As I was reading Luke chapter four through the first part of chapter six this morning, some questions and thoughts came into my mind. This is just a thought, but I wonder if maybe Jesus did many of the things that He did and said many of the things that He said in order to reach the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law. At first glance through the Gospels, it would appear that He does things and says things just to tick them off. However, I am starting to see a different perspective.
There is not a single person on the planet that has the ability to see things from a truly objective standpoint. Everyone has a bias, a perspective, and a story through which they filter their experiences and evaluate the purpose of life. This is what can often get in our way, especially when we are reading Scripture, because we read the Word of God and filter it through our own life experiences and purposes rather than seeking to understand the author’s experiences, or the experiences of the characters in the story. Although we can only walk in someone else’s shoes to a certain point, the more we are able to do that in whatever situation, our understanding of the world and God’s purposes will be that much richer.
The Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law had spent generations perfecting the right way to live. Even more than that, they had spent generations trying to figure out God. Although there is nothing wrong with either of these aspirations in principle, things had progressed to a point that was far too radical and oppressive. So many times in the past, I have dismissed the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law as proud men who loved power and had become hard-hearted. However, when I began to see things from their perspective, I started to have compassion on the jerks who ultimately put Jesus to death.
Looking at the history of Israel, God had a plan from the beginning. It started with one man (Abraham) and progressed into a nation in Egyptian captivity. God rescued His people from the oppression, led them to the promised land, and established them as a new powerhouse in the land. Throughout the years of wandering in the desert, God gave Moses several guidelines that the nation of Israel should follow, and these became the law of Moses. These guidelines were meant to be followed to the letter, and addressed daily systems and issues. At first glance, the law might seem overbearing. However, it was given as a means to bring order to chaos and to sustain the people of God.
There came a time in Israel’s history when they little by little disregarded the law that God had given Moses until it reached the point that they treated God Himself with apathy and contempt. This ultimately led to the defeat and exile of the entire people of God for 70 years. Eventually, they turned back to God and He reestablished them as a nation. The law was restored along with their freedom.
By the time that Jesus came, a whole different kind of oppression had befallen Israel: the Roman Empire. The nice thing about the Romans was that they allowed the Jewish people to maintain their culture and way of life as long as they did not disturb the peace. The problem with Jesus was that He disturbed the peace. In the eyes of the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law who understood that they had been given a trust to govern the people of Israel, Jesus rocked the Roman boat, and everyone knows that you don’t rock Roman boats. They needed to protect their people, as was the purpose of their position, and Jesus was going to mess things up for all of them.
Understanding all of this helps me to understand why they were so hostile toward Jesus. However, being a follower of Jesus, I understand why He responded the way He did toward them. The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law had enforced the law to such a high standard that it was impossible for anyone to correctly follow. In the midst of the details, they had lost sight of the big picture. Lest we turn to point our finger in their direction, maybe we should examine our own hearts on this issue.
More than any of the frustration that Jesus might have felt toward them, I think that He had a deep compassion and burden for these men. I have often wondered why He would heal people and command them not to tell anyone, but to go show themselves to the priest “as a testimony to them.” Jesus knew He would be found out. Why was He trying to hide his identity? Maybe He wasn’t; maybe he was focusing His ministry. He knew that the simple people would follow Him when He healed the sick and fed the hungry, but He also knew how difficult it would be to reach the hearts of the religious leaders. In John chapter 9, Jesus tells them that if they were blind, they would not be guilty of sin, but it is because they claim to see that their guilt remains. In other words, they were blind because they thought they could see. Isn’t that a thought to ponder?
I worry about the Western church. I am afraid that we have become so arrogant in our idea that we are the powerhouse on matters relating to faith. In our eyes, we are the enlightened ones; everyone else is a heathen. We pat ourselves on the back whenever we feed the hungry or help the homeless. We pray so that all the world can hear. We write books with our faces on the front, longing to be the next poster child of Christianity. When reading the things that Jesus said to the Pharisees throughout the Gospels, I can’t help but insert my name in that place. I would hope and pray that God had compassion on them, because I hope and pray that He might have compassion on me.
Are we so blind that we miss the salvation that Christ is offering? Has the fact that we claim we know the answers to life’s questions disqualified us from all that God longs to bring about through us? We speak theology so eloquently and spend years studying its great mysteries, yet have we lost the simple truth that Jesus came and died to give? It is a question that we must all ask ourselves, lest we become like the Pharisees and Teachers of the law, who focused so heavily on the details that they missed the big picture. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on being a part of the Kingdom of God because my pride stood in the way. I don’t want to eliminate Jesus because He threatened all that I had found secure.
2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” Be careful in assuming that you are set, that you have reached a certain level with God. Be cautious when you think you have arrived. Pride will destroy faith more quickly than unbelief, and it does far greater damage. Take some time to examine yourselves and test your faith. Do not allow yourselves to get to the point where you are too righteous to be holy. Dive into the Word of God with fresh eyes. You may be surprised at what you find.