughable contradictions. In 2010, when he was foreign minister, I saw him in Israel just after he had been to Egypt, where, to the applause of local journalists and politicians, he called, out of the blue, for Israel to give up its (undeclared) nuclear weapons. In Israel, where he was also seeking applause, he did not mention its nuclear weapons in his main speech nor in private discussions with Netanyahu.

How do I know this? He told me. Having a drink with Rudd in the King David Hotel one night, I asked him about Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They only comprise 3 per cent of West Bank territory, he said — a figure I later quoted with attribution to him — and in the event of real movement towards a peace settlement they could be readily negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.

In his recent attention grab, Rudd characteristically praised himself as a lifelong opponent of anti-Semitism. Rudd does indeed oppose anti-Semitism when he is speaking to rich Jewish audiences, but when has Rudd ever said a disobliging thing to an Arab audience about Arab anti-Semitism?

In his post-politics phase Rudd has sought a career for himself in the UN system, where the Arab voting bloc is powerful and important. Now, imagine if Rudd did the elementary research to familiarise himself with the extensive pro-violence, pro-terrorist, anti-Israel incitement material in Palestinian Authority schools and media. Imagine if he went a step further to examine the rank, classical anti-Semitism found in much Arab media and popular culture generally. Imagine if he then made a tough, uncompromising speech to an Arab audience rejecting and condemning this anti-Semitism.

Like Hawke defending the Tibetans, that would be an act of real moral courage. It wouldn’t do Rudd’s UN career prospects any good. What exactly have Hawke, Rudd and Evans put on the line in order to join the unanimous chorus of independent minds condemning Netanyahu? Or is it that they have enjoyed, no doubt unconsciously, the pleasures of the bully and the coward through history, kicking the boy in the playground everyone else is kicking?

But the obvious moral odiousness of the Hawke, Rudd and Evans position would be forgivable if it held any real analytical weight. Instead, their views seem to embody the seven enduring myths beloved of every ambitious undergraduate who has just internalised the politically correct catechism of approved heroes and villains of the Middle East.

Myth one is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the root cause of all the problems of the Middle East, if not the world. This myth is very widespread and extraordinarily hardy. It perfectly represents the conventional wisdom of the 1970s and 80s, when Hawke, Rudd and Evans came to foreign policy maturity. It is, of course, utterly ridiculous.

Consider the Middle East today. The chief axis of conflict is the Sunni-Shia divide. This goes back hundreds of years. Even Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, singing in operatic counterpoint, could not possibly attribute any of that to Israel. The second big cause of trouble in the Middle East is the failure of the various social and economic models tried in the Arab world. Surely our trio is not suggesting the economic development of, say, Egypt or Yemen or Libya is remotely a consequence of, or even significantly influenced by, anything Israel has or has not done?

Finally there is the development of extremist, jihadist violence and ideology. A leading theoretical inspiration for this school of thought was Sayyid Qutb, whose hatred of America, especially its sexual decadence, developed during a stay there in the late 40s. Surely we’re not pretending that’s Israel’s fault, too.

In the Middle East, something like 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the past five years, mainly by other Syrians. Iraq’s bitter civil war continues. Yemen is a humanitarian disaster as its version of the Shia-Sunni conflict unfolds. Libya is a tribal chaos awash with weapons. Egypt’s tough-minded military government is in a bitter struggle against an Islamic State-affiliated group in the Sinai desert. None of this has anything to do with Israel and all of it is much more urgent, in some cases catastrophic, than anything to do with Israel. Yet the three Olympians of our political past can focus only on kicking the Jewish state.

Myth two is that Israel won’t negotiate and won’t compromise. This is inconsistent with simple facts. On three occasions, twice under Ehud Barak and once under Ehud Olmert, Israel offered the Palestinians virtually everything that could be offered in an independent state. Israel was prepared to take enormous risks with its own security. This is all documented in countless American books. On each occasion, the Palestinian leaders walked away. One reason, surely, is that the Palestinian who first agrees to a comprehensive peace deal with Israel that involves the end of claims and full acceptance of Israel will be assassinated by extremists in his own camp.

During freezes in settlement construction, even for natural increase within existing settlement boundaries, which the Israelis undertook when Barack Obama was president, the Palestinian Authority refused to negotiate except for one fairly ludicrous session. Netanyahu has always said he will negotiate without preconditions: that doesn’t mean he’ll do whatever death-defying stunt Israel’s critics dream up.

Myth three is that a deal is just around the corner because the people whose views Hawke, Rudd and Evans so faithfully parrot have decided what it comprises. The former Israeli defence minister and Netanyahu critic Moshe Yallon dealt with this delusional thinking eloquently in a recent Foreign Affairs essay. A peace agreement is not a matter of negotiating a few kilometres here or there. Rather it is about a deep change of political culture among the Palestinians which accepts Israel’s legitimacy and is determined to make peace.

Shorten and Wong deserve the highest praise for rejecting the facile formulas of the three amigos, though of course Malcolm Turnbull is much stronger in his support of Israel and the Coalition is much freer than Labor on this issue.

It’s hard to see how common sense, realism and a genuine moral compass will survive the next federal Labor conference. But Kim Beazley gave it more of a chance at week’s end when he emphasised the hard decisions the Palestinian leadership must take for any chance of a peace settlement.

Which brings us to myth four: that the Palestinians, having achieved victim status, have no obligations on them and bear no responsibility for the current difficulties. See Beazley above.

Myth five is that the Jewish settlements are much bigger than they really are and have a much bigger impact than they really do. Settlements account for 3-4 per cent of the West Bank territory. If even East Jerusalem is regarded as “settlement”, then the Wailing Wall is illegal and so is the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. That is a ridiculous position, entirely divorced from reality.

Myth six is that Israel is uniquely evil in the world. This too requires a complete suspension of normal faculties to sustain. Israel is, as Turnbull says, the unique beacon of liberal democracy in the Middle East. Israel certainly makes mistakes, including moral mistakes. But consider its security situation. On its southern border, in the Sinai, it faces an Islamic State-affiliated terror campaign. On its Gaza border it faces Hamas — just Google its charter for a tour of operatic anti-Semitism in full voice — and Islamic Jihad. On its northern border with Syria it faces both Islamic State and al-Qa’ida affiliates. On its border with Lebanon it faces Hezbollah, which Australian law defines as a terrorist organisation, and has tens of thousands of missiles trained on Israel.

And nearby, in Iran, it faces a neighbour racing towards nuclear weapons capability, which has often declared its intention to wipe Israel off the map. In the face of all this, Israel behaves as well as any Western nation would.

Myth seven, characteristically appealing to the failed class of international relations know-it-alls, is that international pressure can bring — impose — a solution even where one of the local parties is determined against it. Thus the foolishness of the proposed unilateral recognition of Palestine. There is no evidence in history this has ever worked. The local parties have to work out an agreement. By constantly vindicating Palestinian rejectionism, the likes of Hawke, Rudd and Evans make a solution less likely — though in truth they don’t have much effect at all.

Australia is not a first-division player in the Middle East, but we are a significant middle power and, beyond the US, perhaps Israel’s clearest supporter. This has generally been a bipartisan position that springs from the depth of wisdom and good sense in Australian politics and in the Australian people. The states we typically stand near — the US, Britain, Canada, The Netherlands — have not recognised a Palestinian state because no such state exists and the empty symbolism of such gestures achieves nothing. Hawke, Rudd and Evans bring themselves nothing but shame.

 

When I was first reading this piece by Greg Sheridan, I was a little stunned. Calling Hawke, Rudd and Evans thethree amigosand accusing them with words such asfatuous [lacking intelligence] and hypocritical”, “unsurpassed in its banality and dishonesty”, “they have enjoyed, no doubt unconsciously, the pleasures of the bully and the coward through history, kicking the boy in the playground everyone else is kickingandbring themselves nothings but shamewas bold. He was taking on respected elders of our nation – former prime ministers and foreign minister that deserve respect.

Was Greg Sheridan right to rip into them like he did? [He doesn’t usually write like this.] Were the facts right? I think that he made more than one good point. And you could also say that Hawke, Rudd and Evans spoke out of turn, embarrassing the current prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and current leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, who both welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu as a friend of Australia, and disagreed with the opinions of Hawke, Rudd and Evans. John the Baptist and Jesus certainly believed that bluntness was needed sometimes to cut through the lies and hypocrisy, and clarify the truth to the wider population. You may not change the mind of main drivers of the opposition, but you must speak out – fiercely and clearly – for the sake of the crowd that is listening in. And I would also say that the opposition escalated the debate by calling for Netanyahu not even be allowed to visit us.

In the first two chapters of Matthew, the stage is being set for the story that is going to unfold in the remaining chapters. In the first two chapters, we read about Jesus as a baby. We find out about his family tree, the mum’s pregnancy, place of birth, where he spent his childhood (Egypt and Nazareth), and we grow in understanding about his destiny. For instance, I read to you again three verses from the very first chapter:

 

Matthew 1:21-23: [An angel appeared to Joseph (the human father that would raise Jesus) in a dream, and said:] ‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us’.

 

 Jesuswould be the name of the newborn child, and the name meansGod saves” (people from their sins). And, in fulfillment of an old prophecy, “Immanuelwould be his other name by which he would be known, and it means God with us”. “God saves” – “God with us” – Jesus! Here and in other places, the first two chapters of Matthew raise expecations for what is to come. How is the name of this child to become program in the rest of the book?

And in chapter 3 (what we are studying today) – finally – the story begins to unfold. And it begins with the call to repentance, John and Jesus sharing the same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The message of repentance was confronting, especially for the old guard (the Pharisees and Sadducees) and involved a power struggle which Jesus fought with some intensity, personal sacrifice and finally won (at the heart of the nation).

I close with some more words from John the Baptist, announcing Jesus in Matthew 3 and alerting all of us to the fire of repentance, cleansing and judgement that would come with Jesus – even this morning:

 

Matthew 3:11-12: I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

 

Sometimes the fire is not a meek and mild ministry but stings and burns with fierce words and power. Jesus is not always withdrawing from the showdown battle. May we have wisdom in following him, and hear the words for ourselves: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Amen.

 

Appendix: More Scripture passages from Matthew:

 

Matthew 7:15-16: Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them…

 

Matthew 7:24-27: Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

 

Matthew 9:1-8: Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

 

Matthew 9:27-34: As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

 

Matthew 11:20-24: Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

 

Matthew 14:1-14: At that time, Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

 

Matthew 16:1-12: The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

 

Matthew 16:21: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

 

Matthew 19:1-3: When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

 

Matthew 26:1-5: When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

 

Matthew 26:47-68: While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

In that hour, Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.

Finally, two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent.

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

“He is worthy of death,” they answered.

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

 

Matthew 27:11-14: Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

 

Matthew 27:41-44: In the same way, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.