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4th Sunday in Lent       4 Significant Days:    “Significant Teaching on Tuesday”

March 14, 2021                Matthew 23:1-12

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Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

          Learning.   The process of learning is a constant thing for us.  Our formal & structured education  will have a beginning and an end.    Our   /high school, /college,  /tech school, /or job-training programs, end with graduation.   That education is for our work career.   But the ‘job’ & work of being a disciple of Jesus  is more than an education,  it’s an ongoing process of learning  about what our life with God is,  and how we work each day  with what God has given to us.    It’s ongoing because our life is always changing.   That is,  /we change with age,  our health,  & where we live;   /our nation & culture has changed;  /or things & people around us change,  so we have to always return to The Teacher  and learn some more about living for today.   Yesterday’s lessons were good for a time;   but we will run into new & different things = *how do we handle those things?   The Teacher knows,  and wants us to learn more. 

          And this makes sense,  *doesn’t it?  Our life changes,  so we need to keep learning some new things with how to live it rightly.   +We learned  how to live by this faith  when we were young and/or healthy;  but  *how do we live by faith  now that we’re older  or not as healthy?  

+We learned the lessons of faith  for when we were single;  *what other lessons do we need to learn for when we’re married,  and then with children?    It’s the same gospel-faith in Christ Jesus,  but some of the lessons are different.  

Therefore,  people who think  that they learned all they need to know about God  in confirmation class,  when they were 12-14 yrs old,  are foolish.   It’s the same faith in Christ,  but they’re way behind in the life-lessons.    In fact,  by not learning more along the way, 

they have actually put their faith in danger,  because they won’t see how that past faith applies to their present day & age;  they’ll be tempted to abandon the faith.   They’ll say that this faith is too ‘old fashioned’ & inadequate for life today;   when -in truth-  they have become inadequate because they stopped getting their life-lessons from The Teacher.  May the Lord be firm with us and correct us  if we are tempted to think  that we have ever learned enough,  and don’t need to listen to Him anymore.          ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

          Our Lord is our Teacher by His Holy Scripture;  we confess that His Bible is the product of His Holy Spirit  working thru His chosen writers.

     So that everything that is written  is just as He wanted it.   His Bible is without error in its teachings;  and He has preserved it in its truth  thru the years,  and even across various languages.   In His Word,  He teaches us by historical events & people.   He teaches us with parables, & poetry, & songs or hymnody.  And when the Son of God himself arrived on earth,  He then also is teaching us  by the things He did.  By His Word  we have heard & seen God in action;  He teaches us all the lessons for life. 

The Lord also helps us to learn our faith-life lessons  by listening to our Christian parents, & pastors & teachers & Christian friends.   The Lord helps us learn by watching how His faithful people  live their lives  and model God’s teachings in their various circumstances.  

We can learn a lot from listening to  and watching God’s people.  We can even learn by observing how God’s people fail,  & disobey, & act foolishly, & make mistakes;  by that  

we can learn about  the bad things to avoid,  and what it means to repent & be forgiven.    

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          So,  for our Sundays in Lent,  we’ve had the theme of  ‘4 Significant Days’.  And we observe Jesus during Holy Week,  and the things He was saying & doing  on the Mon/Tue/Wed after Palm Sunday,  and leading into MTh/GF/Easter Sunday.  After riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday  being hailed with ‘hosannas’,  on Monday He went to the temple  and chased out those selling animals,  and tipped over the tables of the money-changers.   He did that because,  He insisted that God’s House  is to be a house of prayer for all people;  not a market place. 

On Tuesday,  He was back in Jerusalem  being questioned & challenged by the religious leaders.  They wanted to trap Jesus  into saying something they could use against Him in court,  and get rid of him.   You remember that they tried to trap Him  by asking if they should pay taxes to Caesar or not.   IF he said ‘yes’  he would anger the Jews;  IF he said ‘no’  he could be arrested by the Romans.  Jesus outwits them by saying, ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,  and give to God what belongs to God.’    That’s a lesson we need to learn more than once.

So,  it’s still Tuesday,  and now Jesus has moved on  from being questioned  to giving

‘a significant teaching.’   So,  Jesus gives a life-lesson  for God’s faithful people to live,  and He will be using the religious leaders  as the example of what not to do.   This life-lesson  is from Matthew 23  vs.1-12              

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    So,  there is His life-lesson  with the religious leaders as the negative example.   The truth of Jesus teaching,  and the truth of those negative examples,  will be proven in just 3 days;   when on Friday,  Jesus will be  /arrested, tried & convicted,  /beaten & crucified,  /killed & buried.   

If the pharisees had truly been believers in God,  they wouldn’t have done that

To begin with,  Jesus acknowledged that the scribes & pharisees occupied the authority-position of Moses;  they were teaching what God-thru-Moses said;  but they -themselves- didn’t understand the most important lessons of Moses,  and they -themselves-  were not doing what Moses said to do.   This is why Jesus openly calls them ‘hypocrites’;   they didn’t practice  what they commanded others to do.   To believe something is to live by it. (that’s a lesson in itself)

          Jesus warns the crowds and His disciples,  ‘So  do and observe whatever they tell you,  but do not do  what they do.’   Insofar as the religious leaders are reading & teaching  the actual OT Scripture,  Jesus is fine with the crowds and His disciples following them.  But Jesus also points out  what many of them could see  == because a thorn bush does not produce figs,  & a good tree does not bear bad fruit.   I’m sure that they could see their leaders saying one thing  but doing another.   When faith & life do not match,  it is a ‘lie’;   it’s a sin. 

          *What were some of the arrogant practices of the scribes and Pharisees?  “They do all their deeds to be seen by others”, (Jesus said)    Their motivation & attitude was not in being good & godly examples.   They did things  in order to get public recognition & honor. 

They didn’t do things mindful of God’s eye on them;  they did things for people’s praise.   

          “They make their phylacteries broad  and their fringes long.” (He said)   A phylactery was a small leather box containing verses of Scripture.  They were tied around a person’s forehead or arms.   Tassels were attached to the corners of their garments, & were meant to remind them of the Ten Commandments.   These were fine  as good reminders;  but they made theirs overly big or long  in order to get attention,  to be seen as superior.   They made themselves the center & focus of their faith.

          Jesus goes on:  “They love the place of honor at feasts  and the best seats in the synagogues”.   “They love greetings in the marketplaces  and being called rabbi by others”.  *Can you & I tell the difference between  the person who humbly receives some honor for their work,  and the person who seeks & craves honor  because it makes them feel superior?  

   If we know the difference,  then so did the people back then.   Jesus is pointing out something they already knew;   but by making a specific teaching about this,  He is giving a clear lesson on what the attitude & actions of God’s people are to be,  and warning against falling into the temptation & sin  of living our lives for our own glory & benefit.

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          ‘Do not do  what they do,’  He said.   As Jesus’ disciples,  we are to hear those words & take them to heart.  This is a daily temptation for all of us,  because self-focus and pride-filled behavior  is at the cracked-foundation of our sinful nature.   Yes, we must care for ourselves;  but not focus only on our selves;  we must have internal integrity & honor  without promoting & honoring ourselves.   In all our various stages & conditions in our life,  we need to relearn this lesson.  

   +We need to serve & do,  even when no one else seems to notice = we know the Lord sees us.   +We need to look out for others,  even when they don’t remember or thank us == we know the Lord remembers.   +If a thing is good & right to do,  we will do it  because the Lord says so;  even if everyone else around  is okay with doing the wrong thing.   It’s because The Teacher has taught us  to do what is right.   This is how the Lord’s work is accomplished in the kingdom-at-large,  and also here in the Lord’s House.   

The bad attitude & behavior of the scribes & pharisees were like THIS:   They would be  the ones  who work on some project in the church;  and then after no one praises them,  they decide they would never help again.   By that, they showed what they valued:  not the good serving, but only the praise of others.   The Sadducees would be like THIS:  they considered themselves the ‘great thinkers’ & planners,  but they shouldn’t have to get their hands dirty;  leave that to the less-important people.    The pharisees thought  that since they attended all the temple festivals & bible studies  they deserved more of God’s blessings.   *Do we see how an attitude of superiority  can quickly creep in to OUR lives  when our focus is more on ourselves  than on our Savior & His kingdom?   

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          So,  *how does Jesus sum up this life-lesson for us?   He says:  “the greatest among you  shall be your servant”.    Sometimes we might forget that these words  are not a suggestion;  they are the truth of life  for those who are truly His disciples.  

We know they are the absolute truth,  spoken on this Tuesday of Holy Week,  because in just 3 more days,  the One who has spoken  is the Christ,  the heaven-sent Instructor,  who is truly the only man  who ever really deserved glory, honor & worship;   and yet,  He would be the prime example of how to live this humble, serving faith.   ‘the greatest …became our servant,’.    That’s the heart of the gospel;  and as students of that gospel,  this will define our lives, too. 

          The HSp writes thru Paul in Phil.2:   Jesus is this ‘Christ’;   “who,  though he was in the form of God,  did not count equality with God  a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself,  by taking the form of a servant.”    Ultimately,  “he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to the point of death,  even death on a cross.”  

          The ‘good news’ part of this for US  is that His perfect obedience & death on the cross 

is what covers all our sins.   His blood has paid for all our misguided attitudes,  and the times of our arrogance & superiority.   That cross & His life  was such a deep & abiding payment,  that God keeps no record book of our wrongs;   He keeps no tally of those past times of our selfish pride  and self-focus.   Jesus came to fulfill the promise of Psalm 103:  ‘as far as the east is from the west,  so far has God removed your sin from you.’

 Our self-pride-sin was so bad  we needed a Rescuer.   By serving us,  Jesus has taught us a most significant lesson.   “whoever exalts himself will be humbled,  and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”    And in teaching that lesson for us,  He led the way.  He has shown us what it means to be a faithful & humble servant in the Lord’s kingdom.  

And as He leads,  He instructs us to follow.  On that Tuesday  Jesus used the scribes & pharisees as the negative example;  they were hypocrites,  not doing what they expected others to do.   And what they did do,  they did for their own praise.   The Teacher says that the work of being His disciple is more than a little education;  it’s an ongoing process of learning to live in this trusting faith.  Our satisfaction is not in being praised by others,  but in being useful to others,  helpful & kind;   following our Teacher, no matter what.   In that serving life of faith,  that’s how others will be reminded of their Savior Jesus. 

                                                                                          Amen.