Tuesday of Passion Week was a busy day of teaching and confrontation. (Matthew 21:23 through 22:14; 41-46; John 12:2-8). The Passover created a huge festival-like atmosphere in Jerusalem, during which pilgrims flocked into the Holy City from all over the country. Everyone who was anyone would have traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate.
A National Audience
During Passover week, the population of Jerusalem swelled from about 100,000 to over a million as visitors and pilgrims crowded in to offer sacrifices and participate in the Temple activities. Some estimates reliably put the population of Jerusalem at two million people during festivals, so we can safely say that the stage was set for this Passover week to take place before most of the nation of Israel. Crowds lined up around the Temple and in the marketplaces of Jerusalem.
Jesus started Tuesday in the Temple courts, where he was challenged by the chief Priests and elders. In response to this confrontation, He asked them about John’s [obviously blessed and sanctified] baptism. “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.” (Matthew 21:25-27, NIV). Jesus made it clear that he was not some itinerant Rabbi, but someone with authority who they were refusing to accept.
Ironic, isn’t it, that each of us treats God that way sometimes? We tend to assume ownership of our own physical domain as if we control it and as if the spiritual domain doesn’t matter. When God calls us, we demand He show us a sign of His authority before we yield to his leadership. We walk the earth HE created and live in bodies HE designed, but we claim our “rights” and our own authority over that of the true king.
It’s not just personally true, it’s institutionally true as well. The Elders and the Pharisees were so busy guarding their own power base that they were blind to God’s movement right before their eyes. Jesus offers himself, but men both then and now are too busy being powerful to understand the offer.
He not only confounded the elders, he taught in parables about God’s kingdom and the cost of rejecting it. He answered the Sadducees’ devious questions with answers so wise that the crowds were astonished! (“Render unto Caesar…” Matthew 22:21) The Pharisees’ experts then tested his knowledge, hoping to get a sound bite they could criticize. Instead, He used a Messianic Psalm (110:1) to authenticate both his position as Messiah and his incredible grasp of Scriptures, “and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.“ (Matthew 21:45).
From these conversations, even if you totally reject the concept that Jesus was God, you would still have to rationalize his incredible understanding of Scripture and his keen insight in men’s hearts and minds. His answers to the Priests and elders seemed to see right through them.
Apparently the members of the council lost their appetite for confrontation after that. Jesus finished his time in the temple on Tuesday revealing the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. He contrasted their self-righteous evil (they loved places of honor, took pride in titles, and prayed for show) with the selfless giving of the widow’s mite (she gave all she had).
I have a feeling that the Kingdom of heaven will surprise a lot of us rich Americans who see material things as “blessings”. It certainly surprised the Pharisees. He ended the day with his radical prediction about the Temple’s destruction and his teaching on the Mount of Olives about the signs of his return and the end of the age.
This long Tuesday was a very important day of proclamation and teaching. Jesus not only answered the devious questions of the Pharisees, he proclaimed his authority, and then denounced them publicly. If any of them were wavering, he challenged them to repent. But the vibrant life of his message fell (as he knew it would) on hardened hearts, and his bold denunciation galvanized the self-righteous Pharisees into implacable foes.
They were experts at seeing everyone else’s sins, but became outraged when confronted with their own. Can you IMAGINE? Does that remind you of anyone? Well, err, yeah I guess… We’re a lot like that, aren’t we? Ultimately, the only sins that should matter to me are mine. When we are confronted with sin, do we react with repentance, or with hardened hearts? Do you become God’s forgiven friend or His rebellious enemy? Have you repented, or are you rebellious? I don’t think there are any other options…
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