I hope you’ve had the chance to follow the discussion through all the articles. Today I want to focus on Matthew 22. There are three things in this chapter that I think say a lot about Jesus and how he interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures. If one accepts the view that Jesus is God in the flesh then there can be no doubt that how he did anything is the right way. Peter challenged us to “follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21).
In Matthew 22:23-33 the Sadducees who denied the resurrection came to Jesus with a dilemma that they thought would stump him completely. I suspect they had used this same story a hundred times before to challenge the Pharisees who did believe in the resurrection. The foundation of the story was about the law that if a man died without children his brother was to go in to his wife and have sex with her so she could have a son and it would be the dead brother’s son. In their story there were seven brothers and they each took the same woman to marry and have sex with to try to raise up seed for their brother. None of them were able to have a child and all died. Eventually the wife died as well. So, in the resurrection whose wife will she be? That seems like a powerful argument and difficult to answer. Look at how Jesus dealt with it. “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection from the dead – have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
Jesus quickly set aside their whole dilemma by saying that they just didn’t understand the Scriptures or God’s power. Their assumption that in the resurrection the relationships of this life will continue as is, was totally mistaken so their dilemma wasn’t much of a dilemma at all. In the resurrection relationships such as marriage won’t continue. But notice Jesus use of Old Testament Scripture to settle the issue. The Sadducees rejected all the Old Testament as Scripture except the five Books of Moses. When Jesus referred to what Scripture said, it is vital to see he went to the very part of the Old Testament that they regarded as God’s word to make the point. The declaration by God that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was as fundamental a passage of Scripture to the Jews as one could possibly find. They had never imagined that this basic passage cut the rug out from under their beliefs. Jesus pointed the Scripture and drew the single conclusion, “God is not the God of the dead but of the living” to demonstrate that though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were long sense physically dead, they were alive to God in that their immortal soul continued to live in God’s presence.
One huge lesson this makes is that when trying to reach people with what God says it is always vital to go to the very things they do believe to show them what God teaches.
Some Pharisees heard Jesus handle the Sadducees and were impressed with how he had answered. One of them, an expert in the law tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Who knows what they were thinking he would answer? But Jesus responded with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Notice first of all that some commands are far more important than others. At the top of God’s chart is love for him with all our being and love for our neighbor or fellow man. In the very next chapter of Matthew 23:23 Jesus would say to the religious leaders “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” Too often it is the petty things that we key in on to the neglect of God’s major truths. In church it is all too common to see the person that never misses a service, knows lots of Scripture and sees themselves as real leaders in the body, yet their attitude is horrible. They are judgmental, demanding and just plain hard to get along with. They have the little things right but miss the love for God and neighbor that are most important. They readily pay tithes of the insignificant while ignoring justice, mercy and faithfulness.
How desperately we need to learn that no matter how many items we get right on our list of doing God’s will if we miss the things that are at the heart of God’s will we are in trouble. Straining out gnats and swallowing camels seems to have become an art among so many who wear the name of Christian.
Finally, in Matthew 22:41-46 Jesus raised a strange question to the Pharisees. “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. Jesus responded, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord; Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If then David calls him ‘Lord” how can he be his son?” Jesus dilemma for them must have caused lots of scratching of their heads. They had no understanding of the fact that the Messiah would be both fully God and fully man. From his human nature he was the son or descendant of David. In His divine nature he was David’s Lord.
The lesson for us on this point is that when things seem to not fit at all into our frame of reference and seem to confuse us rather than enlighten us, it is probably because we need to change our frame of reference. They needed to have a different view from the one that saw the Messiah only as David’s descendant and one who like him would come as a earthly ruler to lead the armies of Israel. But changing how we look at things is extremely difficult.
The question I would leave us with is how many of the things that cause confusion and division in the church are what God would consider vital and how many are about things that are so insignificant that God didn’t even tell us clearly what He wanted us to do in that situation?