Any business needs to ask a basic question: “What is it that we do?” In other words, “What is our product or what service do we provide?” It is hard to have any kind of a business plan, unless you are clear on what your business really is.
The same is true for churches. We need to ask basic questions: Who is this Jesus we claim to follow? Where is He leading us? What is it that He wants us to do? Churches that do not answer this preliminary question often turn into clubs whose purpose is simply to “keep the doors open.”
We have been listening in as Jesus has debated the religious leaders of the day. They peppered Him with questions in an effort to stump Him or make Him look bad. Jesus silenced the critics. In Luke 20:41-47 Jesus is the one asking the question. This question and the comments that follow will help us see who Jesus really is and what those who follow Him should look like.
Who is Jesus?
Let’s look at the question asked by Jesus.
41 Then Jesus presented them with a question. “Why is it,” he asked, “that the Messiah is said to be the son of David? 42 For David himself wrote in the book of Psalms:
‘The LORD said to my Lord,
Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
43 until I humble your enemies,
making them a footstool under your feet.’
44 Since David called the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?”
It is easy for us to miss the significance of what Jesus is saying. The typical religious leader knew the Messiah was to be a descendent of King David. They concluded that the Messiah would be like King David and He would bring Israel to a place of prominence once again.
With this popular notion in His sight Jesus turned to Psalm 110. Jesus pointed out that David wrote, “The LORD said to my Lord”. That doesn’t sound significant to us but when you see the word LORD all in caps in a translation it is indicating that this use of “Lord” represents the name of God.
Jesus zeros in on the fact that David said, “the LORD said to my Lord”. Jesus asked: if the Messiah is simply another King from the line of David, why does David call Him “my Lord” and why is He given such a position of honor by God?
The Gospel of John records a similar issue. In John 8:56-59. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders,
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
The Jews understood that when Jesus said, “before Abraham was born, I am” Jesus was claiming to be eternal. By using the phrase “I Am”, He was taking for himself the name of God (See Exodus 3). This is why they picked up stones to kill Him. They believed He was speaking blasphemy.
If you put these two accounts together you can see that Jesus is teaching us something.
- The Messiah as a descendent of David was going to be more than merely an earthly King.
- Since He is going to sit at the right hand of God (the place of honor), He must be the Son of God
- Since He is the Son of God, people should put their trust in Him.
- Jesus is that person.
The teachers of the Law were looking at the Messiah through the narrow lens of their own expectations. It is a common occurrence. We all are prone to view Jesus the way we expect (or want) Him to be. We might see Him as the one who makes medical miracles happen; the one who brings justice to the wicked; the one who understands the torments of our hearts and minds; the one who gives us good things; the one who loves as we are; or the one who shows us the way to live.
All of these things describe some of the work of Jesus but they are not Jesus. They are things Jesus does but it is not who He is! People who see Jesus only in terms of what He taught or what He did are missing the real beauty of Christ.
Jesus came to earth as God living among us. He possesses the unique authority of the Son of God. He wants to make us a part of His Kingdom. We should not only turn to Him so He can meet our deepest needs; we should turn to Him as the One who is worthy of our devotion and worship because of who He is. He alone can make us right with God, provide forgiveness for our sin and rebellion, and lead us to eternal life.
Let’s say it again: “If you are wrong on Jesus, you are wrong on everything.” If we do not understand who Jesus really is, even if we are deeply sincere, we are going in the wrong direction! We can’t become true followers of Christ unless we are clear as to who He is!!
I urge you to search your heart and mind. Are you following the real Christ or are you following one who fits neatly into your “box” of expectations? Does He “explode” your mind or is He confined by your mind? The answer to this question will determine the direction you are headed.
What Do the Followers of Jesus Look Like?
Matthew and Mark tell us that the leaders had no reply to the question of Jesus. Mark tells us that the crowd listened to Him “with delight”. I suspect they enjoyed seeing these pompous leaders trumped. We are told that Jesus then turned to his disciples (within the hearing of everyone else) and said,
45 Then, with the crowds listening, he turned to his disciples and said, 46 “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 47 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.” [NLT]
Jesus warns that we should beware of those who have a restricted understanding of him. Bad theology inevitably results in wrong living. Jesus pointed to six characteristics of the faulty living of these teachers.
First, they liked to parade around in flowing robes. The priests and teachers of the law often wore white robes (symbolizing purity) to do their work in the temple. Instead of taking off the robes after work they wore them in public as a way of seeking respect and honor. It would be like a Doctor going about daily chores in scrubs with a stethoscope around their neck. It is like a fireman shopping in turnout gear.
It is not about their clothes, it is what they are trying to say by their clothes. These men wore their white robes so they would be noticed as they walked around town. Since most people wore earth tone colored garments, they would be immediately noticed. They were not concerned about promoting the honor of God; they were concerned about promoting themselves!
Second they desired respectful greetings as they walked through the marketplace. William Barclay gives some insight as to what was happening.
They had rules of precedence all carefully drawn up. In the college the most learned Rabbi took precedence; at a banquet, the oldest. It is on record that two Rabbis came in, after walking on the street, grieved and bewildered because more than one person had greeted them with, “May your peace be great,” without adding, “My masters!” They claimed to rank even above parents. “If a man’s father and teacher have lost anything, the teacher’s loss has the precedence, for a man’s father only brought him into this world; his teacher, who taught him wisdom, brought him into the life of the world to come. … If a man’s father and teacher are carrying burdens, he must first help his teacher, and afterwards his father. If his father and teacher are in captivity, he must first ransom his teacher, and afterwards his father.”
Status was everything to these guys. It was all about the “pecking order” or “who was more important than whom”.
Third, they loved the seats of honor in the synagogue and places of honor at banquets. They always felt they should sit at the head table. To have a seat of honor at a banquet usually meant sitting on the right or the left of the host.
There are certainly benefits of being at the head table. In my mind the greatest benefit is that you usually get to eat first! I remember talking to the host of a hotel at a wedding reception. I argued that the table with the Pastor should follow the table of the wedding party and family (I was saying this with an obvious smile). He said simply, “When you are the one paying, you get to eat first!” I made note of that fact the two times we were paying!
The late Joe Bayly put his finger on the problem that Jesus is spotlighting: “No person can foster the impression that he/she is great, and then exalt a great God.” There is only one “star of the show”. If it is us, then it is not the Lord. It should always be the Lord.
We live in a celebrity-filled society. There are shows on television and columns in the paper devoted to letting us know what is going on in the lives of our favorite celebrities (they assume we care). The Christian community is not immune from celebrity-it is. There are celebrity speakers, musicians, and writers. We are prone to exalt the speaker or artist rather than the Lord. A position of prominence is inevitable when you are in the public eye. However, the leader must never believe their “press clippings”.
Jesus warns us that we should always look at the leaders to see whom they are exalting. We have all been around people who seem to only be interested in promoting themselves (they become very tiresome very quickly). I suspect we have all also met leaders and musicians who, even though they were very prominent, were also very humble servants of the Lord.
Jesus isn’t finished. The next criticism is “they devour widows’ houses”. It is possible they were charging widows for services that should have been free. Perhaps they were putting pressure on them to give more than they were able to give. Maybe they were ripping them off or scamming them in their estate planning. What is clear is that they were using people to get their money; even the people who needed their help the most.
My mom had to put a special filter on her phone because when my dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease he would send money to anyone who asked. These unscrupulous people would promise dad prizes, flatter him and guilt him into giving money. In the early stages of the disease he was unable to see through their manipulative tactics.
We see this all around us. Scam artists target senior citizens with promises of great payoffs and financial security. Investment bankers make a fortune by skimming profits from their clients. We have all encountered a telemarketer who tried to badger us into giving money to their organization. Sadly there are preachers today who convince poor widows to give money they don’t have to support their own indulgent extravagance. Followers of Christ should not be like this.
The last criticism is that these leaders “for a show make lengthy prayers”. Jesus is not condemning prayers of a certain length. We would do well to have lengthy prayer times. What is condemned is the fact that it was “for a show”. They did not pray lengthy prayers because they were drawn in to the presence of the King. They prayed lengthy prayers because they wanted people to be impressed with how spiritual they are. They prayed to sound good and pious; they weren’t talking to God, they were talking to the listeners.
Those who parade their spirituality are not really concerned about the Kingdom of God; they are concerned about advancing and building their own kingdom. Those who truly follow Christ don’t need to trumpet their deeds to others.
Jesus shows us that bad theology leads to wrong living. Because these men did not understand the nature of Christ they were heading in the wrong direction. They were trying to earn God’s favor. Apparently they believed God must grade on a curve and if they were better than most of the people, they would get a pass and get into Heaven.
God, of course, doesn’t grade on a curve. He never compromises with evil. He must punish all sin because He is perfectly just. The sad truth is that we cannot be “good enough” to earn Heaven. We can promote ourselves all we want, but we will never earn Heaven.
We need a Savior who is more than just another man giving us good advice on how to live better. We need someone who can address the stain of our lives and make us right before a Holy God. We don’t need an earthly King, we need the Son of God to come and rescue us by laying down His life as a payment for our sin. Jesus is just the Man we need.
If we are wrong on Jesus, we are still in our sin and headed for God’s Judgment. Even if the whole world applauds us and calls us great, God will judge us on the basis of the truth.
Take Home Lessons
Let’s draw two lessons. First, we must think carefully and clearly about Jesus. We can’t afford to be lazy here. There is too much at stake. Please take the time to search your own heart and soul. Who is Jesus to you? Is He merely a great leader, a noteworthy teacher or the leader of a large religious movement? Or is He God who has taken the form of man? Is He the One who merely shows us how to live a better life or is He the One who died in our place and for our sin? One view makes Jesus someone worth listening to, the other makes Him the One we should serve with our lives.
That leads to the second lesson. By looking at the characteristics Jesus condemns we can learn what Jesus wants us to be.
1. We should be humble. We must never forget where we came from and the direction we were headed before Christ found us. We are no better than anyone else even if we are forgiven and headed in another direction. WE will save no one. Only Jesus can change people’s lives. We must never forget that He is the one to whom we should always point. As a result, we should be willing to serve in any way possible and we should be content even to serve Him in the shadows.
2. We should learn to ask, “What’s my motivation?” when we are serving Him publicly. We may think that we are demonstrating our spiritual depth by the long prayers we pray, the questions we ask, the answers we give, the songs we sing, or the acts of service we do. However, if we are doing these things to prove we are spiritual, we have missed the point. The best way to reveal the work of Christ in our lives is to be consistent in our living, loving in our encounters with others, diligent in our obedience, and honest in our dealings with others. If we will live as Jesus lives we will not need to broadcast that we belong to Jesus . . . it will be clearly evident in the life we live.
3. We should love people rather than use them. The way of the world is to make “friends” who can help you move forward in life. We tend to be kind to people because we want something. Jesus wants to change all this. He would have us help people because they need help. He wants us to be concerned about matters of justice, mercy, and compassion. He wants hurting people to experience His grace and mercy through the hands of His people. He wants us to love others because He loves them.
Those who call themselves followers of Christ take on a great responsibility. People look at us to see how Jesus impacts a life. People rightly expect that they will see something of Jesus in us. No one expects us to be perfect, but they do expect us to be different. They want us to be honest about our struggles and serious about our obedience to the One we call “Lord”. If they see no practical difference from their own life they will conclude that they have no real need of Jesus.
It’s a big responsibility. Like it is in any business, if we are going to belong to the company of Christ’s followers we must make sure we understand what business we are in. If we don’t do so, we won’t truly be doing God’s work.