Friday, May 14, 2010

Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes Oh My! {Part Two}

Click here to read Part One...

"So he answered and said, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.' "  Luke 10:27

"If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar." 1John 4:20

So in the last post I gave a little mini history of the three religious groups that were around during the time of Jesus.  Now what I want to do is identify the negative spirits that some of them moved in so that we can avoid them in our own lives. First I want to start with the simple concept of loving God and loving neighbor.  Jesus said that there was no other commandment greater than these.  I see no where in Jesus' teaching that these commandments were separated.  They always went together.  In fact the above verse quit plainly tells us that if we do one without the other we are liars.  Lack of the second commandment negates the first...period.  But the religious groups during the time of Jesus had separated them.  Let me explain.

If you only love you neighbor{mankind} and don't love God you are a humanist.  This is what the Sadducees had done.  They had taken God out of the whole picture.  They didn't believe that God was involved in their lives at all, man could do what he pleased, man was his own god.  God had become an abstract, non personal God. They did not believe in the super-natural {angels & demons} at all.  They didn't believe in the afterlife or resurrection.  The Sadducees had swayed more to the philosophical side of things, being the most Hellenized{Greek thinking} of the three groups.  Remember they were the rich and elite and with that sought of began to worship themselves.  When you don't believe that there is a higher power other than yourself, you become your highest power. Their main concern was the material things of this world and how it affected their personal kingdom.  Materialistic Humanism.

At the other extreme we have only loving God and not loving your neighbor{mankind}.  This is called monastic mysticism and this was the Essenes.  They had taken the neighbor out of the picture.  They had totally separated themselves from the world, not just spiritually but physically as well.  They lived with strict apocalyptic ascetics in a monastic manner in the wilderness.  In a quest for higher holiness they counted all material things and pleasures as evil. Everything was God centered to the point of being wholly deterministic.  All they did was pray, read, interpret scripture and minister to each other.  Their goal was to usher in the messiah that would find only them as the true and most holy elect.  They were deeply religious, extremely devout, fiercely loyal and obsessively self-disciplined.  But they ministered only to God and themselves and forgot their neighbor.  Monastic Mysticism.

Finally in the middle we have the well intending Pharisees.   It seems they at least had the right idea with angels, the afterlife, resurrection and the balance of freewill/providence.  I believe that their heart had been in the right place to try to put "a hedge around the Torah".  But the hedge had grown to such impossible proportions that God and neighbor got shut out too.  They turned both relationships into legal transactions.  They turned a real God into a paper law.  They turned neighbor into some one to be watched carefully. In their minds God was the letter, the traditions and the doctrine instead of someone they could have relationship with.  The more interpretation they made the more they lost the personality and character of God.  This grew to the point that God was on the same level as the "traditions of the elders".  Their own wisdom was just as binding as the wisdom of God!  So they weren't loving God they were loving the God they had interpreted him to be.  This affected the way they related to each other as well.  People were bound to their interpretations, their law, their judgements and their punishments.  I think this is why so many times in the gospels we hear the word "hypocrite" because they said they loved God and neighbor when really all they loved was the traditions and the law.  Penal Legalism. {This taken to the extreme is Theocracy and Zealotry}

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."  John 1:14

Then Jesus came to show us how to love God and love neighbor.  What is interesting to me is that in this religious climate of elect, holiness, righteousness and law abiding they did not recognize him.  If anything that should tell us how off they were.  Those that were broken and in need recognized him.  The demons recognized him.  But the religious who supposedly knew God did not.  Which is a good reminder to us that we should always view God through the lens of Jesus since they are one in the same. If you see Jesus and don't see God than you are no better off than the blind religious establishment.

So Jesus countered the authority of the elders with the authority of God.  Jesus countered the pride and self-righteousness of the religious with a spirit of humility and brokenness.  Jesus countered the attitude of needing to be served with title and prestige with the spirit of service and servanthood.  Jesus countered the abstract, rigid non-emotional law with himself; a real, nurturing, gracious person.  Jesus countered the spirit of fear with a spirit of love. Jesus countered the spirit of judgement, binding and death with the spirit of forgiveness, loosing and life.  This drove the religious establishment crazy!  They had become so concerned with right and wrong they forgot about love.  Jesus didn't always do what was "right" according to the law, but he always did what was most loving.

More specifically to the spirit of the materialistic humanist Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one gets to the Father but by me."{John 14:6}. He turned over the materialistic money tables of the temple {Matt 21:12}; he told the rich to sell everything and give it to the poor {Matt 19:21}.  He warned that it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God{Matt 19:24} and against storing riches on earth{Luke 6:24}. He called them out on their lack of knowledge of the afterlife and power of God{Matt 22:29}.  But still they loved man and the riches thereof instead of God and cried out "We have no king but Caesar."{John 19:15}.

To the spirit of the apocalyptic, monastic mystic Jesus said "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only."{Matt 24:36} So in the meantime what you do for the least of these you do to Me "...for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me."{Matt 25:42-43}.  He warns against false prophets that seek the hidden and mysterious “So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it."{Matt 24:26} He told them not to hid the light "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." {Matt 5:16} He told them that everything from the Father has been made known in Him; there are no mysteries.{John 15:15} He warned holiness does not make you the greatest but servanthood does{Mark 9:35}.  He told them to stay in the world "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one."{John 17:15}  Moreover to go into all the world as testimony of Him{Mark 16:15}.

To the spirit of theocracy and zealotry Jesus said to respect even the most volatile government "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."{Matt 22:21} To love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you and your beliefs.{Matt 5:44} He said not to take up arms "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword."{Matt 26:52} "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."{Matt 5:9} He made clear his kingdom was not of this world so we don't fight like it is "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting..."{John 18:36} But instead His kingdom peace has already overcome so that we may be at peace within the world. "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."{John 16:33}

To the spirit of penal legalism Jesus broke all the rules of the elders to bring healing and freedom!  He called them out on their interpretations "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?"{Matt 15:3} He did not answer to the authority of men{Matt 21:27}.  He broke the sabbath law by healing{Matt 12:10} He touched the unclean{Mark 1:41}.  He ate unclean food{Mark 7:19} He hung out with sinners{Matt 11:19} He called them out on their binding laws{Matt23:4} on their pride{Matt 23:5-6} on their deciding who is worthy of the kingdom{Matt 23:13} on their lack of witness{Matt 23:15} on their lack of justice, mercy and faithfulness{Matt 23:23} on their self-righteousness and lack of humility{Matt 23:25,28}  Jesus called them to a higher kingdom righteousness over their law righteousness that forced them to love and forgive not murder was now do not be not commit adultery was now do not not break oath was now do not swear oath at all but yes be yes and no be no...eye for an eye was now turn the other your neighbor was now love your enemy also.{Matt 5:17-48}

The spirit of penal legalism that was stoning people to death in the first century, is the same spirit that was burning people at the stake in the middle ages.  Today penal legalism isn't stoning people or burning them at the stake but it is most certainly alive and well.  We just right books against each other, call each other heretics and preach disdain for "certain" theology from the pulpit...same spirit different time.  Even Jesus' own disciples displayed this corrective, penal legalism at times.  Notice how Jesus and tolerance.  I have a feeling if Jesus were physically present for some of the theological and doctrinal arguments we have today,  his response would be just the same.

"Now John answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side." Mark 9:38-40

But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."" Luke 9:53-56

When you read through the gospels and Acts you really begin to see the spirit of penal legalism in the way that Jesus and his followers were treated. Remember that penal legalism depersonalizes and makes people into the lawyer or the lawbreaker.  The accused or the accuser.  The clean and unclean.  The righteous and the sinner.  The wise and the unwise.  It always creates two opposing sides...right and wrong.  So there is this overwhelming spirit of judgement and argument that is relentless.  They don't feel OK unless they have corrected something or someone.
This spirit plots destruction{Matt 12:14}, it forces proof {Matt 12:38}, pushes man made doctrine{Matt 19:3, 22:17, 22:23}, it follows after man instead of God{John 9:28}, it seeks to entangle{Matt 22:15}, it disputes{Mark 8:11}, cross examines{Luke 11:53}, watches close to find fault{Luke 6:7}, it scoffs and mocks{Luke 16:14}, it seeks false testimony{Matt 26:59}, it threatens{John 9:22}, it spies{John 11:46}, it rebukes{Luke 19:39} it causes fear{John 7:13} it abuses{Acts 23:2} it binds in chains{Acts 9:21} it is jealous{Acts 13:45} it is riotous {Acts 17:5} and murderous{Acts 7:59}.  They never rejoiced when someone was healed, they weren't happy that lost were being found, and found it difficult that the unworthy were being forgiven and shown mercy.  This only caused them to be even more judgmental, confrontational and relentless.  Robin Watson sums it up like this, "Any system that is governed by rules will ultimately fail. Only in the New Testament and in the teachings of Christ do we see that it is "the mercy of God which leads us unto repentance." 

So it all comes back to loving God and loving your neighbor.  You cannot have one without the other.  If you love man and not God you are a humanist.  If you love God and not man you are a mystic and a liar.  If you love the law more than God and man you are legalistic. We need to take a good look at these attitudes and how they have found their way into the church.  We need to guard against these negative spirits that seek to kill, steal and destroy.  But we also need to give each other the benefit of the doubt, be loving, be gracious, be forgiving, be civil to one another.  Listen to how Paul tries to find some common ground with doctrinal differences. Much the same as in the verse above, "whoever is not against us is for us."  We should first and foremost be for Christ...period.  So act like it!
"You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.  My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. And So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." Acts 11:16 

Finally the wisdom of Gamaliel...
"Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." Acts 5:38-39

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