"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Matthew 7 -- Those Troubling Verses - Part 2

This is a continuation of yesterday's post which was inspired by a comment on "Gatecrashers & Relationships." I'd encouraged you to read both to make more sense of these thoughts.

In yesterday's post I concluded that I wanted to explore the possibility that Jesus' instruction to "do the will of God"(Mt. 7:21) meant more of a works-based salvation. This is a departure for me since I strongly lean on the works-are-a-result-of-salvation side rather than the we-do-good-works-to-earn-salvation side. That's because I think it's God working through us that produces good, however, for the sake of Sarah's comment let's assume the latter is true and our salvation is more secure if we do more good works. Yeah, I know we all ultimately believe it's the mercy and kindness of God that gives us salvation, but I also realize many believe more good works equals more chances that God will favorably deal with us.

So my quest was "what good works are necessary?" Am I to follow Moses' Law, Muhammad's Law, a mixture of the two, neither of those - what exactly does God want? I read Matthew 7 and kept reading until a short passage in Matthew 9 got me to thinking. It reads simply:

10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

12On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Jesus' reply to go and learn what this means lead me to the Old Testament - Hosea, Micah and Isaiah. I believe we are all familiar with the Jewish Law and the need for sacrifices so why would Jesus tell the religious Pharisees to go and learn something about desiring mercy and not sacrifice? Should we take the hint and also learn what this means?

First note that Jesus said he came not to call the righteous, but sinners. In fact he is sitting there fellowshiping with sinners! I'm almost positive these "sinners" aren't keeping all of Moses' Law so why would Jesus visit and eat with such people? Is it that the Pharisees are already safely in the fold so Jesus didn't need to waste his time trying to get them into God's kingdom? Or is it that Jesus shuns those who are self-righteous, those relying on their good deeds, those who tithe even from their spices (see Mt.23) in an effort to appear "good enough" before God and men? Why would Jesus speak this way to men who are doing all these good works and why would he seemingly favor the cheating tax collectors and community prostitutes? Does this not seem backward?

Keep in mind that Jesus was famous for summing up the Law and Prophets by saying simply: "Love God with your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as you love yourself." And also in verse 12, he said "in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."

With all that in mind, here is a sampling from three of the Old Testament Prophets.

From Hosea 6

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

From Micah 6

6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This next one is especially meaningful. How often have we gone through the motions of saying a prayer (and for some in proper form and with "the right words"), going to church out of tradition, done this or that simply because it was expected....not necessarily because we have a heart for worshiping God and pleasing Him. Based on these passages from Isaiah, I'd say God doesn't get pleasure out of rote, ritualistic tradition, but rather out of sincere reverence and worship and relationship with His creation. What do you think?

Isaiah 29

13Then the Lord said,
"Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,

Isaiah 1

11 "The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?" says the LORD.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;

16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,

17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

Could it be that God prefers some good deeds over others? Perhaps treating people right is better than the show of outward piety? How many of us are really impressed with the religious garb of priests when we later find out they were molesting children? Do you not believe our actions towards others counts a great deal more to God than our setting aside a tenth of our spices and wearing the right clothes and covering our hair and entering the bathroom with the left foot or not eating pork or shellfish?

If Jesus met you would he visit with you, fellowship with you because you knew your need for God to clean you? Or would you be among the (self) righteous having little need for God? Would GOD be your Savior or are you doing just fine on your own? Would Jesus celebrate your acknowledgment of your need for God or would he say to you as he did to the Pharisees...?

23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Ouch! I don't know about you, but I cringe at the thought of these words being said to me! Whether we believe good works are necessary for salvation or that they are a result of salvation, let's all seek to give more weight to treating others justly, kindly, with mercy and grace. It seems to me that God favors my treating you with love and compassion over my wearing of blended fabrics, my nonkosher kitchen or my lack of a head scarf.



Sarah said...

"It seems to me that God favors my treating you with love and compassion over my wearing of blended fabrics, my nonkosher kitchen or my lack of a head scarf."

I love that! I think it's a fantastic conclusion to draw from the passage.

Susanne said...

Thank you, Sarah! I appreciate your inspiration for those last couple of posts. :)

Carmen S. said...

Yes, beautiful post. A God that loves justice and mercy. Hmm, who knew they could go hand in hand.

I am working on this.

Susanne said...

Carmen, yes, it's weird. Maybe you need to do a study of this on your blog for me to enjoy! :D