Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 30 January 2023:
2 Chronicles 28:2 — …but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.
Following anyone other than Jesus will lead you to sin and destruction. You cannot walk with the ungodly and walk with Jesus at the same time; they are going in opposite directions. The world, which is in rebellion to God, pursues substitutes for God while your aim in life is Jesus Himself. Conversely, you should be growing closer each day to those who are seeking greater unity with Jesus, like ships headed to the same destination.
2 Chronicles 28:9-11 — But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded, and he went out to meet the army that came to Samaria and said to them, “Behold, because the Lord, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven…. Have you not sins of your own against the Lord your God? Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.”
God’s people have always been called to serve as the conscience of government and to convict others of sin, call people to repentance, and warn of God’s looming judgment of sin.
2 Chronicles 28:20 – So Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came against him and afflicted him instead of strengthening him.
Turning to the world for strength rather than God will only hurt you, not help you.
2 Chronicles 28:22-25 – In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the LORD—this same King Ahaz….
When you do not repent, you sink deeper into sin.
2 Chronicles 28:23 — For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.
What seems to work for the world will not work for us. We operate within the spiritual realm with spiritual goals and objectives.
Matthew 21:6 – The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.
Followers of Christ obey, period, just as Moses and Aaron exhibited in today’s readings. If you are comfortable in disobedience, you are not really a disciple; you might be a believer (the demons believe in Jesus), but you are not a disciple, a disciplined follower of Jesus. If you think grace gives you a license to remain in sinful habits, you are misled. If you don’t have a passion for holiness and purity, you don’t really have a passion for Christ.
Matthew 21:12, 13 — And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
The only time it is recorded that Jesus used physical force against anyone was to throw the money changers out of the temple (John says he even whipped them). According to historians, when Jews came to Jerusalem to pay their Temple tax, they could only pay it with a special coin, the half-shekel. This was a half-ounce of pure silver, about the size of a quarter. It was the only coin at that time which was pure silver and of assured weight, without the image of a pagan Emperor, and therefore to the Jews it was the only coin acceptable to God. The money changers had cornered the market on them, and so they raised the price of them to whatever the market could bear. They used their monopoly they had on these coins to make exorbitant profits, forcing the Jews to pay whatever these money changers demanded. Also, these ‘money-changers’ sold livestock (and doves to the poor) at unfair rates.
Jesus was particularly sensitive to the impact of this extortion on the poor (Mark 12:40-42; Luke 20:47; Luke 21:2). According to Mark 11:16, Jesus shut down the whole temple exchange system – “And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” It is a terrible sin to take advantage of the poor, the needy, the ignorant, and the weak. Yet, the banking industry, the insurance industry, the gambling industry, and the sales industry often use very complex schemes to trick the ignorant into unneeded financial loss. I see this happen every day to young adults who are convinced by someone that their six or seven-year loan on that brand new car is a great deal because they can afford to make the monthly car payment. Today, even the government uses state lotteries to supplement their income, institutionalizing the manipulation of the poor and ignorant (first state lottery, 1964; now in 44 states; no major church resistance). In some states, lottery income exceeds revenues from corporate income taxes. Often you will hear Christians compare today’s sexual immorality to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, but they forget about the similarities in economic manipulation – “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49) The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. (Ezekiel 22:29) “In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.” (Psalm 10:2)
A Christian must never be advantaged by taking advantage of others. Job defended his righteousness by pointing to his treatment of the weak — “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow), if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or the needy without covering, if his body has not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep, if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, because I saw my help in the gate, then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket. For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty.” (Job 31:16-23) Consider our economy and market from God’s perspective.
- Psalm 72:4 — May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!
- Proverbs 14:31 — Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
- Proverbs 19:17 — Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.
- Proverbs 22:7 — The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
- Proverbs 22:9 — Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.
- Proverbs 22:16– Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.
- Proverbs 22:22– Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate….
- Proverbs 28:3– A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food.
- Proverbs 28:6 — Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
- Proverbs 28:8 — Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.
- Proverbs 29:7 — A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
- Proverbs 30:14 — There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.
- Proverbs 31:9 — Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
- Ecclesiastes 5:8 — If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.
- Isaiah 3:14 — The LORD will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
- Isaiah 3:15– What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
- Isaiah 10:2– to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
- Isaiah 32:7 — As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right.
- Ezekiel 16:49 — Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
- Ezekiel 22:29 — The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.
- Amos 4:1 — “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’
- Amos 5:11 — Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.
- Luke 14:13 — But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
Money changers were taking advantage of people financially through “religious” products. They were capitalizing on worship. This infuriated Jesus and, yes, Jesus reacted violently, using drapery chords as a whip to drive the moneychangers out. How many people are cashing in on Jesus today? How many teachers attract people to their books and other pieces of merchandise rather than the Bible? Matthew 10:8 – “Freely you have received; freely give.”
Matthew 21:12-17 – And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons…. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them…..
Jesus showed both justice and mercy which go hand-in-hand. Yes, Jesus violently stood up against injustice. We too must stand boldly for justice, but we must also stand boldly and faithfully for mercy and grace. One of the hardest things for a person to do is to understand how to administer justice, mercy, and grace as an ambassador of Christ. This cannot be achieved through intellect alone – it requires the counsel of the Holy Spirit.
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.
Matthew 21:43 – Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
God’s people are the ones producing fruit in the name of Jesus Christ. How many people will you tell about Jesus Christ today? How many people will see Jesus in you today? How will your words and deeds draw others closer to Jesus today?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 30 January 2023: Pray the prayer of Colossians 1:9-14 for yourself and for your brothers and sisters in Christ.