The Red Words #9 Feb. 4, 2019

And He was giving orders to them, saying, ‘Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’  Mark 8:15

Every woman who’s ever baked bread from scratch knows that without yeast, the bread will come out flatter than a pancake. Yeast is the secret to making bread rise.  Interestingly, it takes only a little yeast to make dough rise and produce a delicious, fragrant loaf of bread.  There’s nothing quite like the aroma of fresh bread in my kitchen.

In the verse above, Jesus uses this natural image to teach a spiritual lesson. It’s not surprising since He had just fed 4000 people with just 7 loaves of bread!  When the disciples first hear this warning, they misunderstand and think He wanted them to bring onto the boat enough bread for all of them.  Instead, Jesus is taking advantage of what they just witnessed to teach them an important lesson.

Since it only takes a small amount of yeast or other leavening agent to transform an entire lump of dough, Jesus warns His disciples – and us – that it takes only a little bit of what the Pharisees and Herod have to offer to ruin a person.

Ruin a person?  Isn’t that a big strong?

Well, no. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, a rigorous religious legalism which they imposed on others but which they would not keep themselves.  Their emphasis was on external correctness regarding rituals and the traditions of men.  This emphasis emphasized a ‘works’ mentality and taught that only by keeping every rule to the extreme would a person be righteous in God’s sight.

Jesus described the Pharisees and those who were their disciples as THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.  Matt. 15:8

hypocrisy

We could say it this way: religion, defined as external performance of one’s beliefs, had become more important to them than relationship with God.  That is not to denigrate the doing of good works but rather to underscore that what God is looking at is our heart, our motivation.

Jesus made the concept very clear in the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is just one of several examples:  You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Matt. 5:27  Sin begins in the mind and it is possible to sit in church week after week and go through the motions, but have your heart far from God.  THAT is what the leaven of the Pharisees produces in a life.  It looks good on the outside but inside is what Jesus referred to as ‘dead men’s bones.’

What was the leaven of Herod?  Herod was meticulous in keeping the laws of Rome while he, himself, lived an immoral and debauched life. The leaven of Herod involves an exalting of civil law above God’s moral law – that is, putting man’s law above God’s law.  The deeper issue is fearing man more than fearing God.

The Bible says that the fear of man is a snare but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.  Prov. 29:25

Seen through that lens, the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod have the same root – fear of what other people think and allowing that fear to dictate our behavior.  The Pharisees intimidated the people into a suffocating, legalistic rule-keeping; Herod intimidated the people by threatening them with cruel Roman reprisals for breaking Rome’s laws.  In both cases, the people were held hostage by fear – the fear of how they appeared to others and fear of what men would do to them for transgressing.

The Gospel offers a different message: LOVE, not fear, is to be the motivation of all we do – love of God first and foremost, and love of others. Jesus said, But go and learn what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  Matthew 9:13

Simply stated, hypocrisy is pretending to be something you’re not.  Hypocrisy is closely related to fear of man because that fear of what people think is often at the root of a hypocrite’s decisions and behavior.

Paul wrote to the Galatians: It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.  Gal. 5:1

Allowing the opinion of others to dictate your behavior is a form of slavery.   Brothers and sisters, we have been set free from ALL slavery to love the Lord our God with a passionate and abandoned love.

Let us ask the Lord to turn His searchlight on our souls and if He finds any hypocrisy or fear of other people’s opinions, let us ask Him to forgive us and to cleanse us from every vestige of entrapment.

 

The Red Words #5 Jan. 1, 2019

Blessings abundant to all of you, my friends, as this new year begins.  May this year find us getting deeper into the Word of God and closer than ever to the Lord Jesus.

Jesus hardly went anywhere without being watched by the Pharisees!  Mark records that one day Jesus was walking through the grain fields with His disciples and as they walked, the disciples picked some of the grain for they were hungry.  On seeing this, the Pharisees immediately seized upon the opportunity to level an accusation against Jesus, albeit cloaked in a ‘loaded’ question.

The Pharisees were saying to Him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath? And He [Jesus] said to them: ‘Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he gave it to those who were with him? 

Jesus said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.  Mark 2:24-28

grain

There was nothing wrong with what the disciples did, because their gleaning was not considered stealing according to the Torah (Deut. 23:25) The issue with the Pharisees was only about the day on which they did it.  They had created an extensive list of “dos” and “don’ts” related to the Sabbath, and this action violated one of the items on their list.

Jesus never violated God’s command to observe the Sabbath or approved of His disciples violating God’s command to observe the Sabbath.  However, He often broke man’s legalistic additions to the Torah for the same Torah that the Pharisees claimed they followed, commanded that nothing be added or taken away from God’s law:

You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.  Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32

By developing a long list of requirements and prohibitions and imposing them strictly on the people, the Pharisees themselves violated the commandment of Deuteronomy by raising their traditions to the level of inspired Scripture!   It is THIS which Jesus refuted and refused to tolerate.

And in referring to David’s use of the “holy bread” in I Samuel 21:1-6, Jesus showed an important principle – human need is more important than religious ritual.

This is exactly what many people, steeped in tradition, simply cannot accept: that what God really wants is mercy before sacrifice (Hosea 6:6); that love toward others is more important than religious rituals (Isaiah 58:1-9); that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart; these, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17

Jesus addressed this problem at another time: He was also saying to them, You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. Mark 7:9

The Lord then went on to declare that He was the Lord of the Sabbath. If He, the very Lord of the Sabbath, was not offended by His disciple’s actions, then these legalistic traditionalists should not have been offended either.

Jesus had already confronted this same issue in Jerusalem as recorded in John, chapter 5.  There was a pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem where the sick, the blind and the crippled gathered for there was a tradition that an angel of God periodically came down and stirred the waters and the first person in the pool after the stirring would be healed.  Jesus, in obedience to His Father, walked into the pool area one day, stopped in front of one individual who had been ill for 38 years and healed him.  Then Jesus turned around and left.

John adds: The man became well, picked up his pallet, began to walk. Now, it was the Sabbath on that day.

And of course, guess who’s watching?  The Pharisees said to the man who was healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” 

Talk about insensitivity! The man had been ill for THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS! Longer than Jesus had been on the earth!!!  After such a lengthy illness, should not everyone, including the Pharisees, been rejoicing at the blessing of healing this man received?

Thirty-eight years and this man finally could get up and walk and carry his bed and you, Pharisees, make an issue out of the fact that it’s the Sabbath and you’re not supposed to be carrying something?  Seriously! Really!

But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.”  The point he’s making is “Look, if this man has power over disease, then he has an authority clearly greater than yours. And when he said walk, I walked.”

Now look at vs. 16: For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.  Wow! So it’s horrible to heal somebody on the Sabbath?

Sabbath tradition was their domain and they were fanatical, way beyond Scripture. Scripture gives no restrictions for the Sabbath other than refraining from work. But the rabbinical system had  invented endless, impossible rules and restraints for Sabbath conduct, and enforced every one of those rules as strictly as possible.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus constantly challenged always people to choose between His gospel of humility, repentance, grace and faith and the legalistic system of self-righteous works and performance that led to pride. The choice is still the same.

The Sabbath was made for rest and blessing and joy and mercy and compassion and the meeting of needs. There wouldn’t be a better day in the week to heal somebody. There wouldn’t be a better day in the week to provide food than the Sabbath.

“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

He is Lord of the Sabbath because He is God made manifest in flesh.  He designed this day. He is the Creator. Doesn’t John say that at the beginning of his gospel? “Everything made was made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.” So it was He, Jesus, who ceased to work, it was He, Jesus, who rested. It was He, Jesus, who ordained this day to be blessed and separated from work.  He is LORD of the Sabbath….and of every minute of every hour of every day He gives us to live.

When all is said and done, the fundamental, unchangeable issue is this:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. 

Jesus declared that on these two commandments the entire Torah rested.  Therefore, it is love for God and love for your fellow man that overrules every tradition created in the minds of men.

The Red Words #4 12/18/2018

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the mew piece pulls away from the old and the tear is made worse.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine is spilled and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.  Mark 2:21-22

patch

Any time we are seeking to understand a scripture passage, we must first examine what was going on with the people directly involved.  Just before speaking the words above, Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s home – the account we considered last week. The fact that Jesus was associating with notorious sinners was in and of itself a scandal to the religious crowd. But apparently this gathering was on a day that the Pharisees and John’s disciples normally fasted. These disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were therefore questioning Jesus about why His disciples didn’t keep the traditional fast days imposed by rabbinic decree.

As you read the Gospels, you quickly see that conflict surrounded Jesus much of the time.

In chapter 1 Jesus is confronted with the temptation of Satan and the dangers of the wilderness and wild animals; in Capernaum he attends synagogue and is confronted with a demon possessed synagogue member.

In ch. 2 Jesus heals a paralyzed man but forgives his sin publicly first, thus causing the  Pharisees to accuse him of blaspheming God. Now he has the audacity to choose a tax collector as a disciple and to actually eat with all those nasty sinners, and on a fast day no less!  Jesus is just plain irritating to the Pharisees.

Now Jesus explains why his disciples do not fast by saying there is no fasting at a wedding banquet and follows that declaration with a parable about patches and old garments.  The Pharisees readily understood about the wineskins; new wine expands and if the skins it is put into for fermentation are old, they’ll burst as the wine expands. Remember, there were no synthetic fabrics in the ancient world.  When you washed anything made of cloth, it shrank.

But what is the wedding stuff?  What in the world is He saying?

In parable language, Jesus announces that He is bringing something entirely new onto the scene –  the Kingdom of God –  which, by the way, will not fit in with the man made religious traditions of the elite.  His coming to earth can be likened to a wedding.  It is the beginning of an entirely new life for all who heed the call of the Gospel.

Jesus then made crystal clear that what He’s preaching is completely opposite of what the Pharisees are preaching. What the Pharisees preached was that you work your own way to heaven by doing enough good works to convince God that He should let you into heaven when you die.  (As a friend of mine said once, ‘Good luck with that!‘)

The message of Jesus is so different, so opposite: He not only offers forgiveness to the worst of sinners but He actually is comfortable enough to sit down to a meal with them! This is an outrage to the Pharisees. And so on the heels of that act in regard to Matthew, Jesus now spells out just exactly how incompatible His message is with the establishment’s religious views.  In this confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus makes abundantly clear that there is no mixing of the old ways of legalism with the coming of the Kingdom, for salvation by grace through faith is a brand new garment.

The Pharisees should have quickly related what He was saying to something they knew from the prophet, Ezekiel:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

But they didn’t.  They had it backwards.  Their teaching was comprised of a legalistic and harsh keeping of rules and with His parable, Jesus declares the absolute incompatibility of the gospel with any words-based religious system.

Man’s sinfulness could not be ‘patched up’ with a few good works; mankind was in dire need of a brand new start – the gospel of repentance and forgiveness by grace made available through the precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But lest anyone misunderstand, let’s be clear. The old garment is not God’s Torah, it’s not the Old Testament.  The old garment is the religious system of rituals and traditions devised by man.  It is the religion of human self-righteousness and pieces of the gospel can never be stitched into it.

Make no mistake about it – the Pharisee-spirit is alive and well today.  Human nature likes independence, self-sufficiency, pride of achievement.  We are all the proverbial two year old who says, “I can do it myself!!!”

However, that doesn’t work when it comes to salvation or holiness.  No, my dear friend, you can’t do it yourself!  Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

I cannot save myself; and I cannot sanctify myself.  For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.  Philippians 2:13  Yes, He does the work in us; all He asks is that we acknowledge our complete dependence on Him and live grateful for His grace.

This Christmas season, may we all be renewed in the wonderment of His amazing grace!