Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jesus's Haunting Question

In this week's sermon I threw a bunch rocks at the Pharisees.  It was easy enough to do since they're always opposing Jesus.  But in the midst of studying the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1-9 this last week, Jesus's question to them has haunted me:  "Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?"  As I pointed out on Sunday, the Pharisees misused and added to the commandments of God, and though their intentions may have been good, the result was disastrous: the very thing they hoped would help them follow God's commandments (that is, their tradition) became the thing that they used to break God's commandments.  A seemingly good thing, in the hands of a corrupted heart, became an instrument of evil.  For the sake of their tradition they broke God's commands.  And Jesus asks: Why would you do such a thing?  It is a similar question that Jesus asks, somewhat incredulously, in the garden during his betrayal: "Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48)  The sin in our hearts takes even the most beautiful things and turns them towards evil.  Jesus's question has haunted me for this reason: I break God's commands for the sake of many things.  For the sake of good things, like family, comfort, friends, work, reputation, I break the commands of God.

We could take Jesus's question and turn it around this way:

"Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your  _______?"  

Fill in the blank.  What goes in there for you?  What, in your life most often leads you to break God's commands or fail to follow Jesus?  If you're not sure, perhaps you could pray right now and ask God what this thing is. And itt doesn't have to be bad things:  "sex, drugs, and rock n' roll," or self-promotion, money, the need for control or laziness.  Your blank could be filled with devotion to family, enjoyment of solitude, love of study, health or fitness.  Good things turned away from God's purposes.  

To me, this is very convicting.  ... But conviction is meant to take us somewhere.  So, what's next?

There is another story about Jesus that can help us here.  In Matthew 19, Jesus meets a young man who is rich and influential.  This man, by all accounts, is moral, upstanding, hardworking (much like our Pharisees from Sunday's gospel text and sermon).  Jesus challenges this man to give up his possessions so that he can follow Jesus.  The story ends with the young man leaving and Jesus reminding us that:  "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."  (Matt 19:24).  I know that's familiar phrase, so let me translate using different words:   "It is easier for a horse to go through a keyhole than for a rich man to enter into God's Kingdom, to be saved."  

The riches this man had were his good thing that his heart had corrupted.  For his riches sake, he would not follow Jesus.  

We are all that rich man.  And true repentance involves taking whatever went into your blank in the question above, and asking God to put it in perspective for you, even take it away if necessary.  True faith says, "Lord, help me to see how great You and your promises are so that this good thing will be put in perspective." (Ephesians 3:14-19).  Nothing is worth breaking God's commands, and following Jesus is worth anything.  

How can we ever hope to have this kind of faith and repentance?  How can do we, men and women are rich with many good things, how can we hope to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?  Thankfully, God is powerful enough to help us even in this bind, and He deeply wants to break us free.  (Philippians 2:12-13).  

Jesus said of the rich young man's situation:  "With man, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible."  (Matt 19:26)  And he says the same thing to you and me.