Saturday, 11 February 2012

So Close and Yet, So Far

If you had never seen the sun, you could be fooled into thinking that this guy is actually holding it. Of course, all of us have seen the sun and can laugh at his pretend attempt to grab hold of a 7000 degree fireball that is 2.85x10 to the little 28 times (that's a big number) bigger than him and 93,000,000 miles away!

But turn your attention to spiritual matters, and things suddenly become quite sobering. 

In Jesus' day as in any day, people were trying to make sense of their lives, understand the nature of reality, find their place in the world. There were therefore many raised up to teach the people how to do just that - how to approach the living God. The most zealous of these were known as Pharisees.

(Aside: If Jesus wasn't formally one of them (and I reckon he probably was) he certainly grew up in society that was dominated by them.)

On the outside the Pharisees looked good. When it came to matters of understanding the Hebrew Scriptures (the bit we commonly call the Old Testament) then they were the best of the best. Jesus seems to have paid them a back-handed compliment when he said that the righteousness of his followers had to be greater than that of the Pharisees (Matt.5:20). But the truth was that they were like the guy in the photo - they looked like they had achieved the impossible - eternal life - by their rule keeping and traditions, but they failed to grasp anything of the reality and gravity of the situation. They had fooled themselves into thinking they had found the answer and the people who followed them were either too ignorant, too careless or too busy to argue any different so most followed without question.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5-7). That semon opened with eight offers of blessing famously called the Beatitudes. Towards the end of his ministry, he brings seven rebukes to the Pharisees who had now mostly turned against him. These beatitudes and rebukes roughly line up symmetrically and help to explain each other:

1. For the hypocrite, destiny = Hell. For the righteous, those who humble themselves before Jesus Christ, destiny = Heaven aka New Creation.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 

2. For the hypocrite, his sense of triumph in life is great, but it is horribly shallow and premature. The righteous wait in hope for the final victory of God.

  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. 

3. For the hypocrite, their power and confidence is in their connections, cash flow and their culture, but the righteous await the vindication of their God.

  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. 

4. For the hypocrite, minor preoccupations become all important. The righteous keep the main thing the main thing.

  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
  • Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 

5. For the hypocrite only looking good is what matters. For the righteous, being good is the key.

  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 

6. True peacemakers bring life - eternal life. Hypocrites bring peace for a time, but it ends in destruction.

  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
  • Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. 

7. Contrary to popular belief, irreligious people like drunks, druggies and drop-outs are not the biggest threat to true faith - religious hypocrites are. Are you a hypocrite?

  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.


In conclusion, keep it real "...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:22-23

1 comment:

Richard Baker said...

Greg Boyd's commentary on Genesis as part of his book "Turning from Judgement to the Love of God" similarly points out that Jesus was harshest on the Pharisees because they were indulging in the knowledge of good and evil, the very antithesis of His perfect design for life. We are blessed only as far as we surrender our knowledge of good and evil.