Den of Vipers – Part 1

The bulk of my study here is derived from Matthew 12:1-37 ESV

One of the many characteristics that are brought up today by Christians regarding Pharisees relates to their judgmental attitudes. I think many envision their hatred for Jesus and their part in His crucifixion. I didn’t want to just “go there”, but wanted to understand a bit more where Jesus was coming from and why His interactions with the Pharisees and the Scribes were so dramatic.

Reading from Matthew, the first thing that comes to mind is that the Pharisees had developed a very pristine and detailed rule book to follow in order to be considered holy. It appears, based on these rules and the Pharisee’s call to follow them, they viewed God as a God of Demands. “Do this and don’t do that”. This clearly is exposed at the beginning of this chapter as they confidently confront Jesus because His disciples were plucking wheat to eat on the Sabbath. It is very clear that the Pharisees elevated the rule of not working on the sabbath as a clear sign of the holiness of God. In other words, those who broke this “law” could not follow God, while those he did not break this “law” were holy. Jesus, for His part, clearly references the true law in His response to the Pharisees, clearly indicating where these man-made additions were faulty. He specifically highlights in verse 7, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

You see, I contend via this interaction that the Pharisees’ view of God was skewed and Jesus wanted to make sure others in that time saw it, too. Where the Pharisees believed “follow the rules, God demands it, OR ELSE!”, Jesus obviously viewed God’s role and ethos differently. For example, even as the Pharisees ruled, the Old Testament clearly stated that God was merciful, slow to anger, and loving (Psalm 145:7-9). I believe that is why Jesus reminded the Pharisees of this Truth, exposing that they had changed God’s role and were trying to conform people to a false God.

As Matthew 12 continues, we see the Pharisees stuck to their guns and their view of God. When Jesus attempted to heal a man, they immediately hoped to convict Jesus by asking if it was LAWFUL to heal a man on the Sabbath. Because, again, the Pharisees clearly viewed their definition of the law (do not work on the sabbath) as exceedingly more important to adhere to than aligning with mercy or love (healing); their God did not work that way. Jesus quickly points out the hypocrisy of their question, clearly showing this would not even be raised if one of them had a sheep in trouble on the Sabbath, and ends with “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Through all of the interactions that occurred in this chapter between Jesus and the Pharisees, it seems to have boiled down to this; for the Pharisees, God looked only at their external compliance with their definition of the law of God. For Jesus, God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). That is why, for example, Jesus declared lustful looks as adulterous based on the desires of one’s heart while the Pharisees only condemned those caught in the physical act of adultery (Matt. 5:27–28). In all of these interactions, the Pharisees’ antagonism toward Jesus lay in His non-compliance to their hundreds of elaborate but petty rules that were based on their interpretation of God’s law. Not only did they create and enforce their hundreds of man-made rules, but they treated then as if they were Scripture, so that to break one of their rules was to violate the law of God itself. And yet these rules not only obscured the true intent of God’s law, but also, in some cases, actually violated it (see Mark 7:9–13). 

In today’s world, I fear we have all fallen guilty in this regard. Too often, we establish a “game book” that defines if we are righteous or not. If we are “in” or “out”. And, if each of us are truly honest with ourselves, we would acknowledge that most of the time, our rule books are stacked to assure WE are in and THEY are out. For example, in Deana’s youth REAL Christians didn’t own TVs, girls NEVER wore pants, secular music was of the devil, and kissing before marriage was fornication. However, the denomination she was in has been exposed to have one of the highest case histories of sexual abuse by their male pastors. Their rules seem to provide a list to check off to assure “righteousness” on the outside of their lives, while it appears not enough on the inside. That is not God’s way.

We need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to the Scriptures. Even, as has been the case in recent months in the USA, create government laws in the name of morality or Scriptures. Some convictions that we hold dearly may be derived more from our particular Christian culture than derived from Scripture, and we need to learn to discern the differences. It is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture, especially if we then claim someone is NOT a Christian based on these convictions. So much judgment among Christians today occurs because we do this. But that is basically what the Pharisees were doing. So, let’s be careful that we are not modern-day Pharisees.

Bible Study: Jesus Plus Nothing

As presented to CCC 8/14/11

Today is not going to be a lesson based on my shortcomings, at least not directly.  It’s not going to be about my work, although I WILL share that my tenure there didn’t last the two weeks as planned.  Instead, my last day was Thursday and I will be starting my new job tomorrow!  In all I can attest that Jesus DID have it, and He still does!

Today I’d like to share with you a concept that, at times, has apparently caused great controversy and debate.  Even in the bible study, when this topic was touched on we all struggled in some way or another.  And yet, even with this struggle, I wonder, “Why should this be so HARD?”  I can’t answer that, but wanted to say straight out that you may hear some things that initially at least will cause you to say, “NO WAY!” and that I understand that reaction.

So without further adieu, everyone who calls him or herself a Christian, in theory, can attest that they’ve been saved by Christ.  That they have been covered by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for each one of us.  His death, and more importantly resurrection, broke the chains of bondage to sin and has allowed us eternal life as well as provides HIS righteousness for us TODAY.   This miracle is described in our Gospel, as recorded in the New Testament.

Everyone agree?

Yet, many of us do NOT live under grace, or the “Jesus plus nothing” umbrella, but instead have created a hybrid religion.  That is not healthy for us as Christians, nor to the world as we try to proclaim His Truth.  As described in Andrew Farley’s book THE NAKED GOSPEL:

“Many Christians still walk in Old Covenant bondage.  Regarding the law as a Divine ordinance for our direction, they consider themselves prepared and fitted by conversion to take up the fulfillment of the law as a natural duty.”

Andrew Murray (1828-1917)

“If you Christians want to make us agnostics inclined to look into your religion, you must try to be more comfortable in the possession of it yourselves.  The Christians I meet seem to me to be the very most uncomfortable people anywhere around.  They seem to carry their religion as a man carries a headache.  He does not want to get rid of his head, but at the same time it is very uncomfortable to have it.  And I for one do not care to have that sort of religion.”

Quoted in Hannah Whithall Smith, The God of All Comfort

Why do we as Christians insist on viewing ourselves as not good enough, or define ourselves by our sins?  How about us Christians who “do and do” and don’t even really have time to interact with our Lord?  Or even feel Him?  Why are we compelled to do this?  This is not a present day problem, even Martin Luther struggled with this.

Martin Luther, who many would say was a very faithful man and has done so much for Christians for centuries, struggled with guilt.  Yet a large portion of his life was ruled by self-flagellation and other physical abuse in attempt to atone for his long list of sins.

Mother Teresa is another great example, and many of you can say you know she worked endlessly and unselfishly for so many in need.  Yet, in a personal diary entry penned to Jesus, she wrote the following:

I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.  Before the work started, there was so much union, love, faith, trust, prayer, and sacrifice.  Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

Even after working for over 40 years exclusively for Christ, Mother Teresa struggled for meaning, purpose, and a stable relationship with God!

Can you related to these two, at least partially?

How did this happen to these two, maybe even to us?  Let’s go back in time and do a little research.

In Exodus 24:3,4 and 7, it reads:

When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.”  Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”

This amounted to 600 commandments in all – more than 350 items and actions to abstain from and nearly 250 actions on the Jewish to do list.  Some actions were even punishable by death!

And how did the Israelite’s fair with these laws?  I think they reaction is best described as a rollercoaster ride!

Psalm 78:56-59 says:
But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep his statutes.  Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow.  They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols.  When God heard them, he was very angry; he rejected Israel completely.

But you may say, “he give them a break, they may have not known better!  Maybe if they were knowledgeable on the Lord, they’d fair better!”  So let’s see how the Priests handled God’s commandments:

Malachi 2:1-2

“And now this admonition is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.”

Time didn’t seem to help the Israelite’s get their act together, either, for centuries later Saul or Tarsus – maybe the most committed of all – wrote the following:

Romans 7:15

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

So, struggling to do the right thing to feel the presence of God is not a new thing at all.  But maybe Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, even the Israelites had it wrong!

But certainly, you can say, there were many Old Testament Heroes who were SUPER close to God and received great blessings from Him.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, even David!  Yet they lacked SO MUCH compared to us if we are to believe the Bible.

Hebrews 11 speaks of the faith so many of these heroes manifested, which saved them or caused great miracles to occur.

11:33-34

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

11:39

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

So what was this that God had planned, this “something better” than what amazing people received?

The Old Testament defined who could approach God, and how.  So it’s with amazement that I realized though this study that our High Priest, when viewed through the Old Testament , does not meet the requirements to hold this office!  The law requires that a person be from the tribe of Levi to qualify as high priest, yet Jesus was from the tribe of Judah!  This has been confirmed in Hebrews 7:13-14.  Do you agree that no one from the line of Judah has EVER served as priest?  The law forbade it.  That’s because the law and Jesus just don’t mix.

That’s why it’s amazing to read and receive what Hebrews 7:12 says:

For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.

So, with this change of the law, should we live exclusively under Christ’s grace, should we follow the law, or should we combine the two?

My struggle IMMEDIATELY escalates at this point!  I mean, we are ambassadors for Christ and our walk is important when we represent Him, right?  It’s important to live righteously, to be holy, to honor our Lord!  So how can you even PRETEND to ignore the law?

Do you feel me?

But grace is still a contract, with Jesus Christ directly.  In contrast to the old contract that God wrote through Moses, GRACE will never be replaced!  IT IS THE FINAL WORD CONCERNING A HUMAN’S RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD!

Hebrews 8:8-9

But God found fault with the people and said:

   “The time is coming, declares the Lord,
   when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
   and with the house of Judah.
 It will not be like the covenant
   I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
   to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
   and I turned away from them,
            declares the Lord.

God always intended to usher in something RADICALLY DIFFERENT, and that passage clearly states something totally new was coming.  And this new way was going to solve a huge problem – our failure to remain faithful.  Whatever this NEW is, it somehow CAUSES people to remain faithful, even when their own strength fails them!

THERE IS REALLY NOTHING WRONG WITH THE OLD IN ITSELF.  IT SHOULD STILL BE ESTEEMED AS HOLY AND GOOD.  THE ISSUE WITH THE OLD WAS THAT NO ONE COULD OPERATE SUCCESSFULLY UNDER IT.  FOR THAT REASON, GOD ORCHESTRATED A DIFFERENT WAY.

In the new, we have a personal connect with God, as explained in Hebrews 8:10:

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.

I want to share a very subtle change in this verse, one that I overlooked for years.  For the writer of Hebrews purposely MISQUOTED the Old Testament; he changed the old testament “my law” to “my laws”.

Contrary to popular teaching, it’s not the law of Moses that is written on our hearts, It’s GOD’S LAWS!  The New Testament speaks to this and Jesus also helps us with this.:

•    The Royal Law –
o    James 2:8 – If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
•    The Law that Gives Freedom –
o    James 1:25 – But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
•    Jesus’ Commands –
o    Mark 12:30-31 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”
o    John 13:34-35- “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
o    John 14:15 – If you love me, you will obey what I command.
o    “Jesus plus nothing”

Okay, if you’re anything like me, your mind might be filled with “but what about this?” and “what about that?”

So what IS the law for????  The law is there to point unbelievers to Jesus, not to lead believers.

But how can I know I am on the right path if I don’t have a road?  Jesus is the lamp that lights our paths.

1 Cor 10 talks about “all things are permissible, but not all things beneficial”
•    In context of eating meat used for sacrifices to idols
•    Today, it could be drinking around an alcoholic
•    Today it could be having tattoos
•    Neither action is wrong to Christians, but it may cause problems for others OR create a habit that is not beneficial for the believer.  Neither has anything to do with our righteousness in Christ.

So let’s talk a little more about specifics.  Are you hearing me say we should be lawless?

NO.

Am I saying standards like “thou shall not kill” or “there shall be no other gods” no longer matter?

NO.

But let’s put this in context –

•    do rules and regulations make us RIGHTEOUS?
•    If we DO those things, are we focused on our Lord?
•    If we fail on one of those things, do we really believe Jesus has saved us from it already?

The biggest struggle I have with the concept of GRACE over the LAW is the dichotomy they represent.  Yes, I am 100% forgiven, but I need to represent my Lord, and it’s easier for me to do that if I have a list of standards to follow.

But I am telling you, the whole FOCUS changes when you accept that you only need to LIVE under GRACE!

For example, you hear Pastor Bob talk about tithing often.  He tells us this is the only place in the Bible where we are told to test God, to see what He will do.  That is the truth, I believe it.

But when I thought about tithing in the context of the LAW, I saw it very differently.  You see, it was something I had to do to prove I was a faithful Christian.  It was a requirement of mine, established by the Bible.  And in THAT context – I call “the law context” – I approached it one of these ways:

•    With fear – I better tithe or I will be in trouble with God (the church, my Pastor)
•    With rebellion – Why is it a rule anyway?  My church has plenty of money and God can do all things, anyway.
•    With Guilt – after all Jesus did for me, how can I say I love him when I can’t even give 10% of what He gave me?
•    With Appearance – I don’t want others to think I am less of a Christian
•    With Defiance – I’m just not gonna do it.  I will handle my money the way I want to, period.

All of the above have something in common – they are all 100% focused on ME and MONEY!  NOWHERE is my focus on my Lord.

However, when I began to view tithing in the context of GRACE (as I believe Pastor teaches is), it took on a whole new set of clothes:

•    With Truth – Jesus loves me so much, that He died for me so that I don’t have to fulfill ANY requirement
•    With Appreciation – Jesus provides for me so much, thank you Jesus!  Thank you for blessing me with this income.
•    With Freedom – I know I will have a home/food/clothing/etc. no matter what, so I want to give a small portion so others can know this truth too.
•    With Abundance – Lord, you HAVE truly proven Yourself!  The more I give, the more I have – both monetarily and spiritually!

Notice the above, which truly happened to me.  Do you see much talk about money?  ME?  JESUS was the focus!  The law points to US, Grace points to JESUS, even in things such as the standard of tithing!  And the truth is, because Jesus is IN each of us, the closer we draw to our established relationship with Him, the more clearly He will guide us with His Holy Spirit!

Another way I reconciled the dichotomy of Grace and Law was an analogy I heard from my dear friend, George.  And let me tell you, George gets fired up about the Grace we already have in Jesus!  He does NOT want us to be tied down by the Law!

“Breakfast in Bed”

Everyone likes breakfast in bed!  I know I love it!  But breakfast is bed is very different when viewed under the Law!

Let’s say you’re married to the Law.  The Law demands YOU prepare breakfast everyday, right at 7:30am.  That breakfast needs to be exactly on time, perfectly prepared (not too hot, not too cold, eggs over easy, pinch of salt) everyday or else your marriage may be in jeopardy.  Can you imagine the pressure you’d be under each day?  There is no room for mistakes, no room for empathy if you’re feeling unwell, didn’t sleep through the night, etc.  There may even be days when you RESENT the law, and grumble about having to serve breakfast in the first place.  Or, if the eggs are cold (as they are sure to be) you have no recourse to fixing it and the guilt may overwhelm you.

To further complicate matters, this marriage TO the law cannot be ended UNDER the law, because the law says you can only remarry if you are a widow, or your spouse dies.  But you know what?  Here comes Jesus!  HE died, and the Bible tells us that we are crucified with Christ, even though we live!  So, WE died with Christ, breaking that marriage to the Law, and now we are free to remarry Grace.

Romans 7:1-4 says:

Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.  So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

Having read that, how do you think Jesus feels if we say we are married to Him and His Grace, but keep going back to visit our old spouse, the Law?  ………..But let’s get back to our breakfast, with our new marriage to Christ:

Now breakfast in bed under Grace is very different.  IN THIS arrangement, JESUS prepared the breakfast each day just the way you like it.  As it turns out, it’s exactly perfect each day – over easy, not too hot, perfect seasoning – everyday, without fail.  And, service is provided with the most amazing love and care!  Day in and day out!  He NEVER fails!

And then suddenly, something amazing happens to you after each breakfast is served!  Suddenly, YOU begin to want to serve JESUS breakfast, and HE says, “oh, that’s okay, I can do it, it’s already prepared!” but you say, “Oh Jesus, I love you so much and appreciate you so much!  I don’t care if I am required to make breakfast or not, I WANT to because I love you!”

Grace CAUSES us to do right, to take on the actions of Jesus.  The Law does not!

Now, maybe you have in your head another situation.  What about those who claim to be Christians, yet they are hypocrites!  Maybe their walk shows no signs of Jesus, maybe they even ridicule the things of the Lord, even as they claim to follow Him!

Well hey, what do Jesus’ commandments say to do?  Love them.

Further, it is usually not OUR job to measure the worth of a man, or to decide his heart.  Now, there are parameters where leaders such as Pastors of this church can address actions or behaviors, but overall Jesus really says to us, “what is it to you?”

Like how Jesus dealt with Peter and John in 21:15-23.  Keep in mind this is after Jesus’ death and resurrection, after Peter denied Christ 3 times.  The disciples were fishing when John see’s a man and says, “It’s Jesus!”  Before you know it Peter jumps out of the boat, swims to Jesus, and soon Jesus and Peter are going over the “Peter, do you love me?  Feed my sheep” conversation.  Jesus goes on to tell Peter he faces a tough death, and ends with FOLLOW ME.

About this time, here comes John, who had NOT swam to shore is a flurry to see Christ.  I can see, even with Peter’s failures in the past, he felt pretty good about himself right now in relation to Christ.  He may have even felt a little competitive with John.  So he looks at mister “mosey on in” and says, “Hey Lord, what about HIM!”  And Jesus’ reply?  You don’t need to worry about him, you need to just worry about following ME!”

So, I encourage you, don’t go back to your first spouse, the Law.  Stop living under that life.  Let Jesus’ grace, which exists inside of you, allow you to grow in Him.  Focus on JESUS, and if others bug you, let Jesus handle it.  Don’t try to read a list to be righteous, walk under grace which has already made you righteous in Christ.  You can succeed by living under this truth – Jesus plus nothing.

A New Song

The kids and I are working on a new CD – “A Family That Praise Together”.  We haven’t gotten too far into the album, but we DID get one song down!  It drove Deana a little crazy as the kids were singing “do do’s” all week!  But it was awesome fun!

The song is “Jesus is Just Alright”, a cover of the classic Doobie Brothers song.  While I am NOT the guitar player they were, it was fun recording with the kids.  Josh, Zack, and Sophia make up the vocals.  Check it out here.