If you have listened or read much of Tim Keller, you know that he does a great job of reminding us how the gospel is different from self-righteous religion and from irreligion. I find this to be a helpful contrast to keep in mind as I read through the Scriptures and think about the Christian Faith.
This contrast made itself know as I worked on my sermon prep for Matthew 21:28-22:14, which I preached at our church in Naperville, Cross of Christ Fellowship. In working through the passage, I saw again how the gospel message is not only different from a religious mindset (meaning a worldview and thinking shaped not by faith in Christ and trust in the gospel but trust in one’s own religious obedience and religious heritage) and from a modern secular mindset (meaning a worldview open to some of the teachings of Jesus Christ, but without accepting Jesus’ ultimate authority or lordship) but it also OFFENSIVE to both. Here’s how:
OFFENSIVE TO THE RELIGIOUS
In this section of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is interacting with the Jewish religious leaders of his day (Matt 21-23) and in these interactions he is exposing their moral evil and proclaiming the reality of God’s judgment upon them. The Jewish leaders are compared to an obstinate son who says he will obey his father but refuses to act upon his words, even after very clear evidence shows what is the right thing to do (Matt 21:28-32). The religious leaders are then compared to hired tenants of a vineyard who wickedly murder the Master’s servants and son so that they can have vineyard themselves (Matt 21:33-44). And, finally, they are compared to members of a kingdom who have been invited by the king (and thus expected to receive and act upon the invitation) to attend a feast, but refuse to come and even murder those giving the invitations (Matt 22:1-14). All of this would have offended those who thought much of themselves and their own religious obedience and status. Jesus was showing that external religious obedience was not enough to please God.
The judgment that Jesus speaks about falling on them would also have been highly offensive. Jesus speaks about others getting into the kingdom (implying they are not) in Matt 21:32 and the kingdom being taken away from them in Matt 21:43. In the final parable the religious minded are the recipients of the King’s wrath (Matt 22:7). We learn from all this that mere religious obedience or heritage is enough to deliver a person from God’s judgment. Such a fact is also highly offensive to a person who puts their hope in their religious obedience.
OFFENSIVE TO THE IRRELIGIOUS
A modern man with secular sensibilities will also be offended by what Jesus taught in Matt 21:28-22:14. First, Jesus implies that not every approach to God will in the end by being accepted by God (we see that the Pharisees and religious leaders were in trouble because they refused to repent and believe on Jesus). This goes against the modern mindset which calls us to affirm each and every approach (religion) to God. The only unacceptable position in modernity is to say one approach is wrong and another right, which is exactly what Jesus does here. This makes Jesus offensive to modern man.
Jesus’ teaching is also highly offensive in that he speaks about hell. Jesus uses different imagery to speak about hell in the Gospel of Matthew, but in this passage, he described it as the “outer darkness…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 22:13). To hold to the view that hell is a real place for all who do not have their sins forgiven in Jesus is the one view that is anathema to modern man.
Thus, we see that Jesus is offensive to the religious and the irreligious