Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 25 January 21:
Matthew 21:31, 32 — “I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”
Addressing the chief priests and the elders, and presumably others, Jesus tells The Parable of the Two Sons, one son who says he won’t do the work of the father but “change[s] his mind” and does it, and one who says he will do the work of the father but actually doesn’t. In concert with the parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), the previously wayward son is accepted and restored.
Jesus then compares the chief priests and elders to the disobedient son whose heart and deeds did not match his lips. Most shockingly, Jesus says, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” How could this be? Jesus gives the answer – “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it [the way], you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”
The chief priests and elders rejected “the way of righteousness” while the tax collectors and prostitutes accepted “the way.” What is the way of righteousness? Matthew 3 says that John the Baptist “prepare[d] the way.” And John said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:7, 8).”
Jesus revealed the way of righteousness: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) It was Jesus these religious leaders could not accept. These religious leaders “presumed” that their heritage and obedience to the Law was the way of righteousness (to be ‘right’ with God), but John the Baptist said to them, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’” and the Bible adds, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-11) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified (‘just-as-if-I’d never sinned) by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24) “For by grace [people are saved] through faith. And this is not [their] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
- Romans 3:20-24 — For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….
- Romans 10:4 — For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 — For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus further explains to the religious leaders, “Even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe” — even after seeing Jesus face-to-face and observing first-hand His works and miracles, these prideful people simply wouldn’t “change their minds” about Jesus. On the contrary, today’s readings say “they were indignant.” (Matthew 21:15)
Another word for “changing your mind,” is repentance. Remember John’s warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees — “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…. (Matthew 3:8) Repentance is not just changing your behavior, repentance is changing your mind about “the way of righteousness,” rejecting all notions of self-righteousness and trusting solely in the righteousness of Jesus and the gift of salvation through Him alone, being “poor in spirit,” and receiving the riches of Christ. In the days of the early church, followers of Christ were known as followers of “The Way” because of their faith in Jesus, and Jesus alone, as “The Way, The Truth, and The Life.” (Acts 9:2, 22:4, 24:14)
Only after repentance and salvation through Christ and a new life in Christ can anyone bear good fruit. And those who have a new life in Christ will bear fruit:
- Matthew 7:16-23 — You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. I Never Knew You. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
- John 15:1-16 — I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) Only in Christ can we truly live righteously as the Pharisees and other self-righteous pretend to do. Only in Christ can we truly blossom and live fruitful lives; and only in Christ can we truly do good deeds, without pretenses or self-centered motives (such as pridefulness). Good deeds, or works, are not the means to salvation but rather the natural product of salvation, the evidence of salvation, the expectation of salvation. As an object lesson and metaphor to His teachings, Jesus curses a fig tree that had not produced fruit. (Matthew 21:18, 19) As Jesus, said in John 15, a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, it must abide in Him. A branch that does abide in Him will bear fruit (in keeping with repentance), but a branch that does not abide in Him withers, dies, and is thrown into the fire – “Apart from [Him] you can do nothing.” In Christ, the Way of righteousness, we have life. While we are sharing the Gospel with others, we must also continuously remind ourselves of the Gospel, resisting any inclination towards boastfulness or self-reliance. Jesus is our message, our means, our method, and our Messiah.
- Ezekiel 36:26 — And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 — Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
- Galatians 2:20 — I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- 1 John 2:29 — If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
- 1 John 3:7 — Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.
- Colossians 1:9-14 — And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 25 Jan 21: Pray the prayer of Colossians 1:9-14 for yourself and for your brothers and sisters in Christ.