Who Do You Think You Are?
Good morning! It is good again to be with you this morning as we look into God’s word. If you’re new to River City, we are going through the gospel of Luke verse by verse, chapter by chapter, trying to take in the whole story of who Jesus is, what he did, how he lived, and all of that.
- Act 1 was Jesus’ birth with all that went into that.
- Act 2 was his early ministry
- Act 3 was his final journey to Jerusalem, inviting his students, his disciples to be part of his ministry. Last week, we saw Jesus' trip to Jerusalem finally come to an end, as he crossed the Mt of Olives which is right outside of the city, riding on a borrowed donkey, with the crowds singing his praises, celebrating him as the king who (at least in some of their minds) was going to bring the kingdom to bear immediately, and set up his throne over the next several days during the Passover festival.
Yet Jesus himself is found openly weeping at what Jerusalem has become, knowing the judgment that will come on this city as a result of not turning toward the very person who can bring them peace and bring them into a kingdom that cannot be shaken. So what happens next?
Mark’s gospel tells us that after weeping at the sight of Jerusalem, Jesus went on into the city and headed straight for the temple. Mark tells us that Jesus took a look around at everything that was happening there, then turned around and headed back out of the city, back over the Mt of Olives to the little village of Bethany where he planned to spend the night with the 12 apostles, his inner circle.
John's gospel tells us that at some point here, either later that night or early the next morning, Jesus rounded up the materials he needed to make a whip, and then took time to braid leather strings together and maybe practice a few times before heading into the city, back to the temple again. Jesus knew what his plans for the day were going to be.
And so begins Act 4… Holy Week as it’s come to be known.
As we’ve talked about before, the crowd traveling with Jesus is going to Jerusalem for the The Passover Festival, one of 3 major Jewish holidays that requires travel from your hometown to Jerusalem to make sacrifices and bring an offering to the Lord. Some folks were traveling from pretty far away, so they expected they could purchase sacrificial animals at the temple.
So the fact that the Jewish leaders are selling animals isn’t the problem. The problem that Jesus saw the night before had to do with the heart behind how things were being done. Luke doesn’t go further into detail, other than to say, Jesus went into the temple, verse 45, and began to throw out those who were selling.
Maybe you’re tempted to think that Jesus is losing his mind here. That he’s flying off the handle, red-faced with rage. You might have grown up with a dad or a mom who would lose it like that, and that’s where your mind goes. I once had a boss who acted like that from time to time, throwing or kicking things in a rage.
That’s why I think Mark and John’s gospels help add some color to this. Jesus actually went back outside of the city and slept on his anger, like Psalm 4:4 tells us to. Then he got up and made a whip. This was premeditated for sure, but it wasn’t reckless. It was controlled and calculated.
APPLY: One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit – one of the markers that God is sanctifying you and making you more like Jesus – is self-control. CS Lewis once said something to the effect of, “How a person responds to an interruption tells you who you really are.” Self-control is one of the ways the Holy Spirit enables us to be angry, tired, weak, passionate, and yet not need to sin.
And then, in one sentence, Jesus exposes the whole operation, by quoting two Old Testament passages the chief priests and scribes would have known very well, in verse 46 and he said, “It is written, my house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!”
First, the term “house of prayer” comes from Isaiah 56:
Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-7: This is what the Lord says: Preserve justice and do what is right, for my salvation is coming soon, and my righteousness will be revealed. 2 Happy is the person who does this, the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. [Anyone] 6 who join[s] themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to become his servants — all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold firmly to my covenant — 7 I will bring them to my holy mountain and let them rejoice in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
That was the intention for the temple. It was meant to be a place of prayer, a place of connection between earth and heaven; between humans from all nations and God, a place for God’s people to minister to him, to love him and call on his name. But what Jesus saw the night before is that a house of prayer wasn’t a very accurate description of the temple anymore. That’s the effect of the second prophecy Jesus quotes from Jeremiah 7:
Jeremiah 7:3-7 “‘This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: Correct your ways and your actions, and I will allow you to live in this place. 4 Do not trust deceitful words, chanting, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” 5 Instead, if you really correct your ways and your actions, if you act justly toward one another, 6 if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow and no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow other gods, bringing harm on yourselves, 7 I will allow you to live in this place, the land I gave to your ancestors long ago and forever.
So repentance was on the table all along. God’s hand was outstretched to the leaders of Israel the whole time. The promise was: Simply repent of oppressing foreigners, orphans and widows, and worshiping other gods, turn and do what’s right and it’ll go well. But, as we said last week, they rejected anything like this. God wasn’t done…
8 But look, you keep trusting in deceitful words that cannot help. 9 “ ‘Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? 10 Then do you come and stand before me in this house that bears my name and say, “We are rescued, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts”? 11 Has this house, which bears my name, become a den of robbers in your view? Yes, I too have seen it. This is the Lord’s declaration.
So there is the reference to the den of robbers or thieves, right? You steal, murder, commit adultery, lie about your neighbors, worship other gods, and then you show up here on the Sabbath day and offer sacrifices to wipe the slate clean so you can do it all again next week. And here is how the rest of Jeremiah’s prophecy goes:
13 Now, because you have done all these things — this is the Lord’s declaration — and because I have spoken to you time and time again but you wouldn’t listen, and I have called to you, but you wouldn’t answer…15 I will banish you from my presence…’
In the next couple of verses there, God even tells Jeremiah “Don’t even bother praying for them. Don’t try to intercede for them. It’s over. I’ve had enough. Time is up.”
These religious leaders would have assumed that Isaiah and Jeremiah’s prophecies had already come to pass during Israel’s exile 600 years earlier, but here Jesus is recalling Israel’s sin again, saying “YOU’RE STILL DOING THE SAME THING!” And the same judgment is coming for you!
And how did the leaders respond to that? 47 The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people were looking for a way to kill him, 48 but they could not find a way to do it, because all the people were captivated by what they heard.
Luke wants you to see who is who here. The religious leaders are looking for a way to kill Jesus. He just won’t let them off the hook. But the people, the crowd that came with Jesus, and those in Jerusalem, are hanging on his every word. The religious want him gone, out of the picture for good, but the people, the crowds, want more.
You see it again at the beginning of chapter 20: One day as he was teaching the people in the temple and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the scribes, with the elders, came 2 and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority? ”
What gives you the right to act like this? “The scribes had authority. They had studied with rabbis. They had all the qualifications they needed to be qualified public teachers of the law. The priests had authority. They had inherited the position of priest all the way back to their forefathers Aaron and Levi. The elders had authority. Their age and experience had gained them leadership in the social and economic affairs of the community. These three groups of Jewish leaders knew that Jesus had no formal training with the rabbis, no priestly lineage, and no experience of the elders” (Butler, 322).
You come barging into our temple and make a mess, now you’re doing our job of teaching the people. What gives you the right to do this? Who told you this was ok?
Now what could Jesus’ answer have been? He could have said like he did at age 12 back in chapter 2, this is my Father’s house. I’m here on the authority of my dad. That’s my name on the mailbox. But, verse 3, He answered them, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, 4 was the baptism of John from heaven or of human origin? ”
Back in Luke 3, John called the nation of Israel to repentance and announced someone greater was coming soon. Jesus’ question is: So where did he get the authority to do that? From God’s word? Was he a prophet delivering a message from God? Or did he have a boss telling him what to say, and he was just some loose cannon out in the wilderness? When he prophesied someone greater is here… how did he know that? Who told him to say that?
5 They discussed it among themselves: (that’s your first clue there is something going on here, right? They huddle up and say, “how are we going to answer this?”) If they were to suddenly say “John was from heaven”, they would have to a) repent like John said, and b) acknowledge Jesus as the greater one John talked about (Bock, 1586), so they can’t do that. But they also can’t say John was just a random guy in the wilderness when all of the people believed John was actually a prophet.
What’s really noticeable here is that they are afraid of the people. They would rather take their chances with God than to take their chances with the crowd.
Apply: We do that too sometimes, don’t we? At least I do. Sometimes I care more about what others think about me than what God says to be true. Sometimes I care more about how you all see me or respond to me than about how God sees me. Why do we do that? What do we think we will gain? Or maybe a better way to ask it is “what are we afraid we will lose?”
These religious leaders have enjoyed some privilege that comes with being voices of authority at the temple, and they don’t really want to lose that. So they are caught in a conundrum. We either admit we have rejected God, or the people reject us. Hmm. There’s no way out of this. So…We don’t know.
Jesus is way nicer than me. I would have said, “Oh really!?! You mean, you can discern all the history of scripture, master 613 laws of Moses plus all the ones you add… you are able to discern the tiniest scratch of unholiness in someone’s life, but when someone comes preaching repentance for sin, you can’t tell if he’s a prophet or not???” (cf Bock, 1588). Where do you get your authority!?!
But Jesus is nicer than that. He simply says, okay, well, if you can’t figure John’s authority out, then I won’t answer your question about mine either. Then turning to the crowd who was listening in on all this, Jesus began to illustrate with a story.
9 … “A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and went away for a long time.
By mentioning a vineyard, Jesus uses biblical imagery that the scribes would have immediately recognized. Isaiah 5:
… The one I love had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it and even dug out a winepress there. He expected it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless grapes. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of Armies is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, the plant he delighted in. He expected justice but saw injustice; he expected righteousness but heard cries of despair.
Jesus’ parable of the owner of a vineyard is meant to take the religious leaders right to that passage. So in the story, the farmer plants a vineyard and goes away. When harvest time came, he sent one of his servants who was with him in the far away land to go home, grab some fruit, and come back. The owner wanted some return on his vineyard.
However, as you can see in verses 10-12 – the farmers beat that servant, treated the second one shamefully, and wounded the third… and sent no grapes with any of them.
13 “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What should I do? (They clearly don’t respect my servants)… I will send my beloved son (who carries all of my authority). Perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 “But when the tenant farmers saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, so that the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
The farmers discussion here involves two parts:
- Kill the Son: [The religious leaders faced all kinds of evidence of Jesus being God’s son: Old Testament prophecies, the testimony of John the Baptist, the claims of Jesus Himself, the miraculous works. If you read the gospel of John, deep down within, they had a sense that Jesus really was the Messiah; but sin or greed for position, reputation, power, and security kept them from acknowledging Him. It’s not like “oops, we accidentally killed the Son of God!” Their unbelief was on purpose.
- Take over the inheritance (Bock, 1600). The farmers planned to grab His inheritance. Man always wants to have the kingdom, the nation, the property, the power, the rule, the reign, the position, the reputation, the fame, the recognition, the wealth. Whatever the possession is, sinful human nature is that we always want it for ourselves. People will deny, deceive, lie, cheat, steal, and even kill to get what they want. When you read that kind of thing on the news, or you see it rise up in yourself, or in your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews– it’s a grab for the inheritance. We don’t like being the servants – we’d rather be the king, right?
And these farmers succeeded in their efforts to kill the son. They committed the worst crime of human history: they killed the Son of God Himself. But note two things: (1) Jesus was predicting His death. He’s letting the religious leaders know he’s onto their scheme, and (2) His death was going to be a voluntary act on His part. He knew death lay ahead and could have escaped, but He chose to die, because it was the divine plan all along] (LMW, 402).
And somehow, the farmers reasoned that even if they got rid of the Son, the owner would still give them the inheritance. It makes no sense, right? Why would the owner give them the vineyard after they killed his son and beat up all of his servants?
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those farmers and give the vineyard to others.”
The people listening to the story are shocked. Give the vineyard to others? Who? When? How? No, no, no, no, no. God can’t take away our nation. You’re supposed to take away the Romans! God can’t take away our authority – you’re supposed to break the authority of Rome and give us more. He can’t give authority to someone less qualified than these scribes and teachers! You can’t give our temple to some other nation or worse – give it to Gentiles!
17 But he looked at them and said,“Then what is the meaning of this Scripture: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?”
“Israel’s leaders were supposed to be builders of God’s kingdom, equipping God’s people to carry out his mission. They were the ones who were given charge over the scriptures – people didn’t have multiple copies of it like you and I do, they had to trust their leaders to be able to read it, teach it, and explain it to them – they were meant to carry forward the promises of Abraham, the heart of God in the Law, helping the vulnerable and weak.
God sent prophets to warn them: they beat them up. He sent his own Son to them, but they rejected and killed him. Now what would happen? God would take Christ, the one they rejected and killed, and establish a whole new building on him. God’s vineyard would no longer be in the hands of authorities who were trained by rabbis or authorities based on racial or priestly heredity, or authorities based on leadership experience among the Jews. The new authority would be directly from God through his Son Jesus. On Jesus he would raise the walls of his church. The temple would be destroyed. Gentiles would become part of God’s people built on Christ” (Butler, 334).
1 Peter 2 talks about this moment as he describes this new building, the global Church: He says the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, they were the “way-preparers.” They laid the groundwork. Then, Jesus, a living stone rejected by people but chosen and honored by God, is set in place – crucified, dead, buried, raised again – the prophets pointed to it, the apostles explained it. Then, 1 Peter 2 says, you yourselves, each one of you who have come to Jesus and placed your faith and trust in him, you too are living stones that make up the walls of the new house of God.
This school isn’t the house of God. Even if we had our own building, it wouldn’t be the house of God. That same passage goes on to say that YOU who trust Jesus are now the house of God, AND you are part of the holy priesthood, too. So if you are in Christ, there is no need to go to someone who has more access to the Father than you; No one you need to pray to who can then connect the switchboard to get you in touch with the Father, or pass on your requests.
You now ARE the house of God; and you now have direct access to the Father thru the great high priest which is Jesus, and it is your job as a priest to rid yourselves, 1 Peter 2:1, of anger, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, and to desire the word of God like a newborn desires milk, and to grow up into what you already are in Christ!
Your job as priest is to present spiritual sacrifices to God - serving your family, your neighbors, your church, working with integrity, walking responsibly with your relationships – And what makes these things acceptable to God is not because you got your act together, but because your works have been purified and cleansed and perfected by the perfect sacrificial blood of Jesus! There is no need for a cloud to show up and let us know God is in the building – his Holy Spirit is the cloud that now fills and indwells everyone who believes, and while that HS doesn’t immediately make us perfect, his presence is our guarantee that we are on the way, and the power that drives us.
And Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16 is that this building, as long as it is built on the cornerstone of Jesus, will never come down. It’ll never be overrun by corrupt pastors; it’ll never be overrun by other false doctrines; not even hell itself can roll in and destroy the true Church that is built by and on the person and work of Jesus.
Church – In Christ, you are no longer just a bunch of sinners who can’t get seem to get it right, even though we still wrestle with our flesh, the world, and the devil. You who once were filled with lust and envy and anger and pride are now, in Christ, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you have not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
You are living stones that make up the house of God, the presence of God, and the work you do as a priest, is to use the skills, the time, the finances God has given you to help other people get in the door.
You have the option – you receive that position with joy and gratitude, and live the rest of your life under the authority of Jesus, learning from him to do what he did; or you throw it all out the window like the religious leaders, do your best to live Your Best Life Now, and find yourself in the same place as these leaders, facing the wrath of God. You don’t need to be there. Submit to Christ today if you haven’t done that already. Call out to him.
- Lord, thank you for loving me, even though I don’t get it right sometimes.
- Lord, what have you put in my hands right now that are tools you’ve given me to serve others?
- Lord, fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we are bold in our witness.
Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)
Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000)
Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The Gospel according to Luke, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1996), 402.