What’s important to Jesus?
This is the question I asked recently at a men’s breakfast in my church. The men willingly offered a variety of solid biblical answers: the church, love, truth, individual Christians, evangelism, prayer, outcasts, and a host of other answers.
In the days leading up to this event I had been reading through Matthew’s Gospel in my personal daily readings. As I did so, I was struck by two things that appear important to Jesus in Matthew 22–23. It seems to me, from these chapters that it is important to Jesus to know the Scriptures and live with integrity.
Know the Scriptures
In Matthew 22:23–33 we have recorded for us the discussion between Jesus and the Sadducees concerning the resurrection. The Sadducees—a Jewish religious group—did not believe in the resurrection and so they concoct a ludicrous scenario in which one woman is married to seven brothers, one after another as each passes away. “In the resurrection,” they ask, “whose wife will she be?” (v. 28). Jesus responds by telling them they are “wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (v. 29). Jesus takes issue with them because they do not know the Scriptures.
There are two aspects to Jesus’s answer. First, the Sadducees do not know the Scriptures. Second, they do not know the power of God. These two aspects are interrelated, however. Consider Paul’s declaration in Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation” (1:16). Scripture and power are closely related—one cannot fully be experienced without the other.
Evidently Jesus sees knowing the Scriptures as important. But knowledge is not the only thing Jesus considers important.
Live with Integrity
In Matthew 23 Jesus turns his attention to a couple of other Jewish religious groups: the Pharisees and Scribes. Here Jesus delivers what could be considered the anti-beatitudes as he pronounces seven woes. While the beatitudes are declarations of divine favor, these woes are prophetic pronouncements of judgement.
Jesus’s primary criticism of these two groups is that they do not practice what they preach (23:3). In fact, six times he labels them hypocrites in these seven woes (vv. 13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). The Pharisees and Scribes are two-faced, pretenders, demanding more of their hearers than they expect of themselves. In short, their life didn’t match their doctrine.
It is clearly important to Jesus that people live with integrity. Belief must match behavior; doctrine should align with deeds.
According to what Matthew has recorded in his Gospel, Jesus sees at least two things as important: knowing the Scriptures and living with integrity. More, he not only sees them as important but demands them of his followers. After all, what is recorded in Scripture is there for our benefit (cf. Rom. 4:23–24). If we are to find important what Jesus finds important we must know the Scriptures and live with integrity.
Jesus doesn’t demand these things from us like a stern teacher, beckoning us towards him with a single finger. Rather, Jesus is more like a caring friend who places his arm around our shoulder and encourages us onwards by pointing the way. Knowing the Scriptures and living with integrity is compassionately demanded of us by our Savior. But this makes them no less urgent and important—it makes them more so, because they are two important ways in which we evidence the change that Jesus has brought about in our lives.
May we, with the encouragement of Christ, ever grow in knowing the Scriptures and living with integrity. Let us find important what Jesus finds important.