Posts Tagged With: legalism

Jesus: Our True Rest

Jesus: Our True Rest
Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

——————–

Our exhausted and stressed-out society is overworked, sleep-deprived, and even our technology depletes us.  We are truly a culture that desperately needs rest and yet when we attempt to find that rest, it backfires.

In our passage Jesus speaks of a “yoke”, referring to the bar which fastens two oxen together tightly at the neck in order that they could work more effectively.  Weights are attached to that bar in order to maintain constant pressure. In speaking this way, Jesus guides his audience to conclude that there are two choices: The default yoke of idols (leading to exhaustion) and the yoke of Christ (the true sabbath rest).

1. The Yoke of Idols

The yoke that harnesses each and every one of us destructively to our idols is one that always crushes us over time; choking us with an ever-increasing pressure that won’t let up.  Lest we limit our thinking, consider some obvious modern examples of idols:

  • Physical appearance; endlessly shopping for new trends or fashions, but never satisfied.

  • Yoked Oxen

    Yoked Oxen

    Health and fitness; running and exercising our bodies down to a grinding bone-on-bone pain, but never content with what stares back in the mirror.

  • Career and recognition; perpetually climbing the stairs of ambition, only to find out that our loved ones and friends (even ourselves) were left in the dust.

  • Striving for success, reputation, intelligence, being liked, or being seen as cool or hip.

  • Personal freedom; but finding that more sex with more partners or manipulating more people to make more money merely brings emptiness.

  • And what about those things we perceive as GOOD things like family, friends, community, church?  The problem here is that any time we tether our identity, self-worth, and inner peace to something added onto Jesus Christ, we turn that “good” thing into an “ultimate” thing1 thereby converting it into an idol.

And ironically, the rest we seek cannot be found in church or religion either. Paradoxical as this initially sounds, it is true that people can get far more burned and washed out by church and religion than by all other realms of life. Think of our context here in Matthew 11.

Jesus came to a culture that was extremely religious and yet very far from God. The religious systems and structures, as exemplified and directed by the Pharisees (the religious leaders of that day), had been crushing the common people. So near the middle of this long multi-chapter section in the gospel of Matthew confronting those Pharisees, we find our strategically placed verses in 11:28-30 (about coming to Jesus for rest) immediately followed by chapter 12 regarding Sabbath rest. The context speaks of rest from religious striving.

The word “weary” in vs.28, translated from the Greek kopiao, speaks of being tired and exhausted from toil, burdens, and even grief; more than physical tiredness, it’s an emotional and spiritual exhaustion.  Also in vs.28 is the word “heavy-laden” phortizo. This word only appears twice in the New Testament; once here and then in Lk.11:46  where Jesus condemns the Pharisees for weighing down people with religious burdens. The context is important.

Even up til today, the rank and file in the pew have become guilted and shackled by man-made religious rules, traditions, and expectations.  The underlying (and lying) message is that if we somehow can get our act together better,  then we would please God; as if our righteousness was tied to our religious performance. But it’s not.

In fact, any time we say to ourselves, “If only I could ______, then I would be ok” (regardless what we fill in that blank), we have dangerously put onto ourselves the yoke of idolatry and will never be able to find the rest we so desperately need.  However, there’s good news.

2. The Yoke of Christ

Jesus offers a whole other way; the true rest that our human condition yearns for: Rest from striving, rest from trying to measure up, rest from trying to better ourselves for recognition or self-respect, rest from trying to improve in order to be okay with God, others, and ourselves. True rest.

In vs.28, Jesus invites us to “come”, the Greek deute, which has the meaning of “coming with and following”.  We see it in Mt 4:19 where Christ solicits the new disciples to “Come, follow me … and I will make you fishers of men”.  Jesus is not referring to a one-time event but rather an active and continual relationship of following; that we would find our rest in Him.

Van Gogh, 1890 Rest, Work (After Millet)

Van Gogh, 1890
Rest, Work (After Millet)

This is a deep and refreshing spiritual rest.  It’s the same word used in Revelation 14:13 regarding the rest of the saints who have died after all their labors are complete.

Gospel writer Matthew immediately follows this discourse about Jesus’ rest with chapter 12 about the Sabbath.  The connection is that Jesus is saying that it is HE himself, not a day of the week or activity in an assembly, who is the Sabbath rest for the people of God.

In this way, we have yet another example of Jesus Christ being the absolute fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures: In this example, he is the embodiment of the Old Testament Sabbath.

But we must come to him in weakness, humility, and dependence, like little children (vs.25) with hands and hearts opened wide to receive; for children are helpless and needy. For when we come to Jesus in this way, he figuratively removes the default yoke of our idolatry that weighs down and crushes, and places onto our necks His yoke which is “easy” (vs.30; the Greek chrestos which interestingly sounds very similar to Christos, which translates as Christ!).

The yoke Jesus gives his followers is not something that is separate from him (that he places on our necks and then walks away), but rather the yoke IS Jesus.  He is the easy yoke that binds us together with him, and in whom we can truly find the eternal rest for our hearts and souls, both now and forevermore.

#Wade

——————–

NOTES: The gospel reading for July 19, Feast of Macrina, Monastic and Teacher 379

1. Ultimate things is a phrase I’m borrowing from Dr. Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan NYC.

Advertisements
Categories: Blessed Life, Devotional, Sabbath Rest, Spiritual Rest | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raising The Bar

Raising The Bar

Matthew 5:43-48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

—————-

If loving our neighbor wasn’t a difficult enough challenge, Jesus expands the definition of neighbor here in what we call his “Sermon on the Mount” to include our enemies (vs.44), and murder to include every angry thought (vs.22) as well as adultery to include even our most private lustful thoughts (vs.28). And then the unrealistic expectations rise higher and higher up into a wounding crescendo, a painful stabbing point, where in vs.48 the bar has now been raised beyond any conceivable reach. At precisely this point Jesus divulges to his hearers the necessary standard of righteousness that God requires of all: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Wait… what?

This text describes a standard of righteousness which God does require, per Jesus, but that is utterly absurdly impossible for anyone to be able to reach. The result is that every single thinking person who hears or reads those words should be stopped dead in our tracks. We know intuitively it is not even within our DNA to come close.

So if Jesus knows we can’t do it, why does he command it?

Sermon-on-the-Mount

Sermon On The Mount

To answer that question, let’s be reminded of the socio-historical and religious context of first century Palestine. The Israelites, the people of God, had yet again missed grace and embraced works; the human nature defaulting to circumvent the grace of God by attempting to be good in our own strength and efforts. For the Pharisees of the day, this was done by observing the commandments (Ex.20, Dt.5), the Old Testament “Law” in general, plus the midrash; those many additional human religious rules, rites, and traditions layered on top of it all. But it didn’t work. Those hearers were obviously far from the Kingdom of God when Jesus came.

So how can imperfect human beings achieve this perfection that God requires?

The Greek teleios, translated “perfect” in vs.48, is defined as perfect, perfection, and also as complete or finished. It appears seventeen times in the New Testament and is the same word Jesus uses when admonishing the rich young ruler in Mt 19:21, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”. Those were very hard words to hear, even when spoken with compassion, for that earnest young man walked away downcast.

So this all seems so impossibly hopeless, and Jesus really does leave us hanging on verse 48 waiting for a resolution that doesn’t immediately come as it’s not spoken right afterwards. Instead we’re stuck in a conundrum; yearning for a perfection and completeness exceeding that of the Pharisees, but unable to muster it on our own.

sermon on the mount

Sermon On The Mount

But for those who rely on Christ, there is hope and here’s the key: While we do need to be perfect, perfected, holy and righteous, it won’t come from anything inside us at all. None of our attempts or efforts will even make a dent. Instead, what is given to us by the finished work of Christ on the cross is an external righteousness which comes from outside of ourselves; it is HIS righteousness, applied to us on our behalf.

Theologians speak of a double imputation that occurred on the cross and what they mean is simply this: When Jesus took our sin upon himself, he simultaneously applied his perfect righteousness onto us. It’s a big switch and this is exactly how we become perfect in God’s eyes; not by anything we do or don’t do, but by what Jesus did on our behalf. Very simple and yet extremely profound.

Jesus himself IS our perfection and our completeness as he lives his eternal life in and through us by his Holy Spirit. So when he calls us to “be perfect” (vs.48), in essence he is calling us to rest completely in Him. And that is good news.

#Wade

Categories: Death on Cross, Devotional, Sanctification, Sermon On The Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Foolishness To The Greeks

Jesus Christ Crucified is Center

1 Corinthians 1:18-25   18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

———————–

Without Jesus as Center, it is impossible to remain on the right path. It doesn’t matter the good intentions, rich history and traditions, well-meaning followers or leaders.  Without Jesus as Center, the route traveled will quickly deviate off the appointed path to the right or to the left; even at some point spinning off to the degree of necessitating intervention.

This occurred in the Corinthian Church very early on and St. Paul’s “First Letter to the Corinthians” is his targeted attempt to repair it.

1Corinthians

Corinth

A few years earlier, Paul came to Corinth and found a thriving commercial center; a hub of money, influence, thought, and immorality.  Basically Corinth was a power-center much like a New York City or Los Angeles is today.   And Paul, per his typical method, preached, evangelized, discipled, delegated, and then moved on to the next region to do the same; letting the newly placed local elders and leaders continue to shepherd, teach, and guide the newly converted Christians.  This was the pattern.

There were problems with Corinth, however.  Idolatries were very entrenched there and the new church became too influenced by its surrounding culture.

The result was twofold: A growing over-emphasis on human reason and on religious zealotry.  Those two categorical issues were (and still continue to be) deadly in luring disciples away from experiencing the true life that Christ offers.

So reenter the Apostle Paul:  Having heard about these concerns from afar, he sat down and penned this letter (1 Corinthians) to plead the message that Jesus Christ Crucified is the Center; anything else is foolishness and powerlessness!

1.  The Foolishness of REASON

It might seem odd, at first glance, that the highly educated Apostle Paul would minimize the importance of human reason for he was known to persuade, debate, and engage the human mind in synagogues and in public squares alike.  And we modern Westerners, children of the Enlightenment, might miss the gist of this text because when Paul quotes the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah (in vs.19) he is not suggesting a devaluation of truth.  Instead, Paul is directly attacking the Greek philosophy that had so heavily influenced the Corinthian Church after his departure; it had been veering those new disciples away from Jesus as Center.

The Greek Philosophers taught that there was a dualism in life — The spirit being good and pure and the body/earth being impure or nonessential.  Even as Paul was evangelizing, and later penning letters, this Greek philosophy was crystallizing more and more into an intense “Gnostic” strain (meaning “knowledge”).  Scholars call this early appearance “proto-Gnosticism”, but I’ll simply refer to it as Gnosticism as it has changed so little at its core.

Those Gnostics argued much about all the latest ideas and perspectives but it was all “head” knowledge.  There was deadness to all the philosophizing and opinionating about their points of view:  All head but no heart.

Apostle Paul Writing

Apostle Paul Writing

It was within this context that Paul admonished the (Gnostic-influenced) Corinthian Christians that they had gotten it backwards.  All of the head-knowledge philosophizing and disputing was utter foolishness. Instead of arriving at Jesus as Center, all that speculative human reasoning ended up instead at themselves as center.

And so then it became anthropocentric, not christocentric; worthless and foolish.  That word “foolish”, the Greek moraino, is the same used of the salt that became tasteless and worthless thereby needing to be tossed out (Mt 5:13, Lk 14:34) as well as the description of the idolatry of the Gentiles in Romans 1 who “claimed to be wise” (Rom 1:22) but who were really fools about spiritual truth.

Fast forward to today where the Gnostic error continues to hold sway.   There are many current dialogues and conversations about how to “do life” and even “do church” according to the philosophies and progressive trends of the ever-changing culture, and there is also the inundation of the “principles for success” pragmatism as well, but these are not based on the centrality of Christ and Him crucified.

And let’s not miss the important point:  The “crucified” adjective is crucial.  In verse 23, Paul drives home this point, “but we preach Christ crucified  and then elaborates that this is where true wisdom originates.

Let’s be clear: Even though there can be layers of church, religion, and even Jesus placed on top to give an appearance of authenticity, it’s still NOT the gospel unless Christ Crucified is Center.  All else is utter foolishness.

2. The Powerlessness of RELIGION

The other destructive fallacy contaminating the Corinthians was religious zealotry.  In verse 22, Paul writes that the “Jews demand miraculous signs”.  What Paul meant was that the Jews had elevated the importance of religious power, signs and miracles; in essence they were awaiting a Messiah who would fulfill their national hopes and accomplish their socio-political goals by ousting the Roman Empire in a show of power.

They wanted a Messiah to validate their self-centered interpretations, religious rites and traditions.  So by interpreting the scriptures through the lens of their own religious traditions and culture, they had created a god in their own image, and thereby missed the real power of God in Christ.

For God’s true Messiah was not a commanding warrior for the Jews only but quite the opposite; a crucified suffering servant for ALL nations, in the vein of Isaiah 52-53.

To the Jews this concept was mind-blowingly offensive; much like if Osama Bin Laden’s head was carved onto Mt. Rushmore in the prominent place where George Washington’s head used to be.  Unarguably offensive.

Case in point: The Apostle Paul himself.  He describes his religious pedigree in Acts 22 as one thoroughly trained and zealous, persecuting Christians, even to the point of murder (Acts 8: The stoning of Stephen).

3-elders-judging-church-discipline

Religious Zealots Self-Righteously Judging and Imposing Rules

That the Messiah would be crucified (let alone worshiped as divine) was absolutely disgraceful to Paul (before his conversion) as well as to the Jewish people in general.  This is because the Jewish religion held that anyone who was hung on a “tree” was accursed (Gal 1:13-14, 3:13) and they could not wrap their minds around the fact that the God-Man Jesus so loved his people that he went willingly to the accursed cross; dying a criminal’s death, paying the penalty for sin and brokenness, thereby redeeming mankind and creation.

This was a massive “stumbling block” as religious Jews could not get past the offensiveness of the cross.  Here in verse 23 is the Greek scandalon where we get our word “scandal”.  It was an indignity to religiously zealous people that they could not  try harder, self-improve, do or be anything in order to become right in God’s eyes. The message of the cross was an absolute outrage!

In response, Paul is direct, using that word scandalon; echoing back to Jesus words in the gospel where our Lord accused Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mt 16:23).

Within the Corinthian Church, those old religious beliefs and traditions were so insidiously formidable that they began to creep in and undercut the gospel.  The religious zealots (much like the Judaizers of Galatians) were followers of Jesus within the church but they layered on top all the legalistic rules and self-righteousness from their traditions.  But by doing so, by adding anything to Christ Crucified, they subtracted Him away.  There cannot be Jesus Christ as Center plus any other stipulations or addendums. To do so deflates the power of the gospel.

A note about belief: The Greek word used in verse 21 for “belief”, pisteuo, carries a far weightier meaning than simple intellectual assent.  To truly believe in Jesus Christ, in the scriptural sense, means to fully entrust and place confidence in him and his work on the cross on our behalf.

Fast forward to today where self-righteous religious zealotry (both fundamentalist AND progressivist) continue to be pervasive within the Christian community.  Where religious rules, denominational (and non-denominational) traditions, and overwhelming focus on what they are doing (or not doing) continues to sweep away the grace of God infused into the centrality of Jesus Christ Crucified.

So, what does God think about all this?

God’s grace is revealed remarkably in verse 21 where the text reads that, “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”.  This word “pleased” (well-pleased), the Greek eudokeo, is the exact word God spoke to vocalize his complete delight in His Son Jesus at his Baptism (Mt 3/Mk1/Lk 3) and later at the Transfiguration (Mt/Mk/Lk 9).

Imagine that!  The same pleasure and delight the Father has for his beloved Son is the exact same he has in saving to himself (through the message of his gospel; the cross) people adopted as His sons and daughters.

What might have appeared like foolishness to some or scandalous to others is exactly what we all need.   The message of the gospel leads us directly to Jesus Christ Crucified as Center.

#Wade

Categories: Apostle Paul, Death on Cross, Devotional, Gnosticism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.