Today, I continue with a message on things that made Jesus mad. Anytime there's blocked access to God, it makes Jesus mad. If you haven’t seen my message on Jesus’ temple-tantrum from last week, please go back and read/listen.
So, legalism… I hate it. If you've got a stupid rule, I'm going to want to challenge it. I want to know why the rule is there and if it makes sense! Rules are never going to be able to cover every scenario we could come up with and an effort to try to make rules that do so results in stupid rules.
Do you realize your behavior, your judgment, your rules, may be keeping people out of Heaven?? Jesus said it this way in Matthew 23:13 (NIV), “Woe to you …You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Earlier in Matthew 23, Jesus spoke to the crowds and said, “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
To quote a modern icon, Homer Simpson answered Bart’s question about what religion they were, “You know, the one with all the well-meaning rules that don't work out in real life ... Christianity.” What happens if Homer's statement is true? Well-meaning rules that don't work in real life create a huge unnecessary barrier and this makes Jesus mad.
So, do we not need rules? Of course, we need rules. I know we need rules. I know society needs governance. God gave us rules because He loves us. That's the difference. He loves us so He gave us rules. Think about the Ten Commandments for a second. They're all for our benefit. They provide a foundation for a relationship with our loving Father and for our general well-being, individually and socially. Here's the thing, the problem is when our interpretation of the laws of God hinder people getting to God. At that point they are our laws and our rules. If we don't understand God’s laws but we’re expecting others to follow those interpretations, it creates a barrier for people to get to God. This makes Jesus mad.
In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus decided that it was time for the Pharisees to learn a lesson about forcing people to go through well-meaning rules that don't work in real life. And so, He broke one of them. “Once again Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man with a withered hand was there. In order to accuse Jesus, they were watching to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. Then Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up among us.’ And He asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’ But they were silent. Jesus looked around at them with anger and sorrow at their hardness of heart. Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out, and it was restored. At this, the Pharisees went out and began plotting with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”
The Pharisees, the religious ones, the church leaders literally started plotting how to KILL JESUS in response to this miracle. What was Jesus mad about? He was mad about the hardness of their hearts. They were so caught up in their own religious beliefs, they couldn’t see THE NEED of the man!!! He was mad about the fact that they were blocking the Kingdom of God. When Jesus did miracles on the Sabbath, He did them purposefully. He was trying to tell us to look at the need, not the law. He was trying to tell us to look at the person, not our own idea of religion.
What did the crowd think? The crowd thought Jesus was awesome. The outsiders loved Jesus, but he made the church uncomfortable. I sure hope that you have met the real Jesus. And I hope, as Christians, we can introduce the real Jesus to those who are outside the church. At the very least, I hope that we can understand that Jesus didn't come to show us how to follow the rules. Jesus came to fulfill the rules, to complete their purpose, in love.
The church is not comfortable with Jesus turning to a thief being executed on the cross, and saying, "Oh, you want to go? Yeah, sure. Come on." Paul said it in Gal 5:6 (NIV), “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” That's what matters. It’s not which one of these rules you're getting all right. Jesus was more interested in doing good than following rules. And Paul said, "Yeah, exactly."
There's something inside all of us that feels safer when we know we’re playing within the rules of the game. Steve Brown wrote in A Scandalous Freedom, "But the good news is that Christ freed us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, and our commitment, and our correctness. But religion has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance, and we've turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we're doing it right, and if we're in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through Hell to get to Heaven, so we just keep marching."
Man, this feels dangerous. Maybe it's time to understand what grace is really about. Grace is dangerous. Does that mean God doesn't care how we live? No, of course not. He wants what's best for us. The difference is the order of the scandalous response that Jesus gave the woman caught in the act of adultery: 1) Neither do I condemn you. 2) Now I want you to have a better life. Grace, then truth. I love you and here is what’s best for you.
What traditions have you turned into legalism, rules, judgment?? What are you doing that may be keeping others from seeing the redeeming love and grace of Christ in your life? Are you so self righteous that others can’t see His love through you? God, help us. Let’s partner with God in getting those who are outside connected with Him.