Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 20, 2015
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him? ’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
— Matthew 21:23-27, ESV
America could not have produced two people who were more alike and more different than Benjamin Franklin and Timothy Leary. Both were revolutionaries, both were intellectuals, both had substantial admirers and followers, and both stood for the principle of questioning authority. It was Franklin who famously said, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority,” while Leary put it more succinctly, “Think for yourself and question authority.”
Of course, Franklin questioned the authority of a British monarchy that excised taxation without representation. He was a patriot and a loyalist to the American colonies, leading them to a necessary independence and a responsible freedom. Leary, on the other hand, was a twentieth century radical who became a criminal and expatriate by advocating disobedience to democratic laws against drugs and the overthrow of religious mores regarding sexuality. Franklin was red, white, and blue, while Leary was sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Both men wanted to be free. Both men questioned authority. One man did it one way, the other another way. The question today is, what is your way?
By this juncture of the Gospel story we all want to boo and hiss upon the arrival of “the chief priests and elders of the people” in this passage. But, they were actually at the right place at the right time doing the right thing. They were questioning authority.
Remember, Jesus had burst into Passover Week riding on a donkey, a clear claim to be the Messiah. Then, He had cleansed the temple by assaulting the money-changers and animal sellers who were acting on the authority of the Jewish priests. Finally, and this may have been the worst part, Jesus was teaching the Bible to the people in the Temple, and He had not even graduated from one of their Bible colleges or seminaries, let alone been ordained in any of their synagogues. Horror of horrors, or so thought the religious rulers.
But what if someone rode a donkey into the middle of one of our church services? What if he took our offering plates and threw them in the air? What if he explained the Scriptures in a way that seemed right, but unlike anything we had ever heard before? The elders of the church would have every right to ask the same question asked by Benjamin Franklin, Tim Leary, and the chief priests: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
It’s alright to question authority. As a matter of fact, it is irresponsible not to. Question, yes, but do not rebel nor follow, reject nor accept, until you have weighed authority’s authority.
Weigh the Answer
Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, diffused this difficult situation by deflecting attention away from Himself and answering a question with a question. He pointed them to His predecessor, John the Baptist, and asked the authorities a question about authority. “The baptism of John” would have been a reference to the entirety of the man and his ministry, by which he prophetically called for repentance from sin and faith in the Savior. That Savior, that lamb of God, was Jesus of Nazareth, according to John.
Where did John get his authority to call certain attitudes and actions sin? Who made him judge? Where did John get his authority to call a poor, country preacher like Jesus the Messiah? Who made him a prophet? Where did John get his authority to call people away from the corruption of the religious rulers of the day and call them to follow the one who claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life? “From where did it come? From heaven or from man?”
“Heaven” was Mathew’s sensitive way of using the name and authority of God. The intention is as plain as the text. If John actually spoke with the authority of God, then Jesus is the authoritative God, in the flesh. If John was merely a self-proclaimed preacher and baptizer, then Jesus’ sacred person and work could be ignored, perhaps even prosecuted. Which is it?
Benjamin Franklin’s answer was that England had usurped America’s God-given rights, and he rebelled. Timothy Leary’s answer was that there is no God, and people ought to have the right to do whatever they please, and he rebelled. What did these Jewish religious rulers do? Did they submit to God and worship Jesus Christ, or did they reject the Lord and kill Him for what He had done?
You know the rest of the story. But in the space and time of this episode, the religious rulers did not answer Jesus’ question. Fair enough I suppose, for He did not answer theirs. But we have a question before us today, a very urgent one. Is Jesus Lord, or was here merely a liar or a lunatic?
Decide What To Do
Indecision is not a decision, but it was the decision made by the indecisive Jewish religious leaders on this occasion. They chose to stay politically correct, to straddle the fence, to play both sides of the isle. Indecision is the majority position of the world today. People largely do not follow and worship Jesus, but they do not overtly deny Him or denigrate Him. They hope Christ and His followers will just go away, keep to their little church buildings, and leave them alone.
A more noble decision on the part of the priests would have been to have Jesus arrested, right there on the spot, in front of God and everybody, for impersonating a prophet, priest, and king. I think it would have been wrong, but at least it would have been honest. They did not believe in Him, so they should have decided and acted accordingly. Let me tip my hat here to honest atheists and adherents of other religions. They may not be going to heaven, but at least they can live their short, unredeemed lives with earthly integrity and creature comforts.
The best decision, by far, is to acknowledge that the prophets of the Old Testament, John the Baptist, the Apostles of the New Testament, and most especially the Lord Jesus Christ, have been sent to us by God. Go ahead, question them, and weigh the evidence of Scripture, history, and experience. You will find them to be true, and then you will have a radical and costly decision to make. And it will change everything.
It will change the way look at church and state. It will change the way you look at parents, teachers, employers, and anyone who has any authority over you at all. It will change the way you look at God. And, it will change the way you look at yourself.
Human beings crave air, food and drink, and rebellion. If you are submerged in water for more than a half minute or so, then in order to live you must rebel against the water and fight to find air. If you haven’t had anything to eat or drink in a few days, then in order to live you must rebel against hunger and thirst and find something to fill your body. If you are in rebellion against God because of indecision, unbelief, and sin, then in order to live you must rebel against rebellion and submit your life to the authority of God, to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to the truth of the Holy Bible, to the fellowship of Christ’s church.
If Jesus is the authoritative Son of God, then He has the right to command you to repent, believe in Him, and obey His word. He has the right to expect you to follow Him in the covenant community of the church, in baptism, communion, and all of the aspects of public and private worship. He has the authority to order you to be a disciple and to go out and make disciples. He takes command of the air you breathe, the food you eat, the places you go, the people you associate with, any and every aspect of your life. You are either a patriot to Jesus, or a rebel against God.
Imagine if the chief priests and elders of the people had decided to follow Jesus on this day. It would have changed everything. But instead they have gone down in history as the men most responsible for the murder of the Lord. Consider what indecision or unbelief will do in your life, and the lives of others you love and influence. Question authority, even God’s. Weigh the evidence. Make a decision. Follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
FIGS, FRAUDS, AND FAITH
St. Francis of Assisi was a true nature lover. He has inspired generations of Christians to be good stewards of God’s green earth, as well we should be. I wonder what he thought of Christ’s actions in this episode, in which He killed an otherwise innocent tree with curse words.
THE JESUS-CLEANSED CHURCH
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 30, 2015
12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
— Matthew 21:12-17, ESV
Many books have been written in my lifetime about the church. Most of the modern ones deal with ways and means to make the church grow, as if the church was a business to be marketed and managed in capitalistic ways. Writers suggest that the best plan for a big church is to be “user friendly” or “seeker sensitive” or “purpose driven” or simply “the church of what’s happening now.” Most of them are long on philosophy and strategy, but short on theology and Scripture.
I have a good friend with a faithful heart who developed an unhealthy obsession with church growth books. Another friend gave him a new book as a gift, a leather-bound beauty with the words “Church Growth Manual” embossed on the front. He opened it up and there it was, a copy of the Holy Bible!
I for one believe that the church should grow. But, it should grow God’s way. And God’s ways are not our ways. They often seem peculiar, paradoxical, even painful. They can be seen in this picture of Christ cleansing the Temple, and can be used for cultivating a Jesus cleansed church.
Jesus Cleansed the Temple
Jesus wanted people to come to the Temple, enjoy the Temple, and gain blessings and benefits from their experience at the Temple. But first, He had to cleanse the Temple.
Jesus removed from the Temple the things, or rather the people, He did not like. That’s right, there are people that God does not like, even hates (ref. Proverbs 6:16-19; Ecclesiastes 3:8; Jeremiah 12:8; Hosea ; Malachi 1:3/Romans ). Jesus even got rough with few of them in this episode and made a big, violent scene. This doesn’t fit with the modern picture of Jesus Christ, which more resembles a grinning, blinking Joel O’Steen than the serious and sometimes stern faced Messiah. What made Jesus so mad?
The Lord was angry at those who were using religion as a means of extorting money from other people, and he literally kicked them out of the Temple area. They had used the most sacred time of the year, the Passover, to play upon people’s emotions and pick their pocketbooks. Those who needed to exchange currency to give offerings and those who needed to purchase animals for sacrifices were price-gouged up to fifty times the regular rate. At least they were not as bad as the pre-reformation peddlers of indulgences, or the modern televangelists, who charge an infinite markup for their services, which are worth zero.
The Lord was angry at those who, in the name of religion, were actually keeping people from learning the truth about God. The money changers in question had set up shop in the sacred courts surrounding the Temple. This space should have been reserved for pilgrims, especially Gentiles, who wanted to watch the festivities of the Passover and learn more about God’s plan of salvation for His people. Imagine having to cancel a communion service because the table was otherwise occupied with items for sale. Imagine the anger in God’s heart when He sees the gospel being compromised and people being kept from grace because of the greed in those who profess to be His people.
God was peeved, to put it politely. He had every right to be. And God, in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ, took out His anger by cleansing the Temple.
Then looked what happened. It became a house of prayer once again. Praise was heard ringing throughout the place. People were healed by the power of God. Jesus cleansed the Temple to make the Temple what it should have been, though it did not last, for the people killed the Temple cleanser. Within a generation, that Temple was destroyed.
Jesus Cleanses the Church
Could there be any similar reasons for God to be as angry at His church? God’s church, collectively and each individual congregation, is today’s temple of God (ref. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians ). Jesus means to keep it clean, and I think we have some things to be concerned about.
We should be concerned about churches who use the church to make money. Creflo Dollar (could he have a more appropriate name?) is using his church to raise millions of dollars to buy himself a jet airplane as part of the lavish lifestyle he lives to lend credibility to his health and wealth false gospel. And he is only one of many minions who use the Bible and the church in this way. We should be concerned about people who join the church, as someone I once knew did, “Because it’s good for business.” We should let Jesus into our church and say, “Clean it out,” if any are tying to use the church as a means of earthly gain.
We should be concerned about churches who use the church to gain political power. Many churches and some entire denominations have become nothing but shills for the Democratic or the Republican parties, taking up “offerings” for some candidates and passing out flyers for others. It is not a sin to be a Democrat or a Republican, but it is a sin to come to church promoting politics over salvation and spiritual guidance. We should let Jesus into our church and say, “Clean it out,” if any of us are here to promote an earthly kingdom rather than the kingdom of God.
We should be concerned about churches who use the church to manipulate people for religious pride and greed. This point is a little more complicated than sheer money or politics, but it strikes to the heart of the matter that angered Jesus in this moment. The money changers were in it for, well, money, and they curried favor with the political party of the high priest. However, the worst thing they did was exploit other people in the name of religion.
People are exploited in churches where they are promised health and wealth for subscribing to, and usually contributing to, the ministry of the preacher. But preachers and churches make other false promises, too. They baptize children so young they cannot even read the Gospels, much less understand the basic ramifications of grace. They cajole teenagers into walking an aisle and “asking Jesus into their heart” after pounding them with loud, emotional music and tickling their ears with a counterfeit, too-easy-to-not-believe, messages. They keep adults in the pews by pitching positive thinking rather than careful, cutting edge, expository preaching. And they do it all for spiritual pride, to draw a bigger crowd than the next church, to collect bigger offerings, and to win the praise of men. We must let Jesus into our church and say, “Clean it out,” if any pastors or members are willing to sell out the true gospel in order to grow the church.
A Jesus cleansed church is a true church, no matter how big or small. Honest prayers are offered and heard. Humble praise is given to God. Right sacraments are offered with clean hands and pure hearts to demonstrate God’s salvation for His people. People are healed from the cancer of sin and rescued from shipwrecked lives, and I do not put it past God to perform other genuine miracles, too. Lord Jesus, clean out your church, as you did the Temple, but begin by cleansing our souls.
Jesus Cleanses the Soul
There was an Old Testament Temple, the church is the New Testament temple, and your body is a temple that houses your everlasting soul (ref. 1 Corinthians ). The Lord cleansed the Temple. The Lord, I pray, is cleansing the church. What is He doing in your soul?
Have you been cleansed, by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is one thing to complain about the sins of the Old Testament Jews, or complain about the professing New Testament Christians, but it is quite another thing to allow the Lord Jesus Christ to walk into your own life and confront you with your own sin. It’s not as simple as “asking Him into your heart,” a concept found nowhere in Scripture. It means confessing, agreeing with God that certain things are sin, and that you are guilty of them. It means repenting, turning away from selfish things and turning your life over to God, completely. It means believing, fully, in a love you don’t deserve and a forgiveness you didn’t earn and a life that will never end, not because of what you have done for God but because of what God has done for you. Have you been cleansed by the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Are you being cleansed, by the Holy Spirit and the holy word of God? Newborn babies breathe and hunger for food. Newborn Christians have the Holy Spirit of God within them and long for the Bible and the things of God. Though we battle with temptation and struggle with sin, we persevere by the power of God. And even though our souls are safe, other souls are at stake and are affected by our character and conduct, good or bad. We need the cleansing of prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other Christians, and the sacred time of church worship. Such foot washings spare us from smelly feet syndrome, which keeps others away from the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Plus, such regular cleansing reminds us of the deep, everlasting love God has for His children. Are you being cleansed by the Spirit, by the word, by the disciplines of the church?
Will you be clean, when you stand before Christ, at the time of your certain death, or at the second coming of the Lord? On that day it will not matter how much money you made in life. It will not matter how powerful you were, politically or otherwise. It will not matter how many other people thought you were beautiful, popular, or successful. The only thing that will really matter when you die is whether or not you have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, upon whether or not you have an ongoing, personal, corporate, saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, let Him in, and not just into your heart. Let Him in, mind, heart, and soul. Let Him in, not just as a Savior from sin, but as the Lord of your life. Let Him in the Temple and let Him clean it out. Then, you will be clean, indeed.
THE RIDE OF HIS LIFE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 30, 2015
1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
— Matthew 21:1-11, ESV
It must have been the ride of His life. He had experienced many highs and lows in His earthly life, the first ninety percent of which was off the radar. But in the past three public years, Jesus of Nazareth had been complimented and criticized for His public speaking ability, praised and cursed for His performance of miracles, almost forced to be king in one town and run out of His very own home town. Perfume and insults had been broken and spilled out all over His head. Some said He might be God, others said they were sure He was of the devil.
On the sunny Sunday of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, however, it was all good. It was like being the newly crowned Miss America walking down the runway, or a coach carried off the field after winning the national championship, or the Santa Clause at the end of the Christmas parade. All eyes were on Him, cheers rang out in His name, He rode head and shoulders above the crowd. It was the ride of Jesus’ life, which in less than a week would end in a fatal crash.
How could such an exalted parade end in a public execution? How could the crowd call Him the Messiah one day, and five days later another crowd would call for His crucifixion? Jesus did things right, all the time. The people did right things, on this day. How did everything so right go so wrong so fast? Perhaps it is because while Jesus can always be trusted, most people cannot.
There are so many things in the Bible, so many things in the Gospels, so many things in Matthew, and so many things in this short passage that make you want to trust in Jesus. Simply put, He is who He says He is and He does what He promises He will do. That’s somebody you should trust.
Jesus is God, for Jesus knows things only God can know. Jesus saw Nathaniel under a fig tree before he ever became a follower, Jesus knew the woman at the well had five husbands before she ever became a worshiper, and Jesus said a man would give Him two donkeys before there ever was a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. God inspired Zechariah to predict it, God inspired Matthew to record it, and God was in Christ displaying His omniscience and humbly riding in on a donkey to save the world from sin.
In this revealing episode, Jesus did not hesitate to refer to Himself as “Lord.” He would affirm that He was the Son of God other occasions. And on every occasion, Jesus of Nazareth proved to be, know, and do things that only God of very God can be, know, and do. You should trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
You should trust in the Savior Jesus Christ. For three years, speculation was rampant that this Jesus from Galilee was a descendant of King David, through Mary and Joseph, and the fulfillment of all of the Old Covenant promises concerning the coming Messiah. Those promises are two-fold, of a suffering servant and a conquering king. The people, glossing over the former and surely focusing on the latter, correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the “Son of David,” and called upon Him for salvation, for “Hosanna in the highest.”
We will try to explore their secret hearts in a moment, but their spoken words were correct. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all biblical prophecy concerning the Messiah. Jesus Christ is the Prophet. Jesus Christ is God incarnate. Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ is Savior. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Trust Christ. Suspect people. God has never let me down, while people mostly have, so perhaps my jaded view affects how I look at Scripture. When I look at the people in this passage, I am not impressed, except with one little scene that is often overlooked.
I am not impressed with the crowd, for crowds tend to be pulled to what is popular. The crowd here was estimated to be anywhere from 200,000 to 2 million (a wide range, but such is the nature of biblical commentaries), but the point is that Passover drew a huge mass to Jerusalem which far exceeded the normal population of the day, which was about the size of Hot Springs. On this day, on the ride of His life, Jesus was trending. I fear most of the crowd did what they did and said what they said simply because Jesus was popular, on that day.
I am not impressed with the crowd, for crowds tend to be fickle, uncommitted, lacking in consistency and integrity. The shouts on Sunday were quite different from the sounds coming from the crowd on the following morning, changing from “save us” to “kill Him.” In an emotional rush, they gave Him the shirts off their backs. Days later, they took the clothes off His back and beat Him to death. Granted, many in the Sunday crowd were Galilean pilgrims who returned home before the three trials of Christ, but my point is that things change with the crowd. How many people in modern times have crowded to a so-called “altar” at a so-called “revival” or “crusade” and “asked Jesus into their heart” to save them, only to completely turn their backs on Him in the ensuing weeks, months, or short years?
I am not impressed with the crowd, meaning most people, for they are so selfish. If you don’t give them what they want, they will turn on you in a New York minute. This crowd wanted a political savior who would lower their taxes and give them liberal freedoms. Jesus spoke of the seriousness of sin, the necessity of repentance, and faith in the work He came to finish on the cross. This is a message that the average person in the crowd, then and now, do not want want to hear. The stumbling block of the cross and the cost of the true gospel explain why the ride of His life when downhill so fast.
“Hosanna” is a particularly haunting word heard in this parade. It is a cry for salvation by propitiation, by turning something profoundly bad into an eternal good. Rome provided bad government for Israel. The Jews wanted good government brought in by a miracle-giving messiah. But even good government is earthly, temporary. Jesus, on the ride of His life, had something greater on His mind. He offered propitiation from sin, the staying of God’s wrath for mercy, forgiveness and everlasting life. Did anybody understand?
Walk with the Disciples
While most of the crowd got it insincerely wrong on this day, there were a precious few impolitically correct few that got it right. You almost don’t notice them as the story seems to quickly pass them by. But they are there, and there is where you want to be.
Two unnamed disciples, first mentioned in the first verse, did something outstanding in verse six: “The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.” Obedience can be separate from faith, but saving faith cannot be separate from obedience. Pharisees obey but do not believe. Hypocrites say they believe but do not obey. True disciples trust and obey, for there really is no other way.
I do not know how many true believers there were at this stage of the greatest story ever told, and I cannot tell what they truly believed. I suspect it was not many and not much. But faith is acting and obeying on what you do believe to be true. True disciples believe Jesus is who He said He is and will do what He has promised to do and, therefore, do what He says to do, even when it does not make perfect sense, like swiping a couple of donkeys from a local neighborhood.
The true disciples here did not cheer Jesus because He was popular at the moment. The true disciples had yet to witness the crucifixion and resurrection, nor had they yet formed a fully-orbed theology of the Trinity. They simply had faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, they confessed Him and obeyed Him, albeit imperfectly, and did not change their minds for the rest of their lives. This is who I want to walk with for the rest of mine.
This was the ride of His life, at the time. Yet the real thrill would come after the Passover, after the passion, after the pain, after the death, even death on a cross. Jesus rose again, riding up from the grave, in and around Judea and Galilee for forty or so days, then rode up to Heaven with an angelic escort. One day the Lord will come again, riding on the apocalyptic white horse, and true disciples will rise, ride, and reign with Him. Trust Jesus, no matter what other people do, and this could be the ride of your life.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org