Jesus Does Not Fit Your Mold, Part 2.

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“Jesus answered them, “You are deceived because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.”” Matthew 22:29.

Yesterday, we looked at an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees, the religious conservatives of 1st Century Judea. Today we look at another group that sought to question Jesus at every opportunity, the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were the complete opposite of the Pharisees; the Sadducees were the wealthy, liberal elite of their day. They were often ridiculed for their collaboration with the Roman occupiers and merely paid lip-service to the Scriptures. The Sadducees even went as far as to deny any possibility of a resurrection at the end of time.

In this encounter, a group of Sadducees approached Jesus with a very technical and elaborate question regarding marriage laws and death and the resurrection, which the Sadducees themselves denied. This question was designed to stump Christ, or make Him look foolish, but the response they received was not at all what they expected. Instead of stumping Christ, the Sadducees gave Him the perfect opportunity to call them out for their lack of belief and lack of respect for the Scripture. In essence, we saw Christ call out the Pharisees for being too self-righteous yesterday; today we see Him call out the Sadducees out for not being righteous at all.

Today, liberalism in religion is just as dangerous as overly conservative self-righteousness. Many churches in the U.S. have forgotten the Gospel message of Christ and have morphed into social organizations, throwing money and volunteer hours at every ill that plagues society. Many today have attempted to mold Christ into a peacenik who avoided confrontation and wanted to be a friend of all.  This image couldn’t be further from the truth. Throughout the four Gospels, we see where Christ repeatedly tells the crowds who wish to follow them that He “came to separate families,” that they couldn’t follow Him if they wanted to keep one eye back on their homes, that following Him had to be their only desire. Jesus was not politically correct, nor did He desire to be. Jesus confronted sin, something that many churches and ministers do not do today.  Many today, just like the Sadducees, are deceived because they do not know the Scriptures or believe in God and His power. They peddle a watered down Gospel, lacking accountability or confrontation of sin, and are blinded by the gilded luster of their own good works.

Jesus Does Not Fit Your Mold, Part 1.

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“When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”” Matthew 9:11.

One of the main criticisms that the Pharisees had about Christ dealt with His willingness to approach and accept the outsider. The Pharisees, the ultra-religious, ultra-conservative sect of the day, cared more about their own self-righteousness than they did about caring for others. Though they were the Mosaic legal scholars of the day, they seldom seem to discuss the portions of the Torah that call for man to take care of the strangers and to be lights to the sinners. Their disregard for social justice was as damning as their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. In their minds, the Messiah would be like them, demanding all be obsessed with keeping the law and focusing on self-righteousness. Thankfully, this is not what Christ was about.

Christ responded to this criticism by saying He “came for those who need a doctor…not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Christ came for those who had been rejected by the establishment; those who had been forgotten. The religious establishment of the day didn’t want to minister to these sinners, but Christ did. The Pharisees failed to see their own sin because they were too preoccupied with pointing out everyone else’s. Christ doesn’t want an army of self-righteous hypocrites; Christ desires those who are humble enough to confess their sin and seek His undeserved forgiveness.

The 21st Century American Church, as fractured and variant as one can imagine, is no different than Judaism in the 1st Century AD.  There are many who, just like the Pharisees, are ready and willing to call out the sins of others while disregarding their own. At many times we become so obsessed with the speck in our brothers’ eye that we forget the log in our own. That’s the problem with self-righteousness: you become the measuring rod and judge, not Christ.

When we stop and consider all this, we can’t help but ponder this question: if Christ came today, would we oppose Him just as the Pharisees did? And more alarmingly, would He be just as ticked off with us as He was with them?

Cities of the Valley.

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“But Lot lived in the cities of the valley and set his tent near Sodom.” Genesis 13:12.

In one of the most famous passages of Genesis, we see a conflict between two family members. Abram, whom God had called to live in Canaan, and his nephew, Lot, have a dispute over where their herds should graze. Lot and his servants do not believe the place where they were all currently encamped could support all the animals of both herds. Abram, wanting to resolve this conflict peacefully and quickly, offers Lot a proposition–the two men will part ways, and  Lot can choose for himself where to go to support his herds. Abram believed that this separation was unnecessary and that God would provide; Lot’s faith was not so deep. When Lot surveyed the valley before him, he chose the most fertile land for himself–not because of its fertility, but because of its proximity to the city of Sodom. Lot and Abram separate, and Lot placed his tent facing Sodom, an idiom that represents where Lot’s heart was.

Sodom is famous for its wickedness and debauchery–it also represents the spiritual state of the world–and this is where Lot chose to be. Lot determined for himself that he’d had enough of being out in the wilderness and having to depend on God; he wanted to be in the city where a person could get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. Lot’s heart had wandered away from God, and he had become distracted by the lure and luster of the city. He was caught up by the bright lights and fast-paced lifestyle, so to speak. Eventually, Lot’s choice would catch up with him and the choice to live in the city instead of with Abram would ruin his life.

So often our hearts wander and we allow our tents to be placed facing Sodom. We allow our spiritual walk to atrophy because we’ve fallen sway to the vices and depravity of the world around us. We must not allow ourselves to be as spiritually brain-dead as Lot; we must not pitch our tents near Sodom. We must remain in the place where we must depend upon God daily.

Yeast

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Then He commanded them: “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” Mark 7:15.

Jesus and his disciples were crossing over the Sea of Galilee after Christ had been confronted by the Pharisees. The Pharisees, the law and religious scholars of the day, once again demanded that Jesus perform some sort of miracle–or give them a sign–to prove once and for all that He was the Messiah. The Pharisees demanded this after Jesus had just fed 4,000 people with only seven loaves of bread.

Why does Jesus single out the Pharisees and Herod as the epitome of behavior that is to be avoided? Throughout his ministry, the Pharisees opposed Jesus, tested him, attempted to disprove who he was. That is not to say that all Pharisees were bad, and that there weren’t some whose religious devotion was true and genuine. In the New Testament, however, the Pharisees represent religious hypocrisy; their focus on seeing how “devout” they could be and being more “holy” than everyone else takes their religious focus of God and puts it on themselves. The Pharisees distorted God’s Law by making it into a perverse contest to see how well they could keep it. By doing this, they made themselves and their own self-righteousness more important than God and His loving grace.

Where does Herod fit into this? Herod was the Roman-supported puppet king of Galilee. The Herods, who were not Jews, had moved into Judea well before the Roman occupation and adopted Judaism as means to fit in with their Jewish subjects. Once the Romans appeared on the scene, they allowed the Herods to continue rule, under the ever watchful eye of the Empire. Herod represents sham religion, one that is not genuine and used to gain the respect (or votes in 21st Century America) of the population at large. Jesus wants his followers to be wary of those in politics who loudly boast and proclaim their religious devotion to the masses; those who pervert religion into a campaign schtick. In other words, Jesus was in favor of a separation of religion (or church,) and state.

Jesus uses a very clever phrase to get His disciples to understand just how dangerous these behaviors are; He uses the word “yeast,” and this is an image that any Jewish person would instantly pick up on. In the Old Testament, yeast (”chametz” in Hebrew) represents sin and bad behavior; anything that separates man from God. Before each and every Passover, when the Jews remember how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, the Jews were to physically purge their homes of yeast–to commemorate how the bread eaten during the Exodus was flat because there was no yeast in it. However, this physical cleaning of yeast was to accompany a spiritual cleaning as well, one in which one’s heart would be cleaned of spiritual yeast. Jesus wants us to be extra cautious when avoiding the yeast of Herod and the Pharisees, because just a small pinch of yeast can cause a whole lot of bread to be ruined.

Do not be like those who make themselves the focus of their religion, and do not be swayed by those who prostitute their religion to be elected.

Immigration Reform

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“You must not exploit a foreign resident nor oppress him, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21.

In 21st Century America, actually ever since the American colonies were founded, the topic of immigration is one that is divisive and gets people worked up into a frenzy. One need look no further than the evening news to hear the red meat soundbite rhetoric politicians use to appeal to their bases on the issue. Terms like illegal, deportation, and amnesty are thrown out in such a way that it makes it seem as though the people that are being spoken of aren’t actually people at all; that they are animals. Many people in the US feel that since “they’re” [the immigrants] not from here, “they” don’t matter.

The immigration debate in the US is one of a growing international issue; as civil war tears Syria apart, Europe is faced with its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Syrian refugees make their way on foot over hundreds of miles to get to places in Europe that will offer them asylum and sanctuary.

So what does God want us to do for the immigrant, the refugee, the foreigner among us?

He wants us to treat them with dignity and respect; to treat them fairly and with compassion. To not demean them nor to oppress them. To treat them as people.

As the Israelites were making their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land, God gives them this ordinance concerning the foreigners that are among them, and those that will be among them once the Israelites are in their own land. The Hebrews understood what it was like to be strangers in a strange land, to be oppressed; to be dehumanized. God commands his people to remember this and to never allow themselves to do the same to a minority group that is among them. The Hebrews were to be a light to all nations, attracting the foreign nations to God. This is a theme that occurs again and again throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Torah, to treat all people fairly and with dignity,

Why does this matter for us today? In our modern predatory socioeconomic system we’re taught that our resources are too scarce: there’s not enough jobs, there’s not enough houses, or food, or water, or oil, to go around.  We’re made to believe that, if allowed, foreigners will overrun our land, take our jobs, bring crime, and change the complexion of our society. We forget that this is a country built by foreigners, on land stolen from those who originally inhabited it. We forget that this is a land of bounty with more than enough to support those already here and those to come. But the Church forgets one other thing as well: that this land isn’t really our home either. We are merely sojourners–which can also be translated foreigners–in this world. We are in the world, yet not of it. Our duty is the same as that of the Hebrews of the Old Testament. We are foreigners in this world, so we are to treat all we encounter as God has commanded us–with compassion, dignity, love and respect. After all, this is how we desire to be treated. We, just like the Israelites of old, are to be lights in this world, attracting the foreign nations to God.

Treat the foreigner among you with respect, for you too are a foreigner.

Grow Up.

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“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” I Corinthians 13:11.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is famous for several reasons. In it, Paul holds back no punches when confronting the Corinthians about their tolerance of sin within the church, he implores them to rise above the spiritual deprivation and corruption of the city, and in chapter 13, he describes the importance of love to the believer. But in this one verse of the very famous chapter 13, Paul encourages the Corinthians to do one more thing: to grow up.

Paul is referring to the spiritual maturity of many of the Corinthians within the church. He uses the analogy of a child–something that everyone alive can understand and relate to. We all hearken back to the times in our life when our world was simple, we had no real commitments or responsibilities, our days revolved around watching cartoons and playing outside. When we were young, the world was exciting, we had no worries, we seldom faced any real hardship. But, we cannot stay children forever, at some point we grow up and realize that the world can be scary; life can be hard. However, we are not completely caught of guard by this because all along the way we have been growing and maturing and being prepared for adult life. Parents, grandparents, and other trusted adults have been training us and equipping us with what we need to survive in life. Why then do we allow our spiritual lives to remain in such a childlike immaturity?

Yes, in both Testaments the Bible exonerates children and praises the faith that a child can possess. We are encouraged to have this same child-like faith, but in the sense that we believe as earnestly and as wholeheartedly as a child would believe. For adults, our skepticism and cynicism so often prohibits us from a fulfilling relationship with God; a child however, will believe as genuinely as humanly possible. What Paul wants is for us to take our child-like faith and exercise it, train it, deepen it, help it to mature–to give substance to it. It is this kind of faith that allows us to walk closely and fully with God. This is a faith that sustains us through life’s ups and downs. Our faith is to mature as we mature, not to be left back in elementary school.

So many today settle for a “happy meal” version of faith and spiritual walk when they should be putting aside childish things. They desire no more depth to their faith than a summertime Vacation Bible School. They allow their spiritual walk to be as mature as a brooding teenager making mix-tapes for God. They allow their faith to be an inch deep and a mile wide, lacking substance . This is not to say that their faith isn’t genuine, but it is to say that their faith could be strengthened and matured. At some point, we all must graduate from Bible School and begin studying scripture in depth; to begin deepening our faith so that we can endure life and to spread God’s message to the world. We shouldn’t settle for the immature faith that is emotionally-driven and spiritually lacking. Our relationship with Christ can’t be so capricious that we seek after a church with the best music selection over its teaching of the Bible. We must exercise our faith just as intensely as we would our bodies, continually adding weight and intensity to our work-outs so as not to stagnate and to continually keep growing.

There is no peak to one’s faith, our spiritual walk can always be better and strengthened. We should never become content and complacent. We should always strive to put away the childish things and to continue growing up.

Truth

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“You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of truth listens to my voice.”

“What is truth?” asked Pilate. John 18:37-38.

Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate,  the Roman governor of Judea, just a few hours before his crucifixion on the cross. Pilate, being a typical leader of an occupying army in a far-flung region of an empire, was unsure of Jewish religion, tradition, and Law. He certainly was less than enthusiastic to get involved of this matter concerning the preacher from Nazareth that the Jewish religious leaders were accusing of blasphemy and treason–accusing Jesus of proclaiming himself King of the Jews.

When Pilate asked Jesus of this claim of royalty, Jesus gives one of His most cryptic answers. Christ is not one to ever accept any earthly titles or accolades, because Christ–much like God the Father–does not fit into the “box” in which we as humans want them to operate. Instead, Christ tells Pilate that He had been born and come into the world to preach and proclaim the truth.

Pilate’s response to this statement is haunting in its simplicity, and yet it is the same question so many today are still asking. Many Pilates today, jaded by cynicism and skepticism are looking for fulfillment and meaning and truth and do not seek after the truth–the only truth–offered by Christ.

Pray for those who seek truth, that they might hear the voice of God.

Radiant

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“He is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature.” Hebrews 1:3.

Radiant: (adj) (1) shining brightly (2) showing pleasure; beaming (3) issuing from a source in, or as in, rays.

During the First Century, many believers in the Church were having trouble understanding concepts that today are viewed as basic doctrinal tenants of Christianity. These questions, coupled with the continuing delay in Christ’s second coming, led many believers to begin migrating back into traditional Judaism.

The anonymous author of Hebrews sought to address this audience of confused believers, and also sought to convey Christ’s fulfillment of Judaic Law and traditions. The author of Hebrews wanted the readers to stand firm in their belief of Jesus as Messiah and to understand that everything prophesied in the Old Testament had, or was still yet to, come to pass in Jesus. Christ was and is the complete fulfillment of everything that was or would be.

Very methodically, the author of Hebrews explains in chapter one how God had communicated with mankind in the past through the prophets, but that His most recent–and final–revelation to mankind was through Jesus, His son. For many today,just as it was then, the concept of the Trinity–the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– is a difficult concept to grasp. Though all three are separate beings, all three are of the same essence and all three are wholly holy and divine. An old Catholic priest once explained it like this: God is the sun that everything revolves around in our solar system; Christ is the light that radiates from the sun and illuminates the world; and the Holy Spirit is the heat that emanates from the sun and its light that reminds one of the sun’s presence. The light and heat are both of the sun, and both are different facets in which the sun is experienced.

This is very similar to what the author of Hebrews is saying. “He (Jesus) is the radiance of God’s glory,” meaning that Jesus is the physical representation of God’s glory, projecting to the world this glory in the same manner that light beams project the sun’s power. In addition to this, Jesus is the “exact expression of His (God’s) nature,” meaning that Jesus reflects and embodies God. By studying Christ, mankind can know what God is like, because Christ is God.

How does this apply to us today, in an era in which the Church is mainstream and the only apostasy most believers deal with is that of apathy? We must remember that as humans, we are God’s highest form of creation; having been made in His image. Despite mankind’s sinful and fallen nature, God desires a relationship with mankind, as evidenced throughout Scripture–from Noah to the Exodus; the giving of the Law to the plea of the prophets to return to this Law. The depth of God’s desire to have a relationship with man culminates in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Though man tries to fight this and push God away, God still draws close to man. As Christians, we are called to be Christ-like, literally to be imitators of Christ. As we discussed earlier, Christ radiates God’s glory and illuminates the world with it. We must reflect this light and glory to the world, just as the moon reflects the sun’s light. This is our call, and it is our duty.

What are you radiating?