Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Passion Week: Day 2

We have seen that on the Sabbath, Nisan 10, Jesus was selected and presented by God as the Lamb ‘without blemish’:
Exodus12:5  Your lamb shall be without blemish

On Nisan 11, Sunday, He cleansed the Temple in preparation for His sacrifice.  Now, on Nisan 12, Monday, He will be tested as the Lamb in order to check that He is in fact ‘without blemish’. He will be tested by four groups in turn:
·                The Chief Priests and Elders.
·                The Pharisees.
·                The Sadducees.
·                The Scribes.

Each of the 4 groups tests Him by asking a question specifically related to their own area of expertise and interest.

The first group is the Chief Priests and Elders who held the power and authority in the Temple to order the ritual of the sacrificial system.  Therefore, they questioned His authority. The system in first century Judaism was that in order to be ordained to teach as a Rabbi, it was necessary to be examined and approved by a group of three senior Rabbis who were Elders.   Since the authority for Jesus to teach came from God Himself, He neatly turns their question back on to them:
When He came into the Temple, the Chief Priests and the Elders confronted Him as He was teaching, ‘By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?’   Jesus said, ‘I will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John; where was it from, from heaven or from men?’  They reasoned, If we say from heaven, He will say, Why then did you not believe him?  But if we say from men, we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.  So they answered, ‘We do not know.’ He said , ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’
Matthew 21.23-27

The second group is the Pharisees who believed that the Torah should be observed very precisely. They were the authors of Rabbinic Judaism with its burden of extra laws. They have persistently tested Him on His claim to be the Messiah. They try again:
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. They sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, 'Teacher, we know You are true, and teach the way of God in truth...Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful tp pay taxes to Caesar, or not?'
Jesus perceived their wickedness, said, ‘Show Me the tax money.’ They brought Him a denarius. He said, ‘Whose image is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ He said, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’
When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left Him and went their way.       Matthew 22.15-22

They marvelled at Him because His brilliant answer is a remez, a hint, to Genesis 1.27: God created man in His own image. Jesus is saying, ‘Give Caesar coins made with his image, and give God yourselves,   because you are made in His image.’ 

The third group is the Sadducees who were the leading political party that controlled and supplied the High Priesthood.  They tested Him on His understanding of the resurrection because they, as a party, did not believe in resurrection:
The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, asked Him, ‘Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no    children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the      seventh. Last of all the woman died also. In the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be?   Jesus answered, ‘You are mistaken,
(1)  not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.
(2) For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.
(3) Concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of   Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’
When the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.   Matthew 22.23-33

Jesus dismisses their question with three succinct points.  Firstly, they do not know the straightforward Scriptures on resurrection.  The following examples make it very clear that there is resurrection:
After my skin is destroyed, I know that in my flesh I shall see God, Job 19:26 
The LORD heard Elijah; and the child revived. Elijah took the child  and gave him to his mother.   1 Kings 17.17-24

The second point that Jesus makes is that their question is irrelevant because in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God. 
The third and final point that Jesus makes is that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.   This is a clear reference to the influence of Greek and Roman culture and their  pagan gods. For the Romans, Pluto was their god of the dead. He was the Latin counterpart of the Greek god Hades. Hades refers both to the ancient Greek underworld, the abode of Hades, and to the god of the dead himself.

After Jesus had made His three clear and dismissive points to the   Sadducees, the multitudes...were astonished at His teaching. 

The fourth and final group was the Scribes. They tested Him on His understanding of the essence of the Commandments because they were punctilious in their observance of the minutiae of the specific Commandments in the Torah.  They sent one of their group to test Him:

One of the Scribes asked Him, ‘Which is the first Commandment of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first of all the Commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’.. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’   There is no other Commandment greater than these.’
So the Scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. To love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ 
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God.’   After that no one dared question Him.      Mark 12.28-34

Jesus the Lamb has been tested by all four groups and found to be without blemish’.  He had been challenged:
·                on His authority by the Chief Priests and Elders, 
·                on His allegiance to God or Caesar by the Pharisees,
·                on His knowledge of resurrection by the Sadducees,
·                on His understanding of Torah by the Scribes
No one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.  Matthew 22.46

After Jesus had been proved to be without blemish’,  He  returned to Bethany to dine on Monday evening at the house of Simon the Leper. 

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