Leading question: “It’s one thing to be given a robe, but to be harshly punished for not having the a robe? Why?”
Theme: Strong salvation, strong punishment
Key passages: Matthew 21 – 22
Comment: No one tampered with the God of Sinai. Before he thundered the ten commandments from the mountain, he gave strict orders to the people: “Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live” (Exod. 19:12-13, NRSV).
By contrast, when God took human flesh in Jesus, he gathered the little children into his arms and blessed them (Mark 10:13). This gentle Jesus could get angry, too, but in an extraordinary way, for when Jesus got angry, evil people fled but the children came running (see Matthew 21:12-17).
Another sobering aspect of Jesus’ life and teachings involved the strong endings to many of his stories. In this week’s lesson we focus on two such stories, the parable of the wicked tenants and the parable of the wedding banquet.
The Wicked Tenants: Matthew 21:33-46.
Questions: Why did Jesus allow his listeners to finish the “punishment” aspect of the story? If Jesus had supplied the punch line, would his conclusion have been different? What does this story tell us about God’s use of the heavy hand? What does it tell us about our use of the heavy hand?
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet: Matthew 22:1-14.
Questions: Twice in the story of the wedding banquet, “God” resorts to the heavy hand. When the original guests slighted the invitation, indeed, abused and killed the king’s messengers, the king was enraged: “He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Mat 22:7). Then when a guest didn’t wear the “official” attire so graciously provided by the king, the king ordered: “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat 22:13). Why would Jesus tell such violent stories when he personally was so gentle with people? Can stories provide the heavy hand that some people need? Or should we use only “nice” stories in our witness for God? Is the church too gentle or too harsh in its witness today? How does one decide whether to be harsh or gentle? Can one establish an ideal, but allow for exceptions? Note the Ellen White counsels to A. T. Jones (and others like him) who were inclined to be heavy hitters:
The Lord wants His people to follow other methods than that of condemning wrong, even though the condemnation be just. He wants us to do something more than to hurl at our adversaries charges that only drive them further from the truth. The work which Christ came to do in our world was not to erect barriers and constantly thrust upon the people the fact that they were wrong. (121/122)
He who expects to enlighten a deceived people must come near to them and labor for them in love. He must become a center of holy influence. – Testimonies 6:121-22
The influence of your teaching would be tenfold greater if you were careful of your words. Words that should be a savor of life unto life may by the spirit which accompanies them be made a savor of death unto death. And remember that if by your spirit or your words you close the door to even one soul, that soul will confront you in the judgment.
Do not, when referring to the Testimonies, feel it your duty to drive them home. In reading the Testimonies be sure not to mix in your filling of words, for this makes [122/123] it impossible for the hearers to distinguish between the word of the Lord to them and your words. Be sure that you do not make the word of the Lord offensive. We long to see reforms, and because we do not see that which we desire, an evil spirit is too often allowed to cast drops of gall into our cup, and thus others are embittered. By our ill-advised words their spirit is chafed, and they are stirred to rebellion.
Every sermon you preach, every article you write, may be all true; but one drop of gall in it will be poison to the hearer or the reader.Because of that drop of poison, one will discard all your good and acceptable words. Another will feed on the poison; for he loves such harsh words; he follows your example, and talks just as you talk. Thus the evil is multiplied.
Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will supply the force and the power. That is His work. – Testimonies 6:122-23