Following His Footsteps: “Reverence Reversed” – Matthew 21

disrespect smHave you ever OBSERVED a truly DISRESPECTFUL CHILD? Have you ever stood in a supermarket and watched a parent being TOLD by a child how things were going to be? If you have, you may identify with this story of “reverence reversed”… I recently clipped an article about a rapper some of you may know named Kanye West. He is (at the time of this writing) a 37 year old recording artist and entrepreneur, and has more recently forayed into becoming a fashion designer. Beginning his professional life as a producer and working on projects with rapper Jay-Z, he has worked with a number of famed acts, including Alicia Keys, Ludacris, and Janet Jackson. West grew up in middle-class Chicago and reportedly began rapping in the third grade, eventually moving into the city’s hip hop scene in his late teens. He released his debut album in 2004 and continued to vary styles a bit through his sixth album, “Yeezus” in 2013, selling more than 21 million albums and 66 million digital downloads, and winning a total of 21 Grammy Awards.

Since I don’t listen to rap music (is anyone surprised?), the article about West caught my attention because of its title: “Reverence Reversed” –the place from which I took the title of this lesson. The author was unknown to me, and the publication “Pulse” was not one I frequent, but I found the article riveting. The writer (Ryan Arrendell) claimed that he could spot a change in West’s “faith expressions” that led him to conclude he went from “reverencing Jesus” to “mocking Jesus” in a matter of a few years in the industry.

In an early album West sang: “Jesus Walks” where he “talks candidly about his struggle of trying to get the song to appeal to music executives before he was signed to a major label. [with] the lines: “So here go my single, dog, radio needs this. They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus. That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes. But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?” He traced releases from West in 2007, 2010 and 2014 – and showed a trend in his lyrics – each song moved closer to exalting West and moving away from revering Jesus. In the latest album, “Yeezus” openly pokes fun at the Savior on a number of tracks of the album.

The most interesting part of the writer’s conclusion for me was this: the more Kanye West moved from reverence and respect of Jesus, the more HE focused on HIMSELF. That is a worthy observation – but it is not unique to West – we all face that. Here is the truth:

Key Principle: People who don’t revere the Savior cannot even long maintain a respect for Him – for His claims are too striking to ignore.

God didn’t abandon our society, but we have worked hard to demean Him, and remove any impact His Word may have on our culture as it moves forward. It is not an accident – it is an agenda – and every believer is feeling the squeeze. We are worship and reverence removed from modern American culture. Many believers are surprised that Jesus is now the stuff of continual comic amusement on the web, and seldom the object of even a basic modicum of respect as an historically important figure – let alone claims of divinity.

In the sixties, “church going” was seen as a good practice by the general populace. TV shows reflected it as a training ground for healthy attitudes, proper respect and decency – now it is frequently referenced in public communication as the spawning ground which produces “bigots” and “ignorance”. In the seventies and eighties, having a “born again” experience was great on the politician’s resume – but now that it no longer serves to attract a broader electorate – such references are all but gone. So afraid that those who disagree will pounce, any belief that doesn’t model the current trend is kept to one’s self and considered “private”. In the nineties, a “Biblical view” in cultural issues was re-branded a “traditional view” – but that didn’t give it any acceptance, and it has largely become seen as a “bigoted and backward” view. If you look carefully at the media – Jesus has been on a popularity slide for decades in America.

By now, we should have come to understand that Jesus’ claims are so direct, so clear – that it is ludicrous to attempt to accommodate Him in a pagan system. Jesus won’t be boxed in to a feckless, dashboard “bobble-headed” Savior. He demands far too much. People who want to run their own lives may want a Savior to rescue them, but they don’t want a Lord to direct them – and Jesus’ message demands surrender to Him. It seems many Americans are boldly outgrowing their “felt need” for God – and they are admitting to the desire to be their own directors. Sadly, even many who have “claimed an experience with Christ” are following suit. The Word offers them salvation, but no behavior boundary or life direction.

What people do NOT seem to recognize, at least yet, is that when reverence of Christ is sown in our culture, respect for others is harvested. When people understood there is a God in Heaven Who sent His Son for them – there was a healthy respect for a good God above. Conversely, (at least historically speaking) as reverence for the Savior is thought more and more to be worthless – respect for authority, property and even life diminishes rapidly in our western society.

I want to show you that this isn’t a new problem – man has disrespected God since the mutiny in the Garden of Eden. Jesus faced it head on in His own people – and oddly, He made clear His response was not to attempt to soften His message to gain popularity. A Sovereign Lord with ultimate power doesn’t wait to get elected by His Creation. Yet, in some minds there is a notion we can get “respect” back for Jesus. We can demand it in the public square. We can claim it is uncivil to mock our faith and our Savior. Here is the truth: people who don’t revere Jesus don’t care what we think about Him. They never did. Let me show you how it played out when He was standing in front of them.

The stories found in Matthew 21 begin with the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I mention that fact, because the fanfare of that day – people shouting, palms flying and Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey – is the backdrop of several teachings that are essential to understand if we want to recognize Who the Gospel writer claimed Jesus is, and why Jesus came. The narrative moves swiftly, with Jesus coming into the city, and our eyes are pulled toward a number of people who were engaged in the spectacle of that moment:

• First, (predictably) His coming stirred up the crowd: Matthew 21:10 “When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

• Next He abruptly drew the attention of the religious leadership: Matthew 21:12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”

• In short order, He attracted the needy: Matthew 21:14 And [the] blind and [the] lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.

• Fourth, He drew annoyed questions from the Sanhedrin: Matthew 21:15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these [children] are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF’?”

The record is crisp and pointed – not long and detailed. Matthew 21:17 shared that He responded quickly and left promptly. Matthew records: “And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.” By the time Jesus walked back over the Mount of Olives to Bethany, He left Jerusalem in a stir. Consider what that night was like for:

• The crowds that came from Galilee. They had seen the Master feed thousands, answer criticisms concerning Sabbath, and stand up to demons and angry religious leaders. “He is just what the Temple leadership needs!” They thought.

• For the priests and Levitical servants, the mess in the Temple left by Jesus’ tantrum at the money changer’s station was cleaned up, but they were (no doubt) frustrated that one man was able to disrupt the flow of their work after the Temple was so carefully cleaned and prepared.

• For a blind man, who perhaps was sitting on a hillside watching his first sunset with tears in his eyes! For a lame man who may well have been dancing in his home with his wife and children, healed of his malady earlier in the day!

• For some Sanhedrin members who were seething. Jesus disrespected them and His unwelcome smirk played over and over in their angry hearts…“Who did He think He was, anyway?” They probably thought.

The story of the return of Jesus to the Temple for the next day’s celebrations was marked by a brief pause on the Mount of Olives. Jesus saw a fig tree that gave Him an opportunity to teach a lesson – and Jesus never missed such an opportunity! He knew they needed to be prepared to understand His actions as the day unfolded. Jesus was going to walk into the Temple and would come directly under the line of fire of some angry men with power behind them. He was going to answer with the toughest words of any exchange in the Gospels to the Temple leaders. The disciples weren’t ready to observe that conflict – so Jesus stopped by a tree and got them ready. Matthew reminds:

Matthew 21:18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be [any] fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered. 20 Seeing [this], the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither [all] at once?” 21 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Jesus saw a fig tree that was either picked clean by midwives, who used the un-ripened green fruit in their craft, or it was a sick tree (the ficus buds leaves and fruit at the same time at that elevation in Jerusalem). Jeremiah 24 used the imagery of rotten figs for the wayward King Zedekiah of Judah. This tree didn’t have BAD figs – it had NO figs. What could it mean? Jesus was about to enter a Temple that had all of the leaves of religion but none of the fruits of faith. He knew that even His disciples lacked in the “faith” department. They didn’t see things through God’s Word, and God’s way of explaining life. The world was so strong to them, and the flesh so real – it was hard for them to see the spiritual world. They lacked the angelic expose that Ezekiel had (Ezekiel 8-11) to peer into the world through God’s eyes – but they had God’s Son standing before them. He cursed the tree, and some were shocked that it withered. He explained that if they would see things through what He calls true – they would become truly powerful and effective. They were impressed by the Temple, by the rulers of it, and by the pomp of the setting. What they didn’t see was that it was largely fruitless and would wither in a generation.

Jesus kept walking, and returned to the Temple. The leaders demanded an explanation of His authority to act as One in charge when THEY were in charge of the Temple (21:23-27).

Matthew 21:23 When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 “The baptism of John was from what [source], from heaven or from men?” And they [began] reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 26 “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” 27 And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Ironically, Jesus exposed that their “authority” was more about maintaining popularity than leading anyone. They challenged His authority – so He tested theirs. They were perplexed about how to take a stand – because they didn’t want to lost popularity. Jesus told them he would answer them if they could not take a public stand on John the Baptizer as a true prophet. Why ask for truth one will not take a public stand on truth?

With that exchange in mind, watch as He offered two linked illustrations, and as they began to seek a way to get back at Him in response (Mt. 21:46)…

A Parable of Disrespect

The first parable (Mt. 21:28-32) was of two sons, one that rebelled and repented, another that gave lip service and yet quietly rebelled.

Matthew 21:28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 “The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I [will], sir; but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. 32 “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing [this], did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.

Notice that Jesus equated the first son with harlots that heard John and then repented (having begun in rebellion). He equated the second son with THEM – the Temple leaders who, after hearing about repentance, they quietly did NOTHING! (21:28-32). The illustration was not directed against the whole nation of Jews (because the prostitutes and tax collectors were also part of the nation), but rather against those hard-hearted leaders that refused to take a stand on John and his call to repent in preparation for the King’s arrival. THEY were the cause of the problem. They still couldn’t decide and take a stand even after the death of John, Jesus’ cousin. Soon they would try to maneuver between the will of the crowds and their inner desire to silence Jesus Himself!

A Second (Even More Blunt) Shot

Following up with a second parable (Mt. 21:33-46) Jesus told of a vintner that built a vineyard and left it with a tenant farmer. Here, the Savior pulled from the “play book” of Isaiah 5 – where God complained about leaving His “well-designed vineyard” in the hands of Judah’s corrupt leaders…Jesus said:

Matthew 21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. 34 “When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. 35 “The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. 36 “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. 37 “But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

By now, you recognize the story that Jesus was sharing. You are able to see God’s claim that He built His people like a vineyard (Isaiah 5) and left them in the hands of leaders who killed His special servants, the prophets, as He sent them to warn them. Now the Son was sent…Jesus continued:

Matthew 21:38 “But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 “They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” 41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the [proper] seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER [stone]; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? 43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. 44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. 46 When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.

When the time came to collect the fruit, the tenants killed every servant the owner sent, and eventually even the son of the vintner! This prophecy concerning His own death was remarkable! At the same time, the text need not reflect the idea that Jesus was taking the opportunity of God working with the Jewish people and handing it to the church (as has often been charged by commentators). Indeed the second illustration, like the first, says that Jesus offered the leaders the opportunity to repent, but they passed. The failure of the Sanhedrin would remove God’s offer from them – but not from Israel. Paul knew it had not yet been re-offered and in that day Israel would be redeemed (Romans 11:26).

As a result of this leadership’s hard-hearted rejection, the opportunity would be left to another group of leaders, another time in the nation of Israel, and this group of men would not experience the blessing of those later Jewish leaders who WOULD accept Jesus. It is clear in the text that the Pharisees thought Jesus spoke of THEM (21:45), not the Jewish nation. The term “ethnos” is translated elsewhere “a people” and does not always signify a “nation” as such. In this context, it is most likely the LEADERSHIP representing the people.

Clearly they were not going to get the blessing of the Kingdom, yet the disciples that stood by still thought it was coming to Israel as promised. Later in the same Gospel, Jesus promised a day would come when they would believe (Mt. 23:39). The disciples questioned Jesus about it (23 and 24), and He made clear that it was for a future generation of Jews – not their current leaders (Mt. 24:34). To these Jewish disciples, the words were a bittersweet mix, they were saved and heaven bound, yet their nation would continue to await the blessing that could have been immediate with leaders that would stand with Jesus. Literally, the rejection of the leadership to stand with Jesus pitted the believers against these leaders, creating a terrible tension (Mt. 21:44).

The fact is that disrespect, irreverent rebellion – these are the attitudes that bring death… and we are seeing MORE AND MORE encouragement in our society to oppose reverence, and disregard respect. Al Mohler wrote an article about “Parents obey your children” in 2009, that reflected a reversal of authority. In the article, he refers to a literary critic:

Parents, who have been drinking deeply from the wells of contemporary secular parenting advice, have largely become passive facilitators in the lives of their children. As Zalewski argues, today’s young parents “learn that there are many things they must never do to their willful young child: spank, scold, bestow frequent praise, criticize, plead, withhold affection, take away toys, ‘model’ angry emotions, intimidate, bargain, nag.” In other words, “nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect.” Modern “experts” like Alfie Kohn now go so far as to argue that rewarding children for good behavior is virtually as injurious to the child as punishing children for negative behavior. Arguing against what he calls “conditional parenting,” Kohn … asserted: Conditional parenting isn’t limited to old-school authoritarians. Some people who wouldn’t dream of spanking choose instead to discipline their young children by forcibly isolating them, a tactic we prefer to call “time out.” Conversely, “positive reinforcement” teaches children that they are loved, and lovable, only when they do whatever we decide is a “good job.” Today’s parents, advised by the likes of Alfie Kohn, are themselves the children and grandchildren of a generation raised by parents who abandoned traditional parenting for the advice of Dr. Benjamin Spock. The war against parental authority gained momentum throughout the 20th century. Now, today’s children are often virtually undisciplined — their parents having abandoned the central role of disciplinarian due to distraction, ideological intimidation, cultural pressure, or sheer confusion. Parents, Obey Your Children? Albert Mohler Wednesday • October 14, 2009

Let me be clear: disrespect kills a society! When children do not understand authority, they don’t understand reverence of the Holy One. They vote on God, and mute any word that doesn’t square with what they THINK He should want from them! Jesus stood before such a generation – and so do we.

A Third (The Most Blunt Edition) Parable

He offered a third parable (mashal) specifically to the chief priests and Pharisees that were rejecting His kingdom (Mt. 22:1-14) – and this is even clearer.

Matthew 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3 “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. 4 “Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are [all] butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”‘ 5 “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, 6 and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. 7 “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. 8 “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find [there], invite to the wedding feast.’ 10 “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. 11 “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. 13 “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are called, but few [are] chosen.”

He openly exclaimed in the parable, “My Kingdom was being actively rejected by these leaders!” Note that one man came in without proper dress for the occasion (a symbol of contempt for the host in that day) and the king singled him out (22:11-12). The king commanded that he be bound and cast out of the feast hungry for the insulting behavior (22:13). Jesus then closed the illustration with a popular ancient proverb, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

What was He saying? He was making the point to those who were rejecting Him that there was NO WAY for them to attain the blessing of fellowship with His Father except by honoring Him with proper respect. They were like the man without the wedding garb – they wanted “in” without respecting Jesus, and that simply couldn’t happen.

The proverbial statement is used three times in the Apocryphal book (an apocalyptic book) of 4 Esdras (also called Latin Ezra), and is used in a very wide context. In this case, the Gospel writer chose the words “called” (Greek: klay-tos, probably best translated “invited” in this passage) in place of the Hebrew or Aramaic term Jesus originally employed (it is hard to believe two Jews in the Temple would be speaking Koine Greek to each other!). For the word “chosen” the writer, under Divine direction of the Spirit chose the term “eklayktos” (akin to the word later used to denote “church” in the New Testament). This word simply means selected, but in this context probably is best translated in its general sense, “having been found of a quality that was desired.” In other words, Jesus is saying:

“Many have been invited, but only a few of those who have been invited have met the criteria of proper respect for the King to be fully accepted.”

Here is the truth: People who don’t revere the Savior cannot even long maintain a respect for Him – for His claims are too striking to ignore.

We must recognize WHO Jesus is or face the consequences. By not revering Him, we cut the limb behind us upon which our lives are perched. Disrespect kills the body, but not recognizing Jesus offers eternal death!

I cannot help but think of the HMS Bounty when I think of disrespect, death and mutiny…

The Bounty set sail from Spithead in Portsmouth, England on 23 December 1787 on a mission to gather breadfruit trees from Polynesia and transport them to the British West Indies. After ten months and 27 thousand miles of sailing, the Bounty arrived in Mataivai Bay, Tahiti (where it remained until 4 April 1789. During their long stay in Tahiti, many of the men became involved with local women and some married. When it was time to leave this island paradise, they had a difficult time parting and the men quickly mutinied their captain and stranded him at sea. Captain Bligh and eighteen loyal crew members were set adrift in a longboat and eventually arrived in Indonesia after an incredible open boat voyage of several thousand miles. The mutineers returned to Tahiti for their women, and after months at sea to hide, they chose Pitcairn Island. In short order, the community fell into turmoil. Fueled by homemade alcohol, disputes over women eventually resulted in the violent deaths of all but two of the men – Adams and Young. Six years later Young died of asthma; Adams was left with eleven women and 23 children. Finally, Adams turned to the Bounty Bible, which led him to repentance and a new outlook on life. Using the Bible, he educated the children, built a school and organized the community into a Christian way of life. Later Lex wrote, “I had been working like a mole for years, and suddenly it was as if the doors were flung wide open, and I saw the light, and I met God in Jesus Christ. And the burden of my sin rolled away, and I found new life in Christ.” In 1808 Pitcairn was re-discovered by the American ship Topaz. …Surprised by their find and impressed by the character of the residents, they chose to leave this community, founded by mutineers, alone and allow Adams to remain with his people. Adams died on 6 March 1829 at age 63. – Adapted from