Last week, we started to look at Jesus having brunch. Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to speak to a group over the morning meal. We don’t know if the Pharisee was sincere in wanting to know what Jesus was teaching. Maybe he was. Maybe he wanted to appear superior in front of the other Pharisees. Perhaps by showing off his knowledge in asking clever questions of the wandering country bumpkin from Galilee. Perhaps it was a trap to get Jesus to say something that would get him into trouble.
We saw last week how Jesus managed to upset them the moment he say down without washing his hands first. By the time we get to verse 47 the Pharisees are getting rather uncomfortable. Jesus is warning them of the sorrow that awaits them, although they think themselves the most holy of all Jewish people. They see only honour and glory in the future for themselves, not sorrow. We look at them today and wonder how they could have been so blind, but we are ourselves in grave danger of being blind. We need Jesus to speak bluntly to us and show us the sorrow that awaits us if we don’t change.
God shows us these things because he is warning us. He warns us because he can prevent the sorrow. He can prevent the sorrow if we listen to him, and obey what he says.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are like the people of old who killed God’s prophets.
Ancient Judaism emphasised more often than the Old Testament that Israel had martyred the prophets sent by God. The Jewish community of that time built tombs in memory of these people. The erected monuments for killed prophets and for servants of God who weren’t killed, such as King David and Huldah. According to Rabbinic interpretation, Huldah and Deborah were the principal woman prophets.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that they have as much blame as the people actually who killed the prophets. He says, “your ancestors … killed the prophets, and you join in their crime by building the monuments!”
Like father, like son. He is saying that corporate guilt and sin continue among the descendants of wicked people, unless they specifically repent. An example of this is Exodus 20:5. “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”
This happened to King David himself. We read in 2 Samuel 21 that there was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years. David asked the Lord about it and the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”
The sins of my nation and my forefathers do have consequences in my life. I do need to repent for things I didn’t do. We all need to repent for our pasts, and for the sins of our nation, our people, our ancestors. If we don’t, we can inherit their punishment. What sorrow awaits us.
“As a result, this generation will be held responsible for the murder of all God’s prophets from the creation of the world—from the murder of Abel to the murder of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, it will certainly be charged against this generation.”
The name for this is ‘bloodguilt’. It is a very serious matter as mentioned in Deuteronomy 21. Bloodguilt affects not only the individual directly responsible, but the whole community. It’s another example of how God sees us as a body, a family, not as individuals separate from each other. When one of us sins, the whole fellowship suffers.
The Pharisees listening to Jesus were very aware of this. Many of them would have believed that fully anointed prophets had ceased hundreds of years earlier, and would not return until the end of the age. They would have believed that only God could avenge the bloodguilt.
According to Jewish tradition, a fountain of blood appeared in the temple after the last martyr was killed. Abel was the first martyr, and the last was Zechariah. Their tradition said that even the killing of thousands of priests couldn’t appease the fountain of blood. This fountain of blood was flowing from where Zechariah was killed in the holiest place on earth after the holy of holies. The blood of Zechariah cried out for vengeance. 2 Chronicles 24:22 – Zechariah’s last words as he died were, “May the Lord see what they are doing and avenge my death!”
Abel’s blood cried out from the ground in Genesis 4:10.
In this context, for Jesus to say that this generation was going be held responsible for the murder of all God’s prophets was huge. Jesus was warning the Jewish people of unimaginable horrors. He was telling his audience that their generation would experience bloodshed at a level beyond any of their worst fears. The sorrow was coming because of the terrible sins of their ancestors from Cain until that day.
The only way to escape such a disaster is to repent. Some people struggle with the idea that they have to repent for things they did not do. It seems especially hard when Jesus appears to be saying that each one of us needs to repent all the way back to Cain. You need to repent for all of your ancestors. I need to repent for all of my ancestors. I don’t think this means that you have to know each one by name and repent specifically. Jesus never said that.
When you have invited a guest to share his theology with you, you might be shocked when he warns you in such dramatic fashion of what is coming. It can be very upsetting and perhaps it might seem unfair when you have been trying to live a holy life.
Jesus is not finished yet. He now turns from the religious leaders to the lawyers.
It is to be supposed that an expert in the law would increase people’s knowledge of the law.
For Jesus to accuse them of making it harder to understand was a serious charge.
All of their complicated and detailed explanations actually hid the simple meaning of God’s message to the people, he said.
Jesus says they have taken away the key. The door is locked. What door is this that needs a key of knowledge? It is the door to know God. It is the door through which people are able to enter into the Kingdom of God. Jesus accuses the experts in religious law of actually removing the key by which people could enter God’s kingdom.
They won’t enter themselves, which is bad enough. But they actively keep others out. Instead of the key to heaven, they give people heavy burdens to carry. The people are weighed down with useless laws and regulations while the key to the Kingdom of God is hidden.
Jesus has now made them Pharisees very angry, indeed hostile. Jesus has unmasked them. He has exposed them in front of the people. Instead of repenting and admitting their sins, they attack the Messiah and try to defend themselves. They tried to provoke Jesus into saying something they could use against him.
The truth of God’s kingdom is not complicated. Rules made by men are not important. Jesus shows us around this table that matters of character are important. Being holy and true is important. Pure hearts are important. Humility is important.
When you are standing for God’s Kingdom and speaking the truth in love, people will attack you and seek all manner of ways to make you look bad. Keep on loving and speaking the truth in love. Keep on spreading the Good News of the kingdom and never respond to their taunts. Jesus didn’t react. He didn’t defend himself. He didn’t get into personal attacks. Jesus just spoke the simple truth and pointed out sin so that people could be set free. He always did it with love. Jesus wanted them to repent and be saved. Jesus still wants these kinds of wicked people to come into his kingdom.