Tag Archives: Pharisees

Have You Read What He Said? – A Poem

You think He’s a prophet, a great teacher,
nothing more, nothing less

Seriously?
Have you ever read
the many crazy things He said?

He spoke like a street corner sandwich-board

From that time on Jesus began to preach,
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Or a homeless man rambling on
about angels and demons

The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom.
The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

He was homeless, with no place to lay His head

No one listens to a crazy man with a sandwich-board
or the homeless man rambling on

You surely don’t call them prophets, or great teachers
just crazy, nothing more

He spoke like a paranoid schizophrenic
certain the ones in power were after Him

We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered
over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law.
They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles
to be mocked and flogged and crucified.

He was plagued by delusions of grandeur
claiming He was God; had always lived and always would
even after He died, He claimed He would rise again

“On the third day I will be raised to life!”
 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

No one would listen to someone who made such claims today
They would lock Him in the loony bin, put Him on meds
until He understood He was just a man

The leaders of His day did even worse
They crucified Him because He claimed He was the Messiah
the Son of God

Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man
sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.

Then the high priest said, “Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.

But He offered some great advice, you say
and spoke of love and forgiveness

That He did, but His advice, His commands
turned many away who thought His teaching too hard

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. . .
And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. . .
And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.

He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life,
and I will raise him up on the last day.
For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.

Those who followed Him then, those who follow Him now
do so not because He was a great teacher or a prophet
but because He was who He said He was
Immanuel, God with us
nothing more, and certainly nothing less

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Palm Sunday Thoughts

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. It is the day on which the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the city riding on a donkey. They waved palm branches and laid their coats on the ground beneath His feet. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” they cried out. They believed He was the promised Messiah.

But not everyone believed or was happy about Jesus’ arrival.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:39-40 (NIV).

Palm Sunday is celebratory, but it doesn’t take long for the sentiment of the Pharisees to take hold among a larger group of people. In a mere five days the crowd will call for Jesus’ crucifixion following his joke of a trial before the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pontius Pilate. The majority of the people will turn against Him, one of His closest twelve disciples will betray Him, and the other eleven disciples will desert and disown Him.

But coming back to our Palm Sunday celebration, one has to wonder why the people were so excited about Jesus’ arrival to the city. I believe it was in large part because they had heard many things about Him that fulfilled the prophecies of the promised Messiah, only a few of which included that:

  • He was born in Bethlehem:
    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV).
  • He was born of a virgin:
    “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 (NIV).
  • He had healed many, giving hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind:
    “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” Isaiah 29:18 (NIV).
  • He entered the city riding on a donkey:
    “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NIV).

There was no Facebook, Twitter, or even Internet blogs during Biblical times, but news still spread about this man who could calm the storm, feed the hungry, and heal the sick and lame. The crowds that He drew all throughout His earthly ministry clearly indicate that news spread quite well if it was news worth hearing.

News had spread of this amazing prophet who was able to best even the Pharisees and Sadducees in a religious debate, who spent time with riff-raff and sinners, and who claimed to be able even to forgive sins without an animal sacrifice. He offered the common people freedom from servitude and burden of living under the thumb of the religious rulers of the day.

We celebrate Palm Sunday today because He makes the same offer even today. He offers freedom from the burden of legalism and forgiveness of our sins. And the truly amazing thing is that even if, in the midst of the confusion and agony of Holy Week to come, we desert or deny Him, He will redeem us.

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The Life-Giving Light

I’ve been reading (albeit slowly) through Isaiah and Romans on my Bible-in-a-year schedule. Although I am at chapter 40 of Isaiah, I keep being drawn back to a passage in chapter 26, verses 18-19.

18 We, too, writhe in agony,
      but nothing comes of our suffering.
   We have not given salvation to the earth,
      nor brought life into the world.
 19 But those who die in the Lord will live;
      their bodies will rise again!
   Those who sleep in the earth
      will rise up and sing for joy!
   For your life-giving light will fall like dew
      on your people in the place of the dead!

On the same day that I read Isaiah 26, I also read Romans 1. The person who put this Bible reading schedule together knew what they were doing by having Isaiah and Romans coincide. Paul begins his letter to the Romans like this:

This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. Romans 1:1-2.

The promised Good News is that God’s “life-giving light will fall like dew” and that “those who die in the Lord will live.” Jesus fulfilled this promise. Though nothing comes of our suffering, salvation and new life have come from His great suffering and sacrifice. The promise was fulfilled in the New Testament, but it was first given in the Old Testament. They are two parts of a continuing story of God’s love and redemption of His beloved people.

There are many who refuse to accept this promised gift of salvation from our Creator. But that’s not new, either. During the time that Jesus walked this earth as a man there were various groups of Jews with differing beliefs about God. Most people are familiar with the Pharisees, as they figure prominently in the Gospels. The Pharisees are generally known as a legalistic sect of Jews who believed in following the letter of the law, and spent a great deal of time interpreting the law. There are numerous passages in the Gospels in which the Pharisees attempt to trick Jesus into breaking the law so that they might criticize Him, such as the accusation of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) or when Jesus healed on the Sabbath (technically against the law because it was considered work) (Mark 3:1-6).

But I digress. I really want to talk about the another sect, the Sadducees. Generally, the Sadducees were the wealthy class, the aristocrats, and were also in charge of the temple. Although they believed in God, the Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife. They believed that when a person died that was the end, there were no rewards or punishments after death. They held this belief in spite of the passage from Isaiah quoted above.

Okay, I must digress again to tell a little joke. —— Did you hear about the Jewish ruler who didn’t believe in heaven? That’s why he was “sad, you see.” —— I know, it’s stupid joke, but for some reason it always makes me chuckle and helps me remember how to pronounce Sadducees.

I read an article today about C.S. Lewis and there was one part in particular that I really liked:

Lewis didn’t write about the doctrinal squabbles dividing Christian groups of his time, Maudlin says. “He made a strategic decision early in his career to talk about ‘Mere Christianity,’ ’’ Maudlin says. “He never writes about different modes of baptism, different views of communion or anything that separates one church from another.”

That is one of the things that I have always liked about Lewis and that is what makes his classic “Mere Christianity” so wonderful. He sticks to the core of the Christian faith. All have sinned and are separated from God, but God so loved His creation that He sent His only Son to be the life-giving light for a lost world. Lewis focuses on the idea that those who die in the Lord will live!

In Jesus day there were many sects and divisions among the Jewish people. They tended to run along family lines, the twelve tribes of Judah not seeing eye to eye on many things. It is the same today among Christians. We disagree over doctrine and theology, and unfortunately let those differences of interpretation divide us.

This Christmas, I pray we would instead come together on the Gospel that is the core of our faith. Let us look to the life-giving light of the world, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel. Let us always remember that we who die in the Lord will live!

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What Purpose Is the Law?

Twenty years ago I was a third-year law student, learning the law and preparing for my new career. Twenty years later I do not practice law, though I do use my law degree in my current employment in legal publishing. For a long time I wondered why I went to law school and what God would have me learn from it. I think that it has given me a better understanding of the purpose of the law — both the Biblical law of Moses and the law that governs society.

Let’s take a look at the law in the United States. There are hundreds of thousands of laws at the city, county, state, and federal levels. Many are criminal laws prohibiting certain behavior. Others are civil laws requiring individuals to engage in certain behavior. Some laws are statutory and are created by legislative bodies, or are rules created by agencies that were created by legislative bodies. Other law is based on past court case decisions. Often laws are passed to prohibit a wrong that has been committed. The sheer number of laws on the books in the United States is mind-boggling. It makes the Biblical law of Moses look like a drop in the bucket.

In spite of all of these laws telling us what we cannot or should not do, or what we must do, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates “In 2008, over 7.3 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year-end — 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults.” In the civil arena, millions of lawsuits are filed against individuals, insurance companies, and corporations every year because of a claim that someone has violated someone else’s rights or injured them in some way. Clearly all the laws aren’t really doing what they were designed to do, which is protect people and give them guidance on how to behave in a civilized society.

We spend so many resources trying to create laws to govern how we should act. We are coming up on an election next week in which we will elect legislators, and in some cases judges, to create more laws, or modify or interpret the ones we have. Billions of dollars have been devoted to campaigning for this election and billions more will be spent to pay these legislators and judges to do their job. Unfortunately, in our “civilized” society such as system seems to have become necessary, though not completely effective.

At the core of all of the laws that are passed or handed down by judges are some basic principles that came from the mouth of a Savior. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12. Even today, this is the core of the law: to treat others as you would want them to treat you. If only we as humans would do that, we would no longer need the hundreds of thousands of laws telling us how to act. But instead of doing to others as we would have them do to us, we do to others as they HAVE done to us. We want payback and justice.

It seems the human heart, the human will, does not naturally follow the golden rule. We never have. In the beginning, there was only one rule: “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” One simple rule designed to protect Adam and Eve from the knowledge of evil, from selfishness and pride that lead to anger and bitterness. When there was that one simple rule, following the golden rule came naturally because they didn’t know anything else. But they broke that one simple rule.

Later God gave ten simple commandments, all designed to protect the Israelites and teach them how to follow the basic golden rule. But they couldn’t seem to obey even those ten simple commandments, and so more detailed rules and regulations were added to clarify and expand on the basics of the ten. Over time, the Pharisees did much the same as we have. They took a simple ten commandments and the other rules and regulations God had given, and they added a whole host of laws to clarify and expand upon them to govern the Jewish people.

Then along comes Jesus to bring us back to the basics, and what is the Greatest Commandment of all:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40.

It seems so simple. Love God and love your neighbor (who is, by the way, pretty much everyone, not just the guy who lives in the house next to yours). And yet the human heart so often doesn’t get it. Oh sure, we love those who love us and those we get along with, but what about those people who really tick us off? We don’t really love them. We don’t even know how. That’s why we create all those other laws to try to control our true nature, which is selfish and prideful. But the law will always fail in its efforts to change who we truly are.

But there is still hope.

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Romans 8:9-11.

The Spirit of Christ changes a person when they truly believe in their need for a Savior and the saving Grace of Jesus. It doesn’t happen all at once, but over time the Spirit rearranges the heart and will of God’s children to truly understand what it means to love your neighbor. The Spirit creates a desire to love your neighbor more and more. The law becomes irrelevant to the extent that you want to do better than the law can proscribe, because the law as humans know it and try to create it can never live up to the Godly standard of true and abiding love.

To be governed by the Spirit rather than the law is the last great hope of humanity. All we need to do is believe, trust, and surrender. Then we will truly love.

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