A Devotion for the Tuesday of Holy Week

silhouette of cross

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”  24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these thingsMatthew 21:23-27

On Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus went to the temple compound to teach.  That was provocative.  We see no “Gentle Jesus.”  A day earlier he had disrupted the exchange of market money for temple money and the sale of animals for sacrifice right here at the temple mount.  There might as well have been “Wanted” posters everywhere.  And then it got worse.

From parables that clearly painted the Jewish religious leaders as the enemies of God (E.g. the rebel tenant vintners in Matthew 21:33-46) to verbal sparring with those religious leaders that exposed their cynical intentions (E.g. whether to pay taxes to Caesar in Matthew 22:15-22), Jesus’ teaching that day was combative.  It culminated in the screed recorded in Matthew 23, with its recurring invective: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.”

That this day would ramp up the hatred of the religious leaders for Jesus was apparent from the outset – the verses cited above in Matthew 21.  Jesus’ words pushed them into a defensive corner, and they were incensed.

Why did Jesus take this approach?  He was forcing the hand of the Sanhedrin that wanted to kill him.  It would happen as God’s timing intended, at the Passover – where the Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world with his shed blood.

There may be two further answers for Jesus’ bellicose teaching that Tuesday.  By confronting the error and hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, Jesus was issuing a call to repentance.  Perhaps looking into the mirror with which Jesus challenged them would cut through their self-righteous veneer and lead them to see the need for a Savior.  Publicly excoriating these religious leaders served also as a wake-up call for the people gathering in Jerusalem for the Passover.  Jesus exposed the damning falsehood of religion based on human effort to keep religious laws, so they could rejoice in what God would shortly do with the sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners.

There may be times when, like Jesus, we are called upon to challenge error and confront people we care about with their sin and hypocrisy.  The Bible doesn’t ask Christians to be merely “nice.”  But there is a much greater message we have to share, the gospel rooted in the death of Jesus, the death he hastened with his Tuesday teaching.  “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

PRAYER: Thank you, Jesus, for willingly accepting the suffering and death that frees us from the consequences of our sins.  Give us sobered and repentant hearts as we this week follow the way of sorrows which leads to your crucifixion.  When courageous testimony is called for, confirm our faith and provide us words.  When hope and consolation are needed, give us the love you have for the world that we may share your gospel.  In Jesus’ name we ask.  Amen.

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