by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” —C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
Jesus made some harsh declarations from what is known as his Sermon on the Mount; particularly as recited by his servant Matthew.
“For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven… I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Why would Jesus say things like that? What was his problem?
I am serious about that. Jesus had a serious problem. I think it is safe to say that he would tell you that. Jesus came to earth in the flesh to replace that which is dead, with life. Long before his body would be broken and his blood shed for the ransom for sin for all time, Jesus would face serious opposition, namely from what at that time would be perceived as the “religious right”; religious conservatives not willing to move from what they thought or felt they knew to be right.
Jesus came with a message of hope and freedom, yet was embattled with religious leaders (temple priests, Pharisees, Sadducees) that used religion as leverage to govern people as they saw fit. Then there was the matter of devout Jews that refused to believe that their Messiah grew up among them. Not only would most of the aforementioned group reject the person and teachings of Jesus, they would reject their own people should they be associated with the company and teachings of Jesus.
If you think about it, that’s kind of how it is. When someone whose reputation for greatness precedes him or her, arrives to save the day, or to motivate and inspire us, we look forward with great anticipation to see, hear, or read his or her words with great expectation. Perhaps we are looking forward to their direction and leadership on a topic or way of life when that is what they are known for. We feel honored and privileged to be in their company or in the moment with them.
When someone meets the Pope or someone presidential, it can be awe-inspiring. Maybe it’s a Hollywood celebrity, famous musician or professional athlete that is standing before you, or you are attending their speaking engagement. It’s a big deal!
What happens, though, once the experience is tainted? Think about having grown up with the person everyone else is in awe of. He’s just a guy who’s let the fame go to his head. You should see her when she is not caked in make up. She’s pretty but doesn’t look anything like the girl on the television screen or magazine cover. What about in the case of Jesus?
The miracles and the message all were pretty amazing until he started going on and on about being the Son of God, sent from the Father, and all that. Now I have heard and read of the prophecies of the coming Messiah, but sorry brother… You’re not it… You’re not him. We know you. We saw you grow up. You were just a kid. You got on our nerves from time to time. You were no different from anyone else. So you took off for a few years after your dad died, and now your back, spewing all of this nonsense that you’re some kind of king put on the earth to save all mankind.
Really? Come on! You’re putting us on, right? Who do you think you are? In fact, with that kind of nonsense, I should warn you… You’re going to offend the wrong people. You might consider that before going on and on about what to some seems to border on blasphemy against their God.
When Jesus had finished telling these stories and illustrations, he left that part of the country. He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.
Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:53-58 (NLT)
Has that ever happened to you? Something really wonderful has happened in your life and you cannot wait to tell people about it; especially your loved ones. As excited as you are to include those who are important to you in this awesome, amazing… important thing… you tell them, eagerly anticipating their response and then… well… the excitement is not shared by your audience. They are not into it like you thought they would be.
But how could they not be? They are my family! They are my closest friends. What’s going on, here? Something’s not right.
“I have healed people, presented inexplicable miracles, and said things that offer them hope. I am their healer; their deliverer; their leader. The sick and the oppressed are hanging on my every word, dropping everything and following me around. A few of them are here right now. I couldn’t wait to get back to you and give to you whom I love, all of the best of what I have been giving to folks I barely know…
“What is wrong with you people?”
The oppositional forces Jesus faced in Jerusalem would be the nemesis that would ultimately secure his destiny as the ransom for sin and lead the kingdom of God into victory formation (an American football expression for the winning team running out the game clock once the outcome is inevitable). Through the sacrifice of Christ at the cross and his resurrection into new life, having defeated the power of sin, the kingdom of God is indeed in victory formation.
But prior to all of that, the Jewish temple priests, pharisees and scribes thought Jesus to be a blaspheming heretic. They were determined to stop him, even if it meant killing him in the end as they did.
Back to His Sermon…
I asked the question, why would Jesus say some of the things he said that sounded more like threats at times then invitations?
Jesus had been talking about the futility of worry. He made insightful remarks concerning the common sense of his audience talking about the matter of misdirected attention and how it tends to breed a feeling of discontentment. Jesus spoke on the problem of pursuing material wealth that in the end is worthless. To treasure wealth is to value that which is taken from us anyway because the circumstances of life can be relentless and cruel. Though we have inherited something of immeasurable value, to live as have-nots is to lose the peace and the joy that is to be experienced by every one of God’s children. To focus on what is missing is to be consumed with emptiness, when as followers of Christ in relationship with God, we have been given life in abundance, fully satisfied.
Jesus reminded his listeners that God cares for the birds in the air; that he notices should one fall from the sky… that God is attentive to the flowers in the field; that even they are well-nourished and cared for.
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?
“If God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Matthew 6:25, 30 (NLT)
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:31-34 (NKJV)
Note: Throughout this chapter, the Temple will be referenced with a capital ‘T’ as representing the Temple at the time of Christ’s earthly ministry.
Even in this part of Christ’s sermon, he took some shots at the Temple leaders using religion, namely the righteous judgment of God, as leverage to rule the people. The high priest, the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, scholars, and their minions, they had to look the part. They needed to act as if they were on the inside with God while, of course, the lowly people were on the outside looking in, admiring their religious authority figures as holy and far above them in the eyes of God.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!”
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.” Matthew 6:1-2, 5, 7-8, 16 (NLT)
One thing Jesus was not, was naive. He knew everything he said about those defying his ministry would get back to them. So he referred to the Temple leaders as a brood of vipers. He inferred that it was they that were confronting new followers of the truth, threatening these new followers that they would be shamed as blasphemers against God and never allowed back into the Temple; likely suggesting they would have hell to pay for turning against God by following the teachings of Jesus. Jesus pulled no punches when warning of the consequences for anyone preying on vulnerable new converts of truth, persuading them to abandon their new-found faith.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! Matthew 18:6-7 (NKJV)
Of course, this truth applies to anyone, whether they were the Temple leaders of that time, or whether they be anyone today, deceiving Christ-followers and committing the offense of deceiving them into returning to non-repentant life of sin, having rejected relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Sermon Continues… Matthew 7
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV)
This is one of those passages in the Bible that I believe is too often misunderstood. It needs to be understood in its proper context. It is often suggested from this passage of scripture that Jesus has determined that few will experience new life because it is a hard thing to choose a life with Christ when there are so many other alternatives appealing to the flesh as more attractive choices.
In our day, we cannot see God in the person of Jesus Christ with our own eyes. We cannot hear him with our own ears. We cannot touch his physical presence. In Christ’s day, they had the healings and the miracles and the revelationary teachings of Jesus, right there. He was in their midst with them. He walked among them. So what did Jesus mean when he suggested that narrow is the gate which leads to life, that it is a difficult path, and only a few find it?
Once again, consider the setting. The way to God for generations of Jews had been through the Temple by way of the high priest. Connection with God was achieved by the way of the rituals and traditions of religion. There was no talk of relationship with God. It was completely foreign to them this notion of relationship. Then Jesus arrives on the scene and essentially mandates that the old guard of the Temple is no longer relevant. The Jewish people worshiped the law of Moses. Now Jesus comes along and declares that the way of the law is the former way to God, and that he, Jesus, is the way back into reconciled and restored relationship with God.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 (NKJV)
Jesus is making it clear that only he, through relationship with him is their access to God. So the way to God is both exclusive and inclusive. Jesus is the narrow gate and the only access to God. At that time, that was a revelation not easily comprehended, if comprehended at all. It was a difficult thing to navigate, particularly when your salvation depended on it. The priests, who the Jewish people believed they knew, were saying that Jesus was crazy to insist that the only way to the Father was through the son; and he was that son. How could this man Jesus be the only access to God?
That sure sounds exclusive; and it is. But it is just as inclusive. It is difficult in that it required the letting go of what they once felt was right, even though what they understood to be true was arduously burdensome; maintaining adherence to the letter of the law. It was, therefore, difficult the laying down of that burden. (Think about how that is the issue for us today.) Yet, the good news of Jesus as the way to God since all can enter through the narrow gate should they (we) choose to.
The man who many thought a heretic; who many believed used some form of witchcraft or sorcery or something to work the miraculous, was now saying loudly that the way of the old covenant from Moses was no longer applicable for life with God. If you were to continue to follow the way of misguided religion, the joy of life in God would be stolen from you and you would be headed for destruction.
“What you are familiar with is the broad and fast way to your doom. I am the gateway to life. It is only found in me.”
Compared to the broad scope of religious ritual and tradition, according to the law of Moses, Jesus, as the gateway to life, was narrow. It was just him.
What is the wide (broad) gate that leads to destruction? Is it material wealth? Is it self-anointed reputation? Is it selfish ambition? Is it the need to be recognized and validated by other ambitious falsely-secure people? Is it the false pretenses of religion? Is it the insistent need to be right? Is it self-preservation against insurmountable threats? Is it self-promotion and self-aggrandizement to look bigger than one really is for personal gain and profit?
Jesus knew what it was. He’d been under the thumb of both Roman and Jewish oppression his entire childhood into adulthood. Whenever he said, “Woe” to the Pharisees and anyone like them assaulting the message of mercy and compassion, it was the word for lower than low, essentially meaning, “Damn you.” Except that in this case it is not cursing as in coarse language so much as it is a curse against what is tantamount to moral treason; the sabotage of righteous values; hostility against God.
Context and Perspective
The Temple was a big deal. It was grand. It was glorious. It was built and decorated to reflect the glory of God. Walk into a grand cathedral, or even one of the modern megachurch sanctuaries and you can imagine how impressive the Temple was and the awe of the experience to worship in it.
It wasn’t the building Jesus had a problem with. In fact, Jesus understood the Temple to be a house of worship and prayer. The presence of God was very much palpable in the place where people went to pray. We know that Jesus found the Temple to be sacred to the point that when merchants leveraged the guilt of folks, particularly the Gentile people, to charge exorbitant prices for the blood sacrifice necessary to assuage their conscience before God. Jesus stormed through the place with a whip and drove the savage vendors out, accusing them of turning the Temple into a den of thieves.
So the Temple was the hub of atonement for the sins of the Jewish people. It was the place to offer penance through blood sacrifice as a means of clearing one’s conscience. God was often presented as a righteous judge, and whose judgment was anticipated to be carried out unless there was acceptable atonement via acceptable sacrifice.
John W. Welch, a religion scholar at Brigham Young University, explains, “Judging is a common theme of the temple, particularly divine judgement… Especially in a temple-centered world view, God is the rightful and righteous judge for all mankind. Any other forms of judgment are likely flawed and presumptuous.” So when Temple leaders took to the theme of judgment as a manipulative ploy, Jesus found it flawed and presumptuous.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV)
This truth about compassion and forgiveness makes complete sense for us today. But once again, consider the context. The religious leaders were acting as the authority over the people. Their mission, it seemed, was to leverage the law of Moses against any action of the people they deemed displeasing to them. They used religion as a means to collect resources and assets and if they were resistant, they were ridiculed and at times punished for having defiled the Temple; and defiling the Temple was considered rebellion against a holy and just God.
Jesus grew up under the oppressive schemes of the Jewish hierarchy lording over the people with their club of judgment. But the people were torn. While they were no doubt impressed and moved by the words of promise and hope from Jesus, they found that to honor God was to obey the law and that meant religious adherence to the rules of law mandated through the governance of Temple priests and Pharisees.
“The interesting thing about the temple in the days of Jesus is that on the one hand, it’s a grand, new place. It’s the center of life and worship. It’s the showpiece of Jewish tradition. And yet, it could also be a center of controversy and tension.” —L. Michael White, Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin
The Temple building in and of itself was not at issue. The building never is. The issue was the piety and deception within its walls. The difference in the message of Jesus was that he spoke of love and grace through reconciliation into relationship with God that would come from his death as the payment for man’s sin. The message of the caretakers of the law was the practices of religion leading to judgment.
The example was the women caught in adultery, and before the Pharisees during Passover in Jerusalem, as she was paraded out to embarrass Jesus. Jesus recognized that it was a ploy and prayed up, he was ready.
The Pharisees believed they had him on this one. It was either honor the law at the expense of grace, or it was forsake the law and extend to the woman blessed mercy. Either way, Jesus loses. How does he get out of this one? They had him!
You don’t mess with a person of wisdom. How many of you already know that? There are those people in our lives who seem to be so deep in wisdom that they are never had. Not only did Jesus have that kind of wisdom but he was empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and driven by a heart of relentless compassion and ferocious love.
While the Pharisees truly believed they finally had the opportunity to defeat Jesus at his own game, really the opportunity was Christ’s to make an impact that would deliver the full force of what he came to do.
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:1-11 (NLT)
Jesus did it! He exposed the religious maneuvers of his adversary for what they were; flawed and presumptuous.
Doesn’t this story from the gospel of John drive home the point regarding the things Jesus said about the risk connected to casting judgment from the place of seeking advantage at someone else’s expense? Isn’t it something when we see something like this story… the story of this woman messed up when it came to love in the context of what Jesus came to do to alter the trends of history? The tide of advantage was changed forever. The repentant sinner now had the advantage in the sight of God (and man, for that matter) and the accusers were the big losers, judged for what they were… also sinners.
Context and perspective, right?
Beware of Dogs
You have probably heard this question asked about God. Did God create anything so heavy that even he cannot lift it? If there is a “yes” response to this question, in my opinion, it is this matter of free will. God has afforded us free will. If you or I should resist repenting of sin and go on rejecting the mercy of God that is offered through the sacrifice of our sin, then I suppose he will honor our decision and let us go; more than willing to receive us back should we change our mind and choose to repent. The non-repentant sinner, however, has made a willing decision to reject relationship with the Son of God; that being none other than Jesus Christ.
Jesus, recognizing that he was experiencing the insistent rejection from those persecuting him, his teachings, and his disciples, had this to say about continuing to offer this gift of truth to those within the established regime of the Temple…
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. Matthew 7:6 (NKJV)
I suppose Jesus is telling us to choose our battles; to recognize our adversary. He was telling the Jewish people not to get caught up in their embattled conflict with religious opposition. Getting into the tug of war of Temple politics was to take their eyes off those who need to hear, see, and experience the good news of mercy and grace in relationship with God by entering through narrow gate that is the way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus had just told them, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name’s sake.” Now he is saying not to waste what is holy on dogs, lest they trample on the message and tear apart the messenger. Requiring discernment is the identification of who and what the dogs are. He is also saying that it is not the objective to seek out persecution. Again, wisely choose your battles. Should you be bitten by dogs though, there is blessing and favor for having been willing to endure the hardship that comes with the territory of ministry. Be mindful of who and what the enemy is. Remember, our fight is spiritual, not human (Ephesians 6:12).
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:15-23 (NKJV)
Jesus went there, didn’t he. As I wrote in my last chapter, The Good, the Bad, and the… Hey! What’s that Monkey on my Back?, good cannot do bad. Bad does bad. When Jesus is declaring to them, “I never knew you; depart from me…” , he is speaking to those who are bad. Jesus is more than able and willing to extend mercy to those bad people who are repentant. The issue at hand with the prophets of the Temple is that their focus and message is in opposition to the truth of God’s grace. Their message was that Jesus was a false prophet; that his gospel along with his claim to be the Son of God was baseless and blasphemy against God. They argued against the person and reason for the work of reconciliation for sinners to God through his Son, Jesus of Nazareth.
The High Priest, in those days, had the role of advocating for the Jewish people before the presence of God in the holy place of the tabernacle. People would lay down their sacrifices and burnt offerings before the altar as atonement for their sin. The High Priest would go into what was known as the Holy of Holies once a year, and on the Day of Atonement represent the people before God.
Caiaphas, the High Priest from A.D. 18, having been appointed to the post by the Roman governor, Pontious Pilate, was not only High Priest, but the chief adversary of Jesus, and is reported by first century historians as having orchestrated the arrest and trial of Jesus that led to his crucifixion. Caiaphas was likely the proponent of turning the masses, including scores of those who had been disciples of Jesus, against him. Caiaphas ordered the persecution of any Jew daring to worship Jesus, both before and after his crucifixion (dare they claim to have bear witness to the risen Christ).
So many, vulnerable to the persuasions of the Temple leaders who had been the trusted authority on faith and lifestyle for generations, would succumb to their pressure. So many who had followed and even worshiped whom they knew to be sent by God to be their Messiah, would be deceived into betraying their own convictions about who Jesus was and reject him; even calling for his execution by hanging; nailed by his hands and feet to a tree.
Prophecy was a big thing during the time of Christ. Some were prophesying this while others were prophesying that. The people had a choice. They had seen and heard Jesus. There were a lot of folks hanging around Jesus to see “the show” and catch a meal from time to time. But there were so many more that knew him to be the Christ, and in their confusion allowed the truth to be corrupted and perverted by their priests until turning their backs on Jesus.
These false prophets are likened by Jesus as gnarly, nasty thorn bushes. They will be pulled up by the root and burned. By the time they arrive before the judgment seat of the this one who claimed to be their king, they will know him to be just that. They will fall at his feet, knowing Jesus to be God, begging for mercy; crying out, “Lord, Lord… we lived to please you and lead your people to you… ”
And Jesus will respond emphatically as God, “I never knew you! I am Jesus of Nazareth… God from the beginning; God forever. I am Jesus… your Messiah, whom you despised and rejected! You never did anything in my name. It wasn’t enough that you rejected me. You deceived and led my people away from me. You betrayed me on every front. You lied to them. Your very life was a lie. Do you sense where this is going? You met me. You could have gotten to know me. Close-minded, you willfully chose not to. You executed the plan to be rid of me. You decided your fate. You chose an eternity without me. YOU CHOSE! Your will be done.”
Caiaphas could have chose different. Saul did. Saul had been persecuting the followers of Jesus; many of whom had seen and heard Jesus with their own eyes and their own ears. The more folks were adamant in their assertions that Jesus was alive the more aggressive Saul was in persecuting them. Then Saul met Jesus one day along the road, and it changed his life forever.
While Caiaphas did not have a “blinded by the light” experience the way Saul did, Caiaphas knew Jesus personally, and said thanks, but no thanks. Worse than that, he had Jesus killed. I don’t believe Caiaphas was denied the opportunity by God to see Jesus for who he was so that God’s purposes would be fulfilled. That would jeopardize the authenticity and integrity of the entire process. Caiaphas chose not to see. Caiaphas was blinded by pride, ambition and jealousy.
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:16 (NLT)
Who Are They?
What about the world today and the material age we live in now? Who are the false prophets? Who are the Caiaphases and the Sauls? Who are they? How would we recognize them? How can we best assure ourselves as the elect that we do not fall prey to the persuasive “gospel” of false prophets? The false prophets are the ones whose message is built on something other than the rock that is none other than Christ Jesus.
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27 (NKJV)
Who do you worship? What do you worship?
At issue for the people in the days of Jesus (while present with them) was the matter of who and what they worshiped. They were so absorbed into their culture of religious-based law that it became an arduous choice between upholding the oppressive rituals and traditions of their worship, and the being willing to adopt into their way of thinking and life the teachings and spiritual convictions of the One who came to lead them out of their oppression.
They needed their methods for atonement for sin. They were sinners, blind to a new way, the way of Jesus, because he called for them to no longer worship the meaningless ritual of the blood sacrifice in their futile attempt to satisfy God. Jesus taught that to continue in the ritual of sin would require a sacrifice unto God that only he could satisfy. To be fair, in a world without the Spirit of God communicating with them in any other way except through one man, the message of Jesus could be a hard pill to swallow. Jesus knew that, so he performed signs and wonders through healings, casting out demons, and even raising the dead back to life. He didn’t just talk, Jesus supported his words with evidence; that being the power and authority of God made manifest through him.
After Jesus, they had the apostles; dozens and perhaps hundreds of them. There were hundreds and perhaps thousands bearing witness to their spiritual experiences in Christ; experiences that were undeniable and compelling to listen to.
I do not know the frequency of miracles and healings and resurrections and what not in the days we live in these days. The difference today, however, is that we do have the gift of the Holy Spirit, present with us and residing within us, emboldening and empowering thousands, and perhaps millions of avid Christ-followers to testify of their spiritual experience in relationship with the Savior, Jesus Christ. Testifying of God’s mercy, grace and love, our message is compelling.
Who are the people of this age listening to? Are they listening to those of us who love God through relationship with the Messiah, or are they listening to those who reject and despise God, having rejected his Son? How are things different today than they were during the time of Caiaphas and Saul, and the days of the priests and Pharisees? Are the Peters and Pauls of today being heard? They are out there.
Who are the ones shutting down today’s apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers of the Word of God? Like Caiaphas, they too will fall to their knees before the judgment throne of Jesus Christ begging for mercy with their eternity at stake. The first century apostles, inspired by the Spirit of the living God have warned all that ignorance will not be a reasonable excuse.
Those who claim not to know the truth in reality have rejected what they have always known in their deepest sensibilities. Instead of surrendering to the conviction from the spiritual places within, they have felt offended by it, and in their defiance, turned aside such conviction; compartmentalizing until there is a more convenient time to give it more consideration.
Just as Caiaphas defiantly rejected the truth of who Jesus was, even while in his very presence, so many today do the same. After all, how can a person believe in something spiritual? It isn’t tangible. You can’t see it, they say. You can’t hear it. You can’t feel it. As I stated prior, there is testimony everywhere you look of someone sharing their literal experience of having seen, heard, and been touched by the presence of God, through relationship with Jesus.
Their defiance is not the absence of personal experience of themselves seeing, hearing, and feeling the presence of Christ; like Caiaphas, their defiance is the absence of desire and intention to ever truly experience God in the person of Jesus Christ. People today are entitled, and do not want to be known by a sovereign authority who might be critical of their intentions, choices, and behavior. A judgmental God cannot exist. So they must invent a caricature of God; a “Jesus Christ superstar” kind of God. Or maybe Buddha can be God; or perhaps, ambition, material wealth, and entertainment from the lust of the flesh can be God.
I was sharing with my wife that I was writing about God’s issues with false prophets persuading and deceiving so many who have sought to know God but have given in to human reasoning and have turned relationship with the Messiah aside, just as they had done in Christ’s day, despite the evidence of sign after sign right there before them.
My wife brought to mind some of the evangelists on television who appear more interested in celebrity than humbly serving with the immense talent they have been given to preach the gospel of Christ. (I am not judging anyone. Should a popular evangelist actually get wind of this, if they are feeling offended by it, they already know to search their heart.) I would not know them to be to be a false prophet if they are preaching Christ crucified for the ransom for sinners, risen and alive today, motivating sinners toward repentance in relationship with Jesus. If they are driven by material prosperity in their ministry, God knows. It will be a matter between them and God.
5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. 1 Corinthians 3:5-17 (NKJV)
This scripture from Apostle Paul does not really need explanation. It’s pretty head-on, straight-forward talk about the work and service of any of us in the trenches, if you will. Honestly, as a human being, it feels good to be recognized and appreciated for doing the work of the Lord. There was a time when it was way too important to me that I be recognized as the next Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, or Joel Osteen. I would read their stuff and think to myself, “I could have written that.” I might even feel critical of their work as too much fluff and not enough grit. I will not get into how the Spirit of God took me down that ‘swallow-your-pride-and-humble-yourself’ road, but when he did, it was not at all pretty or comfortable. It was painful. It hurt a lot.
I have been in that place when even in the depths of my secret sin, God was still using me and speaking to my mind truth that I either wrote down, or had it come to my thoughts to share with my clients in their hour of need. So much of what I say from my mouth and/or write, is a matter of do as I say, not as I do. Then, I need to take heed to what the Spirit is saying and apply it to my own life, or else I might be the one that gets to heaven smelling like smoke.
Who Are We?
“What, after all, is your basis of approach to God? Do you come to Him on the uncertain ground of your feeling, the feeling that you may have achieved something for God today? Or is your approach based on something far more secure, namely, the fact that (Christ’s blood) has been shed, and that God looks on that… and is satisfied?” —Watchman Nee
God dwells in me. I am the rebuilt temple. It is the new creation in me that is the temple of the living God. How dare I defile his temple by aligning once again with the sin that was condemned in the sacrifice of my Lord? Who am I to think that I can resurrect the dead; the dead being the power of the sin nature that was crucified with Christ?
Having been raised with Christ, if I am the restored temple of the Spirit of the living Christ fully alive in me, then my life’s purpose is to bring glory to the temple. That happens through a lifestyle of surrendered obedience into the righteousness of him who has rescued me from the traps of the enemy.
“The glory of God is man fully alive.” —Saint Irenaeus
8 First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). 9 Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. 10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. Hebrews 10:8-10 (NLT)
In times of and before Christ, the glory of the Temple was in the building. The building was built on a foundation laid by man. They adorned the Temple with expensive this and expensive that hoping to give it enough value, hoping it worthy of the presence of a holy God. They believed that any message delivered in the synagogue that varied from the law to be unclean and would drive out the presence of God.
So when Jesus and his disciples came along with a message of hope, peace, and joy in the freedom from sin in relationship with him who fulfilled the law, it was received by the priests and Pharisees as unclean and would defile the Temple, therefore, driving out the presence of God.
Today, the message is that Jesus is the foundation of the temple, having restored the temple that is you and me. Where Jesus is, God is. Jesus living in me delivers me, not only from the eternal consequence of sin, but from the power of sin having influence in my life. The only influence the power of sin has, today, is the power I willfully give it.
When I sin have I defiled the temple of God?
11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 13 There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. 14 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:11-14 (NLT)
When Jesus was washing the feet of his disciple Peter, Peter thought himself not worthy of his Lord stooping to that level. But when Jesus told him that to be clean, he needed his feet washed, Peter insisted that Jesus then give him a head-to-toe bath. Then Jesus clarified to Peter that by the Spirit of the living God he was already clean, but that his feet get dirty.
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9 (NLT)
We are God’s temple, clean and fully restored in relationship with Jesus. From time to time, sin comes in and we need to confess our sin and receive forgiveness as the Spirit of God continually restores us to glory in the righteousness (innocence, virtue, purity) of Christ. The miracle in this promise that is our reality is that we are deserving in Christ. We are worthy of God’s favor in relationship with his Son.
19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:19-23 (NLT)
How awesome is that! This is the message of the gospel. It’s is who we are. Praise God!
I have told you this so that you can share my joy, and that your happiness may be complete. This is my commandment: that you love each other as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this—that a man should lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I tell you to do. I shall not call you servants any longer, for a servant does not share his master’s confidence. No, I call you friends, now, because I have told you everything that I have heard from the Father. John 15:11-15 (Phillips New Testament)
We are the friends of Jesus Christ, the High Priest, our advocate on the throne at the right hand of the Father. We are loved by God, having received the promise of new life in relationship with Jesus.
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV)
Enter in and worship freely, and confidently, with a clear conscience, in Spirit and truth as the restored temple of the most high God.
Let me share one final scripture; a promise laid out by Jesus while talking to seekers from the Mount of Olives…
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 (NKJV)
This is who we are. Fully restored as new creatures, we are the temple of God. Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, who we are friends with, enters into this temple and advocates for us. When taking into consideration what Jesus faced in the court of the Jewish Temple back in the day, this is truly profound.
Now go out as the living temple of God, and live in the joyous assurance of who you are in Christ.
But, be aware. The dogs are out there. There out to defile the temple.