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In my sermon today, I made a comment about Jesus eating at a Pharisee's house in Luke 14:1, and the way the text is presented, it looks like this was something that happened on a regular basis. This shows me that Jesus did not view all Pharisees as an enemy and He did have a good relationship with many of them. One of my classes in college helped me come to this conclusion as I looked deeper in Matthew to see the progression of the tension. Here is a paper I wrote to explain what I found:
Jesus and the Leaders of the Jews
The Gospel of Matthew has recorded many interactions between Jesus and the leaders of the Jewish nation. This paper will highlight the appearances of these interactions using the New International Version of the Bible.
The presence of the Jewish leaders began in chapter 3, with the Baptism of Jesus. In verse 7, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to the place where John was baptizing believers in order to investigate what was happening. A few verses later, Jesus showed up to be baptized. This passage of scripture does not indicate that the leaders left so there could be an assumption made that they witnessed the baptism of Jesus. If this is the case, the voice from heaven could have been present for the Pharisees and Sadducees to hear the confirmation that Jesus is the Son of God. This would obviously cause much need to further investigate the ministry of Jesus as it grew.
In Matthew 4:23, there is a note about Jesus going to the Synagogues to preach, and word about His ministry spread throughout Syria. The large crowd that came as a result prompted the "sermon" that He preached on the mountainside. When Jesus finished the "sermon," Matthew mentions in 7:29 that He taught as one with authority instead of being like their teachers of the law. This new style of teaching may not have sat well with the leaders of the Jews.
The growing popularity along with the new style of teaching has become the basis for the investigation to see what Jesus was doing. In 8:4, Jesus apparently was not ashamed of what He was doing because he sent the man who was healed from leprosy to the priest so he could be brought back in to his community. His ministry was so effective that even a teacher of the law wanted to follow Jesus as is recorded in 8:19.
As Jesus' ministry continues, the investigation began to strengthen as in 9:3, Jesus is being accused of blasphemy as a result of His statement that the paralytic'sÂÂ sins are being forgiven. Unfortunately, these teachers of the law have been viewed as the enemy when at this point, all they were doing was upholding the Mosaic law. Of course, later on there is evidence that show the evil side of the leaders of the Jewish nation, but were there some leaders who actually wanted to defend the law because they took their job seriously? This passage can be viewed as a reaction to Jesus contradicting the sacrificial system of the forgiveness of sins instead of enemies fighting over whose theology is best.
The Pharisees were really getting suspicious because of the people Jesus reached as is found in 9:11. Further rebellion is present in 9:14 when Jesus is questioned about fasting. Once He explained the true understanding of fasting, and the fact that there was no reason to fast while He was on earth, this wasn'tÂÂ a true case of rebellion as much as it is a clarification of the law. In 9:34, the Pharisees are starting to show their true colors because of the jealousy that is rising. The only way Jesus could be driving out demons is because He is a demon. This is the only argument the Pharisees could come up with because they did not have the ability to drive out demons.
In 12:2, 9, 10, and 14, Jesus is being confronted because of His disobedience to the laws of the Sabbath that has been created by the Pharisees. After the confrontation, it was evident that Jesus had no intention of following the law as was created by the Pharisees, but instead, He was following the law as it was originally meant. This embarrassed the Pharisees, and they now began to search for a reason to silence Jesus before He destroys everything they have worked so hard to create. Even though the tension was starting to rise, Jesus still taught in the synagogues every time He got the chance as is found in 13:54.
From this point on, the tension had mounted to the point where the Pharisees were working at every moment to catch Jesus in an act that would discredit His ministry as recorded in 15:1, 12; 16:1, 12; 19:3, 7; 21:12, 15; 21:23, 45-46; and 22:15, 23, 34. Jesus' woes to the Pharisees, 23:1, was the final blow that caused the leaders of the Jewish nation to plot against Him, 26:1, and have Him arrested, 26:14; 26:47, brought to a trial, 26:57; 27:12, and eventually crucified.
One last shot at Jesus was the task of placing a Roman guard at the tomb, 27:62, in order to give the appearance of Jesus being placed in a prison and to keep the Disciples from stealing His body to make it look like He rose from the grave. This fear showed that the Pharisees knew what Jesus was teaching, but they did not believe it would actually happen.
Of course, Jesus still went through with the plan of being resurrected from the dead even with the precautions taken by the Pharisees. 28:11 shows the report of the guard and the fact that the Pharisees tried to fix this with a lie to silence the Disciples. Obviously this did not work because Jesus appeared many times after His death in order to show proof of His resurrection.
Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, and Independence Day. Those 4 special days usually spark some interesting conversations among the preachers. Sometimes, we can be a strange breed majoring in the minors while Jesus sits back and shakes His head.
Seems like every year, there are discussions about how appropriate it is to honor mothers, veterans, fathers, and the good ole US of A during the worship services, and rarely is there a change of heart at the end of the day. Some of us say that there should not be anything special happening because it takes away from worshipping God while others go all out and invite Uncle Sam to church.
Personally, I feel that if the people want to do something special, it's all good as long as we still have the basic elements of Acts 2:42. And there goes another discussion about whether or not Acts 2:42 is descriptive or prescriptive. Well, all I can say is that we have enough evidence that communion was served, prayers and songs were lifted up, and the Apostles' teachings were presented.
That being said, I believe that there is a reason why the bulletins for Christ's Church at Antioch were not preserved. The programs from the church at Philippi are also missing along with the Corinthian Church Calendar so there seems to be some wiggle room for what we do with Sunday morning. I do find it strange how those who support freedom to be creative with our worship are usually the same people who oppose saying the pledge of allegiance and singing patriotic songs to start the service.
Like most of our issues with the church, there is more than meets the eye. The real question is not about the appropriateness of adding special stuff to the service. What we really want to know is, how much culture can we allow before we end up exchanging the cross for the flag?
Was Jesus concerned with culture? It depends on which culture you are talking about.
When trying to make an argument for or against allowing special elements of the worship service, we usually compare our government to the Roman Empire. I have a feeling that this might be part of our problem. The Roman Empire may have been in charge of the dominant culture of the day, but there was a sub-culture that we should pay attention to.
In Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin maintained their own laws of the land that applied to God fearing Jews all over the Mediterranean World. They were a sub-culture of the Roman Empire, and Jesus went along with some of the celebrations that were not part of the original Law of Moses. Perhaps it would make a good research project for somebody to study the moments when Jesus did something for the sake of the Jewish culture instead of rebelling because it was not part of the Mount Sinai mandate.
We may be surprised to find out that Jesus was not fighting the same battles we fight today because He was too busy living out His mission.
For this reason, I would suggest that we stop freaking out when somebody tries to add something special to the worship service. Instead, we should embrace the opportunity to promote unity in a nation that is suffering from cracks in the foundation. We should celebrate the mothers and fathers during a time in history when the family is under attack from those who oppose traditional family values. We should take a moment to thank God for the freedom we have been blessed with and while we are at it, we should thank the families who lost their loved ones because of the fight to keep those freedoms from fading.
And here is one more discussion that was added this year to the round of scholarly squabbles. Memorial Day began as a time to remember the men and women who died during the civil war so we should not include other wars. Did I mention that we preachers are a strange breed majoring in the minors?
Here is my response that will not win any popular votes for me in the circles where I connect with fellow kingdom workers.
We have used the phrase "Splitting hairs" to describe situations where we get too picky about subjects being discussed. Another phrase would be "Splitting logs" for firewood.
Each time we get too picky with our discussions, we are splitting logs. And if we keep doing that, the log will end up split to the point where the only part left is a tooth pick you can use for your teeth after you are finished devouring the church.
I understand that we don't want to turn our worship services into a social meeting of the masses, but I am sure that God will allow us a few moments to celebrate life while we are gathered together on special days.
It was the Spring concert for the Palmetto Girls Sing group, and we thoroughly enjoyed their music. They began by surrounding us and singing "Fairest Lord Jesus" while reading Psalm 100 between the verses. I closed my eyes and smiled because it was like the angels singing, except instead of white robes, they were wearing blue dresses.
Along with a great beginning, there was a song that struck my heart called "A Flint Holds Fire" which was inspired by the water crises in Flint, Michigan that began in 2014.
Here is a brief summary I found online:
The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the drinking water source for the city of Flint, Michigan was changed to the Flint River. Due to insufficient water treatment, over 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water. After a pair of scientific studies proved lead contamination was present in the water supply, a federal state of emergency was declared in January 2016 and Flint residents were instructed to use only bottled or filtered water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. As of early 2017, the water quality had returned to acceptable levels; however, residents were instructed to continue to use bottled or filtered water until all the lead pipes have been replaced, which is expected to be completed no sooner than 2020.
I also learned that some of the effects from lead poisoning are permanent. The stories that were shared during the song were heartbreaking. Drinking water is something many people take for granted, but when it is contaminated, the problem is real.
In the church, we have the Living Water to keep our spiritual lives hydrated, but when that water is contaminated, our health becomes compromised.
How does the Living Water become contaminated? First of all, we need to remember that the Living Water is from Jesus, and it is a gift to us. In John 4, Jesus said that anyone who drinks from the Living Water will never thirst again. He also said in John 7 that those who come to Him will have rivers of Living Water flowing out of their hearts. John helped us out by telling us that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit.
The Living Water is the Holy Spirit. How is it possible to contaminate our lives while we have the Holy Spirit? It is not as hard as some may think.
When water is contaminated, there is a foreign element introduced that does not belong. That foreign element causes the water to become dangerous to consume and a risk to health because it has turned into poison. Our spirits are contaminated in the same way.
When we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, we must be careful not to introduce foreign elements that do not belong because it will become a health risk to our spiritual lives. What is a foreign element? It could be something as complex as a drug addiction or something as simple as a movie that we should not be watching.
Small amounts of lead in the water may not cause much damage, but over time, those small amounts can build up and become something worse. Small amounts of sin in our lives may not cause much damage at first, but if we continue to let it build up, the sin becomes deadly to our spirits, and we will no longer have rivers of Living Water flowing from our hearts.
This is why we must drink in the pure, Living Water that comes from Jesus instead of contaminating our lives with something that does not belong.
Modern worship songs. No matter which side of the fence you are on, we can all agree that modern worship songs dominate the conversation when talking about Christian music. What is appropriate and where do we draw the line? That is a question that is asked by most church leaders who are looking to update their song list while remaining faithful to the purpose of worship, which is to honor God with every part from the Call to Worship all the way to the closing song.
The worship service is designed to be a place where humans come into the presence of the Lord, and that is a special event!
I'm not going to head down the road of what style of music is preferred, but I will echo the statement made by one of my professors: If you can't tell the difference between a worship song and a song written for your girlfriend, it is not a worship song.
Lyrics can make or break a good worship song, but the lyrics are just the tip of the iceberg. The problem goes much deeper than what is happening on the stage in front of us. When talking about church growth and attracting people to church, the common area of improvement is in the music, but I would suggest that there is an elephant in the room that nobody sees.
We are afraid that people won't like Jesus unless He is seen hanging out with the cool kids during lunch, wearing the latest fashion items, listening to the best music from this generation, and always looking out for other people's approval.
When we see people reject Jesus, instead of asking what is wrong with that person, we often ask what is wrong with our church? What is wrong with Jesus? How can we make Jesus more appealing to the younger generation? I rarely us the caps lock when I type, but for the next sentence, I feel like this is appropriate:
JESUS IS NOT AN INSECURE PRETEEN!
We all know the type. Some of us may have been that person once or twice in our lives. Either the boy or the girl is secure in the relationship, but the other one is not, and when there is any sign of trouble, the insecure partner freaks out and starts making changes to accommodate the wishes of the other person. On the surface, this may look like a good thing because there is value in keeping the peace, but there comes a point where the accommodating partner loses his/her identity while trying to bend over backwards for the other person.
The same can be said for churches where the people freak out because tension is in the air.
Since the church is the family of God, there are times when the family members will not get along with each other, and sometimes the differences are not reconcilable. At that point, a decision must be made to either repair the relationship or move on. If a person has clearly rejected the church and does not want anything to do with the church, is it healthy to make changes to accommodate that person? The answer to that question lies in how you interpret the 99 and 1.
Matthew 18 and Luke 15 talk about the man who had a hundred sheep and one wandered away from the flock. The man leaves the 99 sheep and goes after the 1 that was lost. I don't want to dive into a lengthy discourse on the passage, but I would like to point out that the man did not spend time changing the 99 sheep in order to become more appealing to the one who got lost. Along with that, we need to understand that the one sheep got lost, it did not stomp out of the flock in anger because the man did not play the sheep's favorite worship song. (By the way, this applies to favorite hymns too!)
We need to be secure in the fact that Jesus does not need to be changed in order to accommodate the disgruntled church members. He does not need to be seen hanging around the cool kids during lunch either. No, Jesus is not an insecure preteen, so we need to stop acting like He is.
Sometimes, life can get in the way of trying to keep a good routine. It has been a while since my last post, but hopefully, I can get back to writing on a regular basis. My goal is at least once per month as long as I have something fruitful to write about.
I remember when I began several years ago, a friend of mine told me that she doesn't mind reading what I write as long as it is not about the belly button lint I found, so I try to make sure I write because I have something to say and not because I am trying to keep a schedule. Having said all that, here we go.
The movie "Cars 3" finally showed up on Netflix so we got the opportunity to watch it. That's how we poor people watch movies, but I digress. This was an interesting one to watch because the trailer for the movie showed Lightning McQueen in a horrible wreck and then the screen went black. I remember the Wee Ones being upset because we had no idea about how this was going to end.
The good news is that Lightning McQueen survived the wreck and he was working on returning to the race track for a major portion of the movie.
At this point in his career, he and the other veterans were heading towards retirement as the new generation of race cars took over. Of course, this was not something he wanted to accept, but the reality was that it was time to pass the baton.
I really liked this movie because of the references to the "Good Ole Days" of racing, and the scenes involving the old racetrack. Just like the first movie, I was able to share some history with the Wee Ones as we watched.
When Lightning McQueen started training again, it was completely different from the way he was taught. Instead of going to the track and burning rubber, he was inside a building with simulators and personal coaches.
He entered a modern building with all kinds of bells and whistles, went into the grand lobby that boasted of the owner's financial success, and on the other side of the room were a few cars in training on the simulators.
The cars were making progress until they started thinking about what they were doing.
When one of the cars started slowing down and getting nervous, the coach pressed a button that changed the picture on the screen so the car would see something that helped him relax. After seeing the picture and calming down, his speed increased and he was running the way he was designed to run. What happened?
The car was getting inside his own head and that was causing him to slow down and panic.
We always perform our best when we relax and stop worrying about our present situation. The car was designed to go fast, but when he thought too much about going fast, he would slow down. This happens in the church too.
When we allow ourselves to get inside our own heads, the church cannot "Perform" at its best.
I don't like using the word "Perform" because too many people get hung up on it, but the church does perform a service for God when it carries on its ministry. And if we are not performing at our best, God is not being glorified by what we do. Of course, our best will depend on our skill and ability so we need to keep in mind that while we may not be the best church in the community, we are capable of being the best church we can be for our present situation.
How can we become the best church we can be? There is a one-word answer for that: R-E-L-A-X
If we allow ourselves to worry about that which is beyond our control, we hold ourselves back and the results are a mediocre church. We also send a message that we are not completely confident in the church's ability to succeed on its own. This is why many churches make changes based on fear instead of improving their ministry after spending much time in prayer and discussion.
When thinking about ministry struggles, the problem is usually not with the church's design, it is our inability to calm down and let the church be the church that it was designed to be.
I'm not talking about favoring one method over another. I am talking about our need to stop trying everything that is shiny and new without taking the time to make sure it will work for our present context. I am not against innovation as long as it has a purpose, but if we relax and work with what we already have, we might be surprised at how effective our ministry can be.
God designed the church, and it is capable of succeeding as long as we stop getting in the way and trying to improve what is already good.