Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Missional Jesus 54

The harshest words Jesus ever uttered can be found in Matthew 23. It is not possible to do a full study here, so I will make a few points. In essence, his point is this: “hypocrisy” transcends the common contradiction of practice and belief. For Jesus it refers to both contradiction and false moral guide.
1. Missional Jesus wants to liberate Israelites from the grip of the hypocrisy of the elite guides who are leading Israel astray with their picayune obsession with micro-ethics.
2. Missional Jesus wants to create a family of equals who are all under God and himself.
3. Missional Jesus converts “love of Torah” into the “Torah of love.”
4. Missional Jesus weeps for his nation and summons them yet again — remember the parable from Monday — to respond to his offer of peace and redemption.
5. Missional Jesus is not giving us artillery to use against elites; he’s warning us not to be complicit in their hypocrisy by following him instead of them.
Matt. 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Matt. 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Matt. 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ 19 How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; 22 and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
Matt. 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
Matt. 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.
Matt. 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Matt. 23:29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30 and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. 33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.
Matt. 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 6, 2007 at 1:43 am

Strong words by our Lord. I like your point, Scot about following him instead of them, the hypocritical religious elite.

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John W Frye

posted September 6, 2007 at 8:59 am

I was jolted by your creative phrase “their picayune obsession with micro-ethics.” In our area some misguided brother put leaflets in the cars on various church car lots scolding those who have blasphemed God and altered the Word by worshiping on the 1st day of the week rather than the Sabbath. Yet this creative irritant went on in his tract to translate a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer as “Your kingdom come, your *Sabbath* will be done…” Adding to Scripture??
I read the stuff and thought–this poor guy has way too much time on his hands.

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Andy Cornett

posted September 6, 2007 at 9:29 am

Scot, your comment #4 really threw me. I am too tempted to focus on the critique and miss the heart from which it issues (v37). Your note of the link between critique and summons was like a light switch for me this morning … thanks for this.

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posted September 6, 2007 at 9:35 am

Do you see in this passage any serious critique of the way we largely delegate the task of teaching (along with some “holier” title to boot) to, typically, one guy per congregation? Is there a critique here of the typical “organizational chart” of churches?
I take Jesus’ words to his disciples here (about not being called ‘rabbi’, ‘father’, etc.) to be as much for their good as for the ones who would be calling them by such names. It seems sadly obvious to me that much of the pastoral isolation and the destruction that goes with it would not happen if we would follow what Jesus says here and not treat some men as more than fellow students.
A related thought: Isn’t a “picayune obsession with micro-ethics” just one kind of defense mechanism that naturally arises when mere men are put into an elite category?

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Scot McKnight

posted September 6, 2007 at 10:33 am

Yes, on your first question there is an issue here, a serious one. Jesus’ words speak to it too.
I’m not sure about the second one; it is a human tendency across the board, I think.

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Mike Mercer

posted September 6, 2007 at 11:50 am

“Missional Jesus is not giving us artillery to use against elites; he’s warning us not to be complicit in their hypocrisy by following him instead of them.”
So important! We tend to read Scriptures like this as if it were only about “them,” not “us”. Leaders generally do not lead without a healthy share of acquiescence by those who follow.

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posted September 6, 2007 at 12:23 pm

I agree that the obsession with “micro-ethics” is part of human nature, but I think the title-taking adds some lighter-fluid to the flame. It just seems that we significantly increase the motivation for the “Woe-ful” practices that Jesus condemns here when men receive the reverential titles Jesus tells his disciples to avoid. But maybe not.

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posted September 6, 2007 at 12:55 pm

It seems that Missional Jesus is not only concerned with his followers not following “them” but not being like them by seeking recognition (and the power/prestige that accompanies). In other words, in your diligence in following me (Jesus), do not elevate yourselves into becoming the very thing that I oppose.
Reminds of the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18. As soon as we say, “I’m glad I’m not like that Pharisee,” we have become the Pharisee.
In Christ,

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posted September 6, 2007 at 3:40 pm

This is the important context to remember when looking at the parables that follow in chapter 25…the wise/foolish virgins, the talents and the sheep/goats. And those goats are always shocked that they are not sheep! Lord, Lord, indeed….
I don’t know how people can look at most organizational charts in churches and not say…hey, that can’t be right! Talk about blocking out what we don’t want to see or hear!
I was recently talking with a leader at the church I attend about the rampant problem with the leadership and members not really understanding what it means to speak the truth in love. He said that people just don’t want to deal with the pain. I said “Pay me now or pay me later. It always costs less to pay me now.” The “truth in love” bills the church has accumulated and been unwilling to pay is just like what those pharisees did–burdening with a load that crushes.

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Derek Leman

posted September 6, 2007 at 6:53 pm

Scot and all:
Isn’t it interesting, and noone dealt with it, that he says that the scribes and Pharisees have the authority to set practice for their generation. Judaism isn’t often looked on that favorably in modern Christian discussion.
Derek Leman

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tim atwater

posted September 11, 2007 at 9:57 am

i resonate with your point 5–
i believe Pharisees and Scribes are character types, not just just or mainly those in history then, but mainly, primarily, that of the Pharisee and Scribe in me (and us)…
our church is mostly lectionary so we’re in Luke and i’ve been noticing (with some help from good commentaries) how even while Jesus delivers something v close to this same sermon in Luke… we also see some subtle but significant softenings (the 3 part parable in ch15 is told for Ph’s and it ends w a v generous offer…ala your point 4)…

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