February 27, 2012 David Balzer

Matthew 22:15-46: A Bigger Vision

Sometimes you need to have a bigger vision. Two crows fighting over a dead roo in the middle of the road. So intent on getting their share, they fail to see the semi-trailer hurtling towards them.  And soon there’s THREE dead animals to fight over.

Sometimes you need a bigger vision. Like the soccer dad screaming at the teenage referee in his son’s Under 6 soccer match. He thinks it’s the World Cup, but half the team is more interested in building sand castles.

Sometimes you need a bigger vision. Christians arguing about who gets baptised and when. Or about which version of the Bible to use. Or what type of music they prefer. Or WHO gets to do WHAT in church. And whether there should be a table in the middle of the stage or a lectern. And whether you should CALL it a stage.

All sorts of PETTY, INSIGNIFICANT squabbles. When the bigger vision is that God’s begun his kingdom. His eternal, righteous, inclusive, peaceful and joyful KINGDOM brought into being through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Unlike any type of king or kingdom this earth has ever seen. Or WILL ever see.

And, through it, he’s beginning to set the world RIGHT. TO restore it to the IDEAL. And he wants US to be PART of it.

That’s the message WE need to hear TODAY.

And it’s the message Jesus was bringing to the Jewish leaders in the temple in Jerusalem. We’re picking up the story in Mt 22.

Today we see them trying to TRAP Jesus. To look for an excuse to arrest him. And remove him from the scene. Wait until he slips up, and then pounce.

And they DO it by dragging up all the petty squabbles that DIVIDE people. All the old chestnuts the experts sat around arguing about for hours. Questions that OCCUPIED people.

That distracted their attention from the BIGGER PICTURE. The more important matters of justice and mercy. Of living out God’s law in their MOTIVATIONS AND DESIRES. In bringing IN God’s kingdom by the way they responded to God’s KING.

They were focussed on tiny, insignificant things. On taxes and prioritising rules and regulations. On earthly descendants. And earthly kings. Jesus wants them to LIFT their GAZE. To enlarge their vision. And begin to see God’s kingdom the way HE does.

And as WE listen in, we find that he does it for US, TOO. What seems so complicated and confusing about OUR lives and OUR decisions. Becomes clearer and more straight forward. And our concerns are lifted from the small, trivial decisions. And we begin to see God’s world, and our place in it, the way Jesus does.

A bigger vision than petty squabbles about tax

First up, Jesus offers us a bigger vision than petty squabbles about tax. V15. The Pharisees come up with a plan to TRAP Jesus. They send their disciples along with a question. Together with THE HERODIANS. (They were loyal to King Herod, and to the Romans who ruled them). Quite probably ONE group thought ONE thing about tax. And the OTHER thought THE OPPOSITE)

But before they get to the QUESTION. They butter Jesus up.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of INTEGRITY and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the TRUTH. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.

In other words, we know you won’t let political expediency get in the way of truth. You’ll speak what’s right WHATEVER the cost. Whatever people think. Almost DARING him to make a foolish mistake.

And here’s their question. “Is it RIGHT to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” If he answers YES, he’s offside with most of the religious Jews who hate the thought of supporting the Roman oppressors.

If he answers NO, he’d satisfy THE PHARISEES, but he’d be in trouble with the Roman authorities. A suspected rebel.

But Jesus can see a bigger picture. He sees right through their schemes. He asks for one of the coins that pay the tax. And he asks THEM a question in RETURN. V20. “Whose portrait is on it?”

“Caesar’s” they reply.

“Then give to Caesar what’s Caesar’s,” says Jesus. In other words “You’d better pay Caesar back in his own currency then.”

You want to focus on EARTHLY kingdoms? And EARTHLY loyalties? BOTH sides were guilty OF THAT. The Pharisees wanted DELIVERANCE from Rome. So they DIDN’T want to pay the tax. The Herodians liked the POWER that came with Rome. So they LIKE the tax.

But there was A HIGHER loyalty. Neither side was understanding God’s kingdom the way Jesus saw it. He’d come into Jerusalem riding on a DONKEY. He’d come healing the BLIND AND LAME. And he’d bring his kingdom in by DYING ON A CROSS.

And what THAT sort of kingdom required was what Jesus said NEXT. A bigger vision than coins and earthly allegiance. “And give to GOD what’s God’s!”

And what GOD requires is something of A DIFFERENT ORDER to taxes and coins. Not just MORE, but DIFFERENT.

He wants FRUIT. He wants WEDDING GARMENTS. He wants justice and mercy to flow. He wants repentance and changed lives of obedience.

And that’s something his questioners have NO IDEA ABOUT. And they walk off, AMAZED. But still none the wiser.

2. A bigger vision than petty concerns about inheritances and offspring

Next, the SADDUCEES take over. ANOTHER group in the Jewish leadership. And what sets THEM apart from the rest is they don’t believe in the resurrection. “Once you’re dead, that’s it.”

And what that meant IN PRACTICE was their focus was completely on THIS LIFE. Whatever kingdom God was going to build, it would be EARTHLY. It would be about troops and borders and politics. Whatever REWARD there was was in THIS LIFE.

And they trot out against Jesus what sounds like an old well-rehearsed argument. Highly unlikely, but designed to show how ABSURD resurrection is if you follow it through logically.

It’s a situation that’s grounded in the Old Testament law. If a husband died without children, then his brother must marry his widow so she could have descendants. Because if there were no descendants, then the family line would die out.

It’s pretty significant in Israel’s history. Because it’s what BOAZ did for Ruth. And if Ruth hadn’t had children, then KING DAVID wouldn’t have been born. And even Jesus HIMSELF wouldn’t have been born.

And the Sadducees want to know what would happen if not only the FIRST brother died. But his other six brothers did TOO. If the poor old black widow married not just the FIRST brother, Bashful. But then, one after the other, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and last of all, Sneezy. And saw them ALL into the grave.

And the Sadducees want to know. When SHE dies. And all EIGHT of them are resurrected. Whose wife will she be? It seems ABSURD.

But only if you see things from an EARTHLY point of view. Which is all the Sadducees CAN do.

And Jesus’ answer is about how they need A BIGGER VISION. A bigger vision of GOD. V29.

“You are in error because you don’t know the Scriptures OR THE POWER OF GOD.

They assume the life of ETERNITY will be pretty much the same as THIS life. But IN ETERNITY there’ll be no need to raise descendants. There’ll be no need to protect inheritances, or provide support.

In ETERNITY, raising descendants, and inheritances, take on a WHOLE NEW MEANING. Raising will be RESURRECTION rather than rearing. And inheritances will be for ALL. And the petty concerns of THIS life won’t be worth thinking about.  That’s the bigger vision.

For Jesus, the Sadducees have completely MISSED the power of God. He’s earthbound and caught in time.

And to prove his point, he draws their attention, not to some OBSCURE verse from the Scriptures, but one EVERYONE would know, v32. How God introduced himself to Moses, “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He said it 400 years after Jacob died.

If Israel’s three forefathers had CEASED TO EXIST when they died, then God would have said, “I WAS their God – but not anymore.” INSTEAD, he said, “I AM their God.” In other words, “I’ve kept them safe. They’re STILL mine. Still WITH me.” And one day they’ll be raised together with THE REST of my people.

That’s the bigger vision of God. And the bigger vision of eternity.

And the questioners skulk off in silence, they’re tails between their legs. And the people listening are ASTONISHED.

A bigger vision than petty legalism

Jesus: TWO. The Jewish leaders: ZERO. So, v34, the Pharisees decide, “If you want a job done properly, do it YOURSELF.”

Their area of expertise – the Jewish Law. They reckoned there were 613 laws from Genesis to Malachi. 613 rules that God wanted his people to keep. And, on TOP of that the Pharisees had added a whole EXTRA layer of rules. Even MORE complicated, and minute. Like fences that kept you from going ANYWHERE NEAR breaking a law.

And so, they ask, v36, which is the GREATEST?

And once again Jesus has a bigger vision. A bigger vision than petty legalism. It’s all about ATTITUDE he says. V37.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

And then Jesus adds (v40)

40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

They SUM THEM UP. Set up two big folders. And then take every one of those 613 laws. And you’ll be able to put ALL of them into one of the other of those folders. Or perhaps BOTH.

Keep the sacrifices? That’s loving God.

Don’t steal? That’s loving your neighbour.

And so on.

But it’s more than just how you GROUP things. It gets right to the heart of WHY you do them. Which is what REALLY counts.

Jesus is saying that focussing on EXTERNAL RULE-KEEPING without getting to THE MOTIVATION. Is like fixing up the boils on your skin – covering them with bandaids. But doing nothing about the blood poisoning that’s CAUSING them.

It’s what’s INSIDE that counts. When you fix up the INSIDE, then the OUTSIDE will FOLLOW. Get the ATTITUDE right, and the ACTIONS will follow.

God’s not interested in ANY action – no matter how generous, or sacrificial – if it’s not MOTIVATED by a love for HIM, and a love for your neighbour.

It’s only when we LOVE that we can TRULY OBEY his laws. Obedience isn’t obedience at ALL unless the motivation is LOVE.

We can obey rules for ALL SORTS OF REASONS. Fear, orlegalism, or one-up-manship, or competitiveness, or proving a point, or seeking people’s approval, or gaining influence and power.

But none of it pleases God. What God wants is obedience motivated by LOVE.

SIMPLE, and LIBERATING and VISION-ENLARGING.

We’re not told how the Pharisees respond because Jesus decides to return the questioning. He’s given them an ANSWER they couldn’t QUESTION. And now he’s going to give them a QUESTION they can’t ANSWER.

A bigger vision about Jesus

And here’s where it all come together. Where the rubber meets the road. All the talk about right and wrong. About decisions and perspectives. Rules and motivations.

WHAT MATTERS MOST IS WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT WHO GOD’S MESSIAH IS. WHO YOU SEE JESUS AS.

When you understood God’s king as EARTHLY. And his KINGDOM as earthly. Then King David was the PINNACLE. And HIS kingdom were the GLORY DAYS of God’s kingdom.

For the Jew, someone’s SON wasn’t just a descendant, but LESS IMPORTANT than their father.

Not only that, they followed in the FAMILY LINE. An IMITATION. A FOLLOWER. So to recognise that the Messiah would be a Son of David was to understand the KINGDOM he’d bring in would be ONE LIKE DAVID’S. A military, political one.

But Jesus wants to ENLARGE that vision. So he turns their attention to Psalm 110. Where King David, talking about the Messiah who would come from his line, says (v44)

44 “‘The Lord said to MY LORD: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ‘ 

He calls his SON, “MY LORD”. Which makes him GREATER. Which makes the Messiah David’s MASTER as well as his son.

And Jesus’ point is that means the Messiah’s KINGDOM will be something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to David’s kingdom. Which is what he’s been saying all along.

Eternal and universal, rather than temporary and geographical and ethnic. And it will come through blood shed on a cross, rather than blood shed by the sword.

And the throne he’s seated on comes after his resurrection. And it’s just reward for his sacrificial service. Rather than a captured war prize, soaked in the blood of his enemies.

And the enemies placed under his feet. Are Satan, and sin and death. Rather than a foreign nation.

That’s the LORD who wants to enlarge YOUR vision. Who sits at the right hand of GOD HIMSELF. Who gives us HIS PERSPECTIVE on the life he designed and spoke into being.

Who wants us to lift our gaze from the mundane, everyday questions that confuse and occupy us. To fix our gaze on Jesus, and on HIS kingdom.

To lift our vision beyond mere RULE-KEEPING. To our MOTIVATION. What DRIVES you to obey God? Make it LOVE. Pure and simple. Love for God. Love for OTHERS.

And the way to LOVE better is to understand better the love that Jesus has for US. To understand better what Jesus has DONE for us to BRING us into that kingdom. Understand better His love. That took him to a cross.

It’s a kingdom that demands our COMPLETE ALLEGIANCE above all others. Above taxes and rulers. Above family, and country. Above friends and popularity. Above technology and comfort. Above money and security. Above prosperity and personal satisfaction.

A kingdom that stands for MUCH MORE than earthly families and earthly security. A kingdom that’s building an ETERNAL legacy. With people from every nation and language and country. People from every walk of life and age and career and socio-economic group.

A kingdom that’s building them into a people who’ll inherit GOD HIMSELF. Living AMONG us. For eternity. Without pain or suffering or embarrassment or betrayal or sickness or poverty or hunger or injustice.

And that sort of vision doesn’t take us OUT of the world. It’s not pie in the sky when you die. It doesn’t make us too heavenly minded for any earthly good.

It’s a wonderfully RELEVANT, FREEING and EMPOWERING vision for the present. Because, rather than making people IRRELEVANT in the struggles and pain of THIS world. It gives them HOPE. It FREES them from the fear that earthly kingdoms hold them in. Because death isn’t something to fear. Because if there’s something BETTER. Something LASTING. Something to WORK for. Then that gives people MOTIVATION.

When you have a BIG VISION for God and his kingdom. It gives perspective to the “little” ministries you’re doing. Week after week. Praying with your kids. Living out your faith quietly in front of your non-Christian spouse who never seems to notice.

Preparing Kids church lessons that kids misbehave through. Or going to Home Group. Visiting people in hospital you never see again. Speaking to your neighbour. Giving them books to read. They give them back unread.

And you wonder what the POINT is.

But that’s LITTLE vision. Jesus wants us to LIFT our vision. Catch a glimpse of how he’s building his kingdom. Quietly, and unimpressively, but powerfully and unquestionably.

Put him FIRST. Do it out of LOVE. LONG for Eternity. Jesus is real and powerful. And God’s kingdom is SURE. That’s the bigger vision.

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