The Gospel of Matthew records that following the clearing of the Temple, Jesus continues teaching in the Temple till the end of the day. At this time the chief priests and elders of the Temple came and questioned His authority (Matthew 21:23-27). Having exposed their insincerity and duplicity, Jesus tells three parables that further indict the religious leadership of the time: The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32), The Parable of The Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46), and The Parable of The Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). Threatened by Jesus and their growing loss of credibility, the religious leadership sorely wished that they could arrest Jesus to silence Him. Yet mindful of His popularity and fearful of the reaction of the people, they sought to trap Jesus. Thus begins an exchange that on the one hand confound their attempts and on the other reveal much of the heart of the Gospel. First they attempt to catch Jesus on a point of civil law questioning Him on the rightness of paying Taxes to Caesar. To this Jesus not only confound them with now famous reply "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." (Matthew 22:21). With this reply Jesus also sets the precedent of the Christian's duty to obey earthly governance while honoring Kingdom purposes. This principle will be later reinforced and expanded upon by the Apostles (particularly Paul) in the Epistles. Next, the Sadducees try to trap Jesus on a point of doctrine and Jewish tradition questioning Him on marriage at the resurrection. Once again Jesus answers with a spiritual truth that silences them saying "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." (Matthew 22:29-32) . Undeterred, the Pharisees, traditional rivals of the Sadducees, make their attempt to undermine the authority of Christ by asking Him what the greatest Commandment was. To this Jesus makes His strong reply saying, "‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40). What a marvelous response! One that not only confounds those who sought to trap Him but reveals the very heart of God and His Word. Taking the offensive, Jesus then asks them a question regarding the lineage of Christ causing them to realize that silence is the better option. Seeing that they had no answer, Jesus pronounces "The 7 Woes" (Matthew 23:1-36) and Laments of Jerusalem (Matthew 23: 37-39). Having silenced the religious leadership, Jesus departs the temple and drawing His disciples to Him he begins to teach them concerning the last days. In the 24th Chapter of Matthew, He predicts the Destruction of the Temple (1-2), warns them of "The Signs of the Times and the End of the Age" (3-14), "The Great Tribulation" (15-28), and "The Coming of the Son of Man" (29-31). I urge you to read these Scriptures and ponder them. Do so in a spirit of humility examining yourselves, ask if anything Jesus says applies to you personally, and/or to the church collectively. These are my devotional thoughts following this exercise: Devotion Thought 1 - Who is Christ to you? Does He have authority in your life? As we approach Good Friday and Easter, I make it a point to rededicate myself to his authority. I urge you to join me. Devotion Thought 2 - I have found in my walk with Christ, that there have been moments when I did not fully acknowledge His sovereignty over me. When I read The Parable of the Two Sons, The Parable of The Tenants, and The Parable of The Wedding Banquet, I realize that Jesus was talking about stewardship of His servants. When I understand these parables in this manner, I cannot but help realize that I have, at different times, taken the gifts, talents, opportunities, and materials that He has given me and treated them as though they were my own. As in the Parables of the Two Sons, I have been disobedient, or at the very least resistant, to His calling. As in the Parables of The Tenants, I have, in my pride considered my accomplishments and earnings as mine without acknowledging His ultimate ownership of all that I possess. In adopting this attitude, while I may not have consciously conspired against His authority and claim over all that I am and possess, I have deluded myself and have 'pushed' Him out of the vineyard over which He has given me charge. As in the Parable of the Wedding banquet, I have been deaf to his invitations. As before, I take this time of the year to acknowledge His sovereignty over me, repent of my disobedience, pride, and inattention to His calling. I invite you to do the same. Devotion Thought 3 - When I consider His teaching regarding submission to earthly and heavenly authority I ask myself if I have truly "Rendered unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." Have I truly been able to negotiate being in this world as His child who is not of this world? Devotion Thought 4 - When I read His reply that "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" I rejoice in the sure knowledge that His promise of a brand new life and eternity with Him. Devotion Thought 5 - As I consider the greatest commandment, I am reminded to love Him with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind and to love my neighbor as myself. I am reminded that as I apply the Law of God that it hinges on love and grace and mercy must ever be my watchwords. Devotion Thought 6 - When I read His chastening of the priesthood of Israel, I humble myself and remember that I am that Holy priesthood and carefully reflect upon His words to examine myself. Is there spiritual pride, legalism, and hypocrisy that i have to deal with? Devotion Thought 7 - In the reading of His revelation of the last days, I ask myself if I am ready? Have I been waiting? Have I been watchful? My friends, I have always found this part of the week's devotion to be the most challenging. It has always disturbed me and I am sure it will disturb you as well. Nevertheless, I have found that it is in such brutally honest self assessment that we grow!