Tax Collectors & Prostitutes

As Jesus was teaching in the temple in Jerusalem (164), the chief priests and the elders came to him and asked, “What right do you have to do these things you’ve been doing? And who gave you this right?”

Jesus replied, “Answer me one question, and I will tell you what right I have to do these things. Where did John’s right to baptize come from?  Was it from God or from man?”

The religious leaders talked among themselves: “If we say, ‘From God,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe John?’  But if we say, ‘From man,’ the people will condemn us because they are all convinced that John was a prophet.”

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” And he said to them, “Since you have not answered me, I will not answer you.

“But consider this.  Once there was a man who had two sons. He went to the older of them and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ ‘I can’t do it today,’ his son answered, but later that day he made the time & did the work.

“Meanwhile, the father went to the younger of them and said the same thing.  ‘Yes, sir, I’ll do it today’ his son answered, but he actually never got around to it. So which of the two sons did what his father wanted?” “The older one,” they answered immediately.

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you see that tax collectors & prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you?

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“John the Baptizer showed you the right path to take into God’s kingdom, but you wouldn’t believe him.  Yet tax collectors & prostitutes did believe him.

“And even when you saw their faith, you refused to change your minds & believe!”

 

(164) Matthew 21:23-32, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8

Faith & Forgiveness

The next day, as they were coming back into Jerusalem from Bethany, Jesus was hungry (163). Seeing a fig tree covered with leaves, he went closer to see if he could find any figs on it. But when he came to it, he found only leaves, because figs were not yet in season. Jesus said to the fig tree, “No one shall ever eat figs from you again!” And his students heard him.

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When they arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple and began to drive out all those who were buying & selling. He overturned the stands of those who sold pigeons & other animals for sacrifice, and he overturned the tables of the money changers.  Then Jesus exclaimed before all the people: “God has said in the inspired scriptures: ‘My temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you keep on turning it into a marketplace!”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law were extremely angry when they heard of this; they began looking more intently for some way to kill Jesus. But they were a little afraid of him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

When evening came, Jesus and his students again left the city. Early next morning, as they walked along the road, they saw the fig tree – completely dead. Peter exclaimed, “Teacher, the fig tree you cursed has died!”

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Jesus told them, “Have faith in God!  When you have faith in God, you can even tell this mountain to get up & throw itself in the sea, and it will happen.

“Whenever you pray for something with faith in God, then it’s as good as done.

“But, when you pray, you must be sure to forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive you.

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“If you don’t forgive other people, God won’t forgive you.”

 

(163) Matthew 21:12-22, Mark 11:12-26, Luke 19:41-48

Welcome To Jerusalem!

As Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, he sent two of the students ahead with these instructions (162): “Go to the next village where you will find a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If someone asks you why you are untying it, tell him that your master needs it.”

The two went on their way and found everything just as Jesus had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying it?” “Our master needs it,” they answered, and then they were able to take the colt to Jesus. And throwing their cloaks over the animal, they helped Jesus get on.

(All this was to fulfill what had been prophesied in the inspired scriptures: “Do not be afraid, city of Zion! Here comes your king, riding on a young donkey.” His students didn’t get the connection between the prophecy & the fulfillment at that time.  But after Jesus had risen from death, then they got the connection.)

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Large crowds had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.  When the word got around that Jesus was coming, too, the whole city was thrown into a mild uproar. “Who is he?” some of the people asked. “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee,” they were told.

Those who had been with Jesus when he raised Lazarus from death had been telling everyone about it.  When they heard that he had performed this miracle, many people flocked to see Jesus. They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Praise God! May God bless the man who comes in his name! May God bless the new king of Israel!”

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Then some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke anxiously to Jesus: “Teacher, command these people to stop saying such dangerous things!” Jesus answered, “If the people keep quiet, then the stones themselves will start shouting about me.”   In frustration, the Pharisees then said to one another, “We’re not having any luck stopping this guy. The whole world is following him!”

In Jerusalem, Jesus went into the temple & looked around at everything.  He noticed that the merchants were back — selling cattle, sheep & pigeons, which Jewish law required the worshipers to sacrifice as part of the Passover Festival.  Jesus also noticed that the money changers were back — selling the worshipers special “temple money” at unfair exchange rates.

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But since it was already late in the day, he went back out to Bethany with the twelve chosen witnesses.

 

(162) Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40, John 12:12-19

When The King Comes Back

Although many people were puzzling over the incident with Zacchaeus, they still followed Jesus as he walked along, because they expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman occupation forces & re-establish Israel as the independent kingdom of God on earth.  Knowing this, Jesus continued teaching with another story (161).

Jesus began, “Once there was a nobleman who was going to a country far away to be installed as king of his homeland, after which he planned to return there to rule. Before he left, he called in his ten servants, gave them each a gold coin, and told them, ‘See what you can earn with this while I am gone.’

“Many people in his homeland hated this particular nobleman, so they lobbied against his being installed as their king.  But their efforts didn’t succeed.  The nobleman was installed as king, after which he returned to his homeland.

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“At once he ordered his ten servants to appear before him, in order to find out what they had accomplished for his kingdom. The first one came and said, ‘Sir, I have earned ten gold coins with the one you gave me.’  ‘Well done,’ said the newly-installed king; ‘you’re a good servant. Since you were faithful in these small matters, I am appointing you ruler of ten cities in my kingdom.’

“Then the second servant came and said, ‘Sir, I have earned five gold coins with the one you gave me.’   Again the king was pleased, so he told his servant, ‘You will be in charge of five cities in my kingdom.’

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“But a third servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it hidden, because I was afraid of losing it.’ Then the king said to him angrily, ‘You should at least have put my money in the bank, so it could have earned a little interest for my kingdom!’

“Then the king ordered his officials: ‘Take the gold coin away from him and give it to the servant who has ten coins.’ Some of the officials questioned this: ‘Sir, he already has ten coins.’

“The king responded with three decrees:  ‘Every servant of mine, who works faithfully to increase my kingdom, will be given more responsibility in my kingdom.

‘And every servant of mine, who does nothing to increase my kingdom, will lose whatever responsibility he has had.

‘But all those people, who resisted my even becoming king, must now forfeit their lives & be removed from my presence forever.'”

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(161) Luke 19:11-27

Saved From Money

In Jericho, Jesus had one final encounter (160).  Zacchaeus, a wealthy chief tax collector there, wanted to see Jesus.  But he was a short man & couldn’t get a good look at Jesus over the crowd. So Zacchaeus ran on ahead & climbed a sycamore tree, still hoping to see Jesus when he passed by.

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When Jesus came by, he looked up into the tree & said, “Come on down, Zacchaeus.  I’m going to visit your home today.” Zacchaeus hurried down the tree & welcomed Jesus with great joy.

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The people in the crowd hated tax collectors, so when they saw this they started grumbling: “How can Jesus go as a guest to the home of a sinner like Zacchaeus?”

But Zacchaeus stood up & said to Jesus, “Listen, sir, I will give half my belongings to the poor.  And if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much.”

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Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Salvation has come to your house today.  I have come to seek & save lost descendants of Abraham, just like you.”

 

(160) Luke 19:1-10

Blind Faith

When Jesus and his students were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed them (159).

Two blind beggars were sitting by the road & heard that Jesus was passing by; one of them was named Bartimaeus.  The two blind men began to shout, “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on us, sir!”

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People in the crowd scolded them & told them to shut up. But they shouted even more loudly, “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on us, sir!”

Jesus stopped and called for them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked them when they were brought to him. “Sir,” they answered, “we want you to restore our sight.”

Jesus had compassion for them; he touched their eyes & at once they were able to see.

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He said to them, “Your faith in God has made you well.”

Then they, too, began following Jesus.  And when they saw all this, many more people began praising God.

 

(159) Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43

How To Lead People To God

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem (158).  Along the way, he took his twelve chosen witnesses away from the crowds & spoke to them privately.

“When we go up to Jerusalem, I’ll be arrested by the chief priests & the teachers of the law, who will arrange for me to be condemned to death.  After the Roman soldiers have made fun of me & tortured me, I’ll be executed by crucifixion.  But three days later I will rise from the grave & live again.”

The chosen witnesses didn’t really understand what Jesus meant, and they were a little afraid to understand, so they didn’t ask him to explain.

But then the wife of Zebedee came to Jesus with her two sons, James & John.  She bowed before Jesus & asked him for a favor: “Promise me that my sons will sit on your right & on your left when you are king.”  “You don’t really understand what you’re asking,” Jesus said to her.

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Then he asked James & John, “Do you believe that you can drink the cup of suffering that I am about to drink?” “Yes, we can,” they answered. “And so you will,” Jesus told them.

“But I don’t have the right to choose who will sit by my side. God has already prepared those who will sit on my right & on my left.”

Hearing all this, the other ten chosen witnesses became angry with James & John.  So Jesus called all twelve together and said, “You know that worldly leaders exercise power & authority over the people under them.  But this is not the way I intend for you to lead people to God.

If you want to lead people to God you must be their servant, just as I have been.  I didn’t come to be served.  I came to serve — even to sacrifice my life — in order to rescue many people from themselves.”

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(158) Matthew 20:17-28, Mark 10:32-45, Luke 18:31-34