Tag Archives: pharisees

Overcoming Cynicism (Sermon)

Overcoming CynicismI’ve written on cynicism a few times here at the blog. If you follow regularly, you know this is something I’ve admitted to struggling with myself. I consider myself a recovering cynic. I must repent of my cynicism daily to follow Jesus faithfully.

I’m becoming increasingly aware that I’m not alone in my cynicism. In fact, I’ve gotten more response through personal correspondence on this one issue than any others. It no doubt strikes a chord with folks today. And I’m not surprised.

I’ve found that cynicism is the elephant in the room that nobody really wants to talk about.

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon that is a compilation of stuff I’ve written, as well as new thoughts, on the subject of struggling with and overcoming cynicism. This one sermon was probably the most relevant message I gave all year. It connected with our congregation like no other.

In Overcoming Cynicism, I specifically take on the growing cynicism toward the church, the Body of Christ. It’s something we desperately need to address as we seek to emerge from the “evangelicalism” of the last 30 years.

Here are a few excerpts from the sermon:

“Cynicism manifests itself out of frustration with persons, institutions, organizations, and authorities that have left her victims disillusioned and angry. Cynics feel cheated, robbed, lied to, and taken advantage of. Maybe you know the feeling. Disillusionment has been described as the “dispersal of illusions,” and many Christians are finding themselves passing through disillusionment only to drown in a sea of cynicism.”

“Cynicism is a sickness… it leads to despair. We must repent of it… repent by believing that God is greater than the evil at work in the world, for he calls us to be people of hope. We repent of it because it’s not consistent with the people we’re called to be.”

“Let’s be clear. It’s not cynicism simply to acknowledge reality. It’s just that we can’t fully know what’s real without considering the God fully revealed in Jesus. Reality must conform to the good news of Christ. If we’re not doing that, then why bother with being a Christian. Hopeful realism is about resurrection and the promise of new creation. And this is what I believe we’re being called to embrace in the gospel message. It allows us to see the Spirit of God at work, and it empowers us to join him in shaping God’s good future.”

You can download the sermon and view slides (PDF) here at our archives. Listen to Overcoming Cynicism and learn about practical steps you can take on your way to becoming a hopeful realist this Advent season.

Grace & Peace,

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

 


Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (3 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I discussed two reasons the world system hates Jesus. Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God and Jesus Was Not Patriotic.

When you’re a part of the world system that glorifies one worldly kingdom over another, you oppose the transnational Kingdom of God.

Likewise, when you respond to the good news by following Jesus in radical discipleship, you oppose nationalism and the politics of Caesar. You become an enemy of the state. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself hated like Jesus.

As I said in the introduction, I’m using seven provocative statements to summarize the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT.

If you’re a skeptic, I hope that you will seriously consider the historical Jesus of the Gospels. If you count yourself among the church, I pray that you will rethink what you thought you already knew about Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, let’s look at another controversial, and oft-neglected, aspect of Jesus’ teaching and example. This specifically involves the religious leaders and the hatred Jesus incited among them for rejecting their religion.

3. Jesus Was Not Religious

The word “religion” derives from the Latin religio, which referred to a binding obligation. In first century Palestine, the word was not used the way we use it today. In the time of Jesus, if someone said something was “religio to me”, it meant that they had a special obligation to it.

This obligation could be anything from a commitment to cults of the gods, to something more “secular” like oaths to family, government, military, etc.

Whatever the oath involved, this special obligation was about life and identity. Therefore, it meant that this “religion” involved a set of rules, regulations, and rituals that provided cultural meaning and purpose.

The danger of religion, in ancient or modern times, is that LIFE is said to be found in a system of behavior and beliefs.

This requires that a person root their identity in the ideas and boundaries set by the religious community. You don’t want to buck the religious system.

For this very reason, second temple Judaism could not contain Jesus. The religious leaders, and guardians of their sacred religion, demanded strict adherence to their own system of correct behavior and beliefs.

Consider some of the ways that Jesus rejected their religion:

  • He healed on the Sabbath, violating their religious code (Matt 12:9).
  • He ate with enemies and sinners (Matt 9:11; Mk 2:16).
  • He touched “unclean” people, they touched him (Lk 5:12, 8:43).
  • He turned over the tables of the Temple (Mk 11:15; Jn 2:15).
  • He challenged religious traditions (Mk 7:3-5).
  • He challenged traditional interpretations (Matt 5:38-48).
  • He despised religious prayers (Matt 6:5-8; Lk 18:11).
  • He rebuked religious authority (Matt 23:13; Lk 12:1).

While Jesus was certainly a good Jew, a true Israelite (Jn 1:47), it can’t be denied that he opposed religion’s threat against the Kingdom of God. And for this act of sedition, the religious leaders wanted him dead (Mk 12:12).

Since religious people get their life from the rightness of their behaviors and beliefs, anyone who challenges them, is a threat to their life. Their response is to stop the threat, violently if necessary. We call them fundamentalists.

Jesus said that religion is merely a self-righteous platform by which a person can judge others who aren’t like them. It’s bad for the soul. It creates obstacles for people, even repelling them from coming into the Kingdom.

Not only did Jesus oppose this club mentality, invariably found within religion, he rebuked the religious leaders, saying that they themselves didn’t live up to their own standards of behavior and belief.

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” Jesus, Matt 23:1-4 NLT

Religious people crush others with their religious demands, and they are a burden as they stand at a distance condemning people that don’t share their beliefs and practices. All the while they’re dirty on the inside.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Jesus, Matt 23:27-28 NLT

The words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 23 has to be the strongest rebuke by Jesus in all of the Gospels. In fact, nothing quite compares to Jesus’ rebuke of religious hypocrites. It’s no wonder they hated him.

“Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” Jesus, Matt 23:33

Jesus taught that if you want to escape the doom of religious people doing religious things, then you must repent of religion. Stop trying to find LIFE in your system of “right” beliefs and behaviors, even in the Bible. And instead root yourself in the One of who is LIFE:  Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Jesus, Jn 5:38-40 NIV

Many evangelicals are convinced that they are getting their LIFE from Jesus, but instead they continue to drink water from a well that has been condemned by Christ. They drink insipid water. And the symptoms of this religious disease is pride, arrogance, intolerance, and a judgmental spirit.

“The Kingdom’s revolt against religion, including the Christian religion, is on a totally different level. It is a revolt against all attempts to get Life from particular beliefs—including true ones. For where God truly reigns over an individual or a community, their only source of Life is God, not the rightness of their beliefs.” Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Religion, pg 60.

It is quite clear from the Gospels that “religion” is part of the world system. When Jesus said the world hated him first, religion is a part of that world.

Those who repent of religion will stand out like Jesus, and be known for their love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness (Matt 23:23; Jn 13:34-35).

Like Jesus who led the way, his followers may be dubbed a liberal, sin-loving, blasphemer by those who are invested in the religious system, but they will be called the greatest in the kingdom of God.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the next post:  4. Jesus Rejected Materialism.


What Would Jesus Not Do?

In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by the devil following his baptism by John, his own cousin.

But before Jesus can begin his ministry of revealing the Kingdom of God, Jesus must first undergo a series of temptations that will forever define him. He must decide in his own heart, and for the testimony of his followers, what kind of Messiah he will be.

What kind of king and kingdom will Jesus choose? His way then becomes our way. The temptations of Jesus are a matter of our own discipleship.

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”  1 John 2:6 (NIV)

In order to understand the temptations, we must see them in conjunction with the previous event. They should not be isolated from Christ’s recent baptism. John the Baptizer recognizes Jesus as the coming king of the promise, the Messiah for Israel. And that’s what he will be.

So, what kind of Messiah will Jesus be for his people?

The temptations of Christ are not just examples of Jesus overcoming sin. They were never meant to be read as examples of Christ experiencing random temptations. The gospel writer sees them as the defining moment for the person and work of Jesus.

“Only as we see what Jesus rejected, can we know what he has affirmed.”  Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, 34.

The nature of these three temptations is critically important for seeing what Jesus will not do in his ministry.

Bread from Stone—Kingdom Economics

After fasting forty days and forty nights (a reenactment of Israel’s wilderness wandering), Jesus was tired and hungry. This clearly would have made any proposal appealing to the flesh. Our physical state often affects our spiritual condition.

And this was the point of the fasting. Jesus makes himself completely vulnerable to opposition. It would have certainly been a time of closeness with the Father and a time of great challenge in his humanity against Satan. Jesus must now face his greatest challenges as Messiah.

The devil came to him and said, “If (since) you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus replies, “It is written, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt.4:3-4).

Was Jesus simply tempted to eat because he was hungry? What does this have to do with the baptism event and Jesus’ coming Kingdom ministry?

Jesus embodies Israel and reveals the nature of his divine mission. The connection to Israel’s history and Christ’s words of total submission to God is obvious. So, what does this have to do with his kingship and Kingdom?

There were two classes of people in the Roman Empire: upper and lower class. Evidence suggests that 90% of the citizens were of the lower class. Most folks were unbelievably poor.

Since Jesus is the Messiah, the devil tempts Jesus to be a welfare king. “Turn these stones to bread” he said. How will Christ deal with the economic problems of the world? This is the question Christ answers. It is a question every king must consider.

Will he open the grain houses upon his arrival? Like Julius Caesar returning from Gaul seeking to manipulate and pander to the masses, will Jesus use his power to win people through their stomachs? What will be his method of proving his divine rule?

Jesus relates to the hunger of people all over the world. He embraces the hunger of others. Jesus’ response ought to be seen as a rejection of solving the problem as an earthly king would.

He doesn’t ignore the physical needs of the world. Jesus will go on to feed many who are hungry. However, the Kingdom of God is much bigger than a loaf of bread—it is more than food. And Jesus doesn’t need bread because he is the bread of life.

Jesus deals with poverty in a different manner. He will feed folks, but he seeks to do more than feed mouths. He will seek to restore the dignity of others and reconcile them to God.

Base Jumping From the Temple—Bad Religion

Then the devil took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem. Satan says, “If (since) you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” (Matt 4:6). The devil then proceeds to quote Scripture (Psalm 91), twisting it to tempt Jesus to action.

Is Jesus going to swoop in and gain the approval of the religious establishment? He very easily could have removed all doubt to who he was.

A grand entrance would certainly gain recognition that he was indeed the Messiah. Yet he resists the temptation to gain approval of those religious folk. If Christ were going to convince the religious leaders, the “Doctors of the Law,” this would be the way to do it. But he doesn’t do it.

Jesus chooses not to parachute in and remove any obstacles from them hearing his message of the coming Kingdom.

He will make his presence known in the Temple, but only right after he drives out those practicing bad religion. This is quite different than the entrance he was tempted with by the devil.

FYI: This isn’t how you win the votes of the Sadducees on the left (who were in charge of the Temple) or the Pharisees in the “Religious Right” who were popular with the people.

Instead, Jesus storms in to the heart of Jewish religion, and turns it upside-down. The Temple is no longer the place of worship and symbol of God’s presence. For the Spirit of God has come to dwell in men. There is now something, someone, greater than the Temple.

He is Immanuel, God with us.

Jesus will not do any pandering to the religious elite. No sir. Jesus will shut down institutional religion for good and tell the ruling party that they are now out of a job.

There’s a new king in town. His name is Jesus… the Christ from Nazareth.

Kings and Kingdoms—The Politics of Jesus

Jesus has already rejected two powerful offers to play by the world’s rules and give the people the Messiah that was expected—a Messiah that fixes this present age by methods characteristic of this world.

Jesus refuses to manipulate people using the old avenues of power. Instead, he will offer people bread from heaven and true religion that’s good for the soul, which is much more satisfying.

Now Jesus faces his most difficult challenge yet. Jesus is taken to a high mountain. In the ancient world, mountains were seen as places where deities come to earth. From the pagan “high places” to the receiving of the Ten Commandments, God chose to work within this ancient mindset.

And this final temptation should be seen as an offer of divine importance.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  Matthew 4:8,9 (NIV)

Lest you think this temptation is merely about getting Christ to commit to devil worship, let’s look closer at what really faces Jesus in this final bout with the devil.

Christ is shown all the kingdoms of the world. The devil has power over them, which Jesus does not deny. The evil one still manipulates these kingdoms today. The Messiah will crush these kingdoms as Daniel prophesied (Dan 7:14). But how will he crush them?

Will he take the world by force using violence? Will he succumb to the way of the present evil age and the prince of the air by putting his hand to the plow of political power? Will he commit to the way of the devil—the source of all war and violence?

Will he be an Alexander, a Julius Caesar, an Augustus, or better yet… a King David?  This would not be the last time he is faced with this temptation (Matt. 16:23; 26:51,52; Jn. 6:15).

Christ redefines power in his rejection of earthly kingship. He rejects the avenue of earthly politics to advance the Kingdom of God. As God’s full revelation of his own character, he intentionally rejects power-over methods of coercion and force to advance the Kingdom.

Jesus embodies God’s will for his people and all those who seek to enter in to the rightful reign and rule of God on earth. Do not pass by this temptation and miss the foolishness of the Kingdom of God, for therein is power that we have not fully known in our day.

We must be willing to say to the prince of the power of the air and the kingdoms he controls, “Away from me!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matt. 4:10).

Walking the Kingdom Way

If we’re really concerned with WWJD, maybe we should first look at what Jesus would not do for the sake of clarity.

The temptations of Jesus prove that Christ rejects the secular concept of Messiah in both the way he confronts social injustices, instutionalized religion, and the political powers of his day.

Jesus is faced with three major social institutions: economic (bread), religious (temple), and the political (mountain).

Notice that Jesus would not capitulate to the world system. The rejection of these three temptations characterizes the entire ministry of Christ.

Until we’re willing to reject what Christ rejected, we have not fully accepted the Kingdom of God as revealed by Jesus.

If we desire to follow Christ, we must embrace the way of the suffering Messiah, instead of that way which is common to man.

We must walk the Kingdom way. And that way always looks like Jesus.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


The Jewish Religious World of Jesus

The Jewish Religious World of Jesus—A Brief Overview

There is a great deal of misunderstanding that often derives from a reading of the New Testament when the modern reader does not consider the religious matrix of the first-century.

Ultimately, proper application to our own situation suffers tremendously.

In the last 20 years, biblical scholars have taken great strides in discovering the world of Second-Temple Judaism. This new wealth of information has made it possible for the church to better understand the religious world of Jesus. Placing Jesus within his own context, helps us to see him in our own.

Scholars are learning that the Jewish Religious landscape was much more multi-faceted than previously imagined.

N.T. Wright has written, “the one thing we can safely say about first-century Judaism is that there is no such thing as first-century Judaism, and that it may be best to speak of ‘Judaisms,’ plural” (Wright, 244).

In the previous two centuries before Jesus, political and religious strife created a tumultuous climate, especially in the region of Palestine.

The successful Maccabean Revolt, and then the people’s utter disgust with the failure of the Hasmonean Dynasty, had largely brought about an apocalyptic worldview, deep longings for a Jewish Messiah to establish the kingdom of God on the earth, and a hope in the imminent restoration of Israel according to God’s covenantal faithfulness.

There were several religious parties and sects that grew up during this period, and they were in full bloom during the ministry of Jesus.

This article will briefly examine what is currently known about those Jewish Religious groups that existed in the time of Jesus, and beckon the reader to consider what Jesus’ relationship was to them.

Pharisees

The Pharisees emerge as the most popular of all religious groups in the first-century. The etymology of the name Pharisee is uncertain, but some scholars believe the name is derived from the Hebrew word parush, which means “separation” or “consecration.”

This religious sect has commonly been labeled as strict legalists who were bent on oppressing people with burdensome rules for their own self-righteous pleasure. But that may not be an entirely accurate portrayal.

Jesus did indeed speak harsh words to these religious leaders, calling them hypocrites and “white washed tombs” (Matt. 23). His words of rebuke were certainly the strongest with the Pharisees.

However, it appears that Jesus may have had more in common with the Pharisees than any other religious group in the first-century.

So, who were these teachers of the law? Who were the “scribes” and Pharisees? And why was Jesus so bothered by this religious group?

The Pharisees were deeply concerned about Torah and they actively sought ways to find fresh interpretions and apply the Scripture to a world on the move. The “scribes” were those specifically trained in interpreting Torah. Although the scribes did not belong to any one specific party, it seems that they resonated with the Pharisees.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and eternal life and punishment. They also were accepting of other more recent theological developments regarding angels and demons. The Pharisees were not only concerned about proper biblical interpretation, but also with proving their covenant faithfulness in ritual purity.

For the most part, the people trusted the guidance of the Pharisees as they influenced the life of the nation at the local level and showed great devotion to God. The Pharisees believed that Torah was for all people, and they made a concerted effort to keep the Law of Moses fresh and alive.

“Woe to you, blind guides!”

Why then does Jesus rebuke the Pharisees throughout the Gospels? It is because the Pharisees believed that rabbinical oral-interpretive traditions (i.e. “traditions of the elders”) were just as authoritative as the Torah itself.

Also, the Pharisaical purity practices led them to erect social distinctions between themselves and fellow Jews. It became rather difficult for Pharisees to maneuver in life after adhering to extra human-laws and traditions.

Jesus simply would not allow the accumulation of the petty Pharisaical traditions deter him from the divine law. Jesus was deeply troubled by the “yeast” of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:12).

It was a disregard for the Pharisaical traditions that placed Jesus at odds with this popular sect. The Pharisees were unwilling to depart from those interpretive traditions that they felt were the greatest display of God’s covenant faithfulness. For this, they sought to trap and kill him.

Had the Pharisees not been so fond of their own teachings, and had instead been open to the teachings of the Galilean rabbi, they may have possibly recognized Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah promised in the Scriptures.

Sadducees

The Sadducees are remembered as the smaller aristocratic party that “combined conservative religious attitudes with power politics” (Ferguson, 519). Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees adhered to stricter interpretations, claiming only Torah as authoritative—even rejecting the Prophets and the Writings. They were the Religious Right of Jesus’ day.

What scholars learn about the Sadducees comes mainly from their opponents. The Sadducees are mostly remembered for their denial of the resurrection from the dead (Matt. 22:23). They had no use for the theological developments of the intertestamental period.

Their primary role as a priestly party was controlling the temple ritual. The Sadducees appear to be mostly interested in maintaining the status quo. Where most Jews detested the Roman imperial occupation of Palestine, the Sadducees enjoyed the peace, power, and influence that Rome was able to give them. They preferred the Pax Romana over the peace of Jesus.

They were only interested in serving God in so far as it didn’t require them to give up their secure position of prosperity or progress in their theology. It is worth noting that there is evidence of several Pharisees who followed Jesus, but there is not a single record of a Sadducee convert.

The Sadducees drop off the religious radar soon after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. These conservatives fade with the shifting of their world.

Essenes

The monastic sect that lived at Qumran, which is located on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, were called the “Essenes.” The Essenes, according to Philo and Josephus, numbered over 4,000 men. This religious group believed they were the rightful heirs of God’s promises.

The Essenes communicated this belief by withdrawing from temple life in Jerusalem, believing the entire religious system was corrupt. They practiced extreme frugality, celibacy, and ritual purity.

Ritual purity was central to the Essene way of life as they began their day with a purification bath before dressing in standard white outer garments.

There were ritual morning prayers, communal meals, and daily agrarian duties. They may have also worked as shepherds, beekeepers, and craftsmen.

The Essenes held an apocalyptic worldview. They believed they were living in the last days and that the prophets pointed to their times. This can be seen throughout Qumran literature. The Essenes were anticipating a conquering Messiah and they believed that they were saving themselves as the faithful keepers of the covenant. All others were just religious pretenders.

They intensely studied and copied the Scriptures. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars have learned that the Essene community believed they were “sons of light” and the last remnant of God’s covenant.

Some scholars have suggested that John the Baptist may have emerged from the Qumran community.

Zealots, Sicarii, and Herodians

The Zealots are known as the extreme anti-Roman party with violent tendencies. Scholars point out that it is likely that these revolutionaries only differed from the Pharisees in their willingness to use violent force and sacrifice themselves for the sake of Jewish liberty.

The Zealots held a biblical hermeneutic that encouraged violent revolt against the enemies of God. Josephus has written, they were Jews expressing their conviction: “No lord, but God” (Jospehus, Ant. 18.1.6). Simon the Zealot was one of the Twelve disciples of Jesus (Matt. 10:4).

Another branch of the Zealots were the Sicarii, or “dagger men” (Acts 21:38). These terrorists would mingle among the crowds of people, especially during Jewish festivals, and strike down prominent Roman officials, only to quickly disappear back into the crowd undetected.

These were the men that held Herod’s wilderness compound, Masada, during the Jewish revolt which first began in AD 66. It was in this military fortress that hundreds of Sicarii, along with their families, would take their own lives in order to avoid capture by the Romans in AD 73. The Romans were impressed by the honor and bravery of these freedom fighters.

The Herodians were another political and religious group that carried great influence among the people of Palestine. They are mentioned only three times in the New Testament. As their name suggests, the Herodians were clearly partisan to the Herodian dynasty, but they are still seen joining with the Pharisees in their opposition to Jesus (Mk. 3:6).

This is significant, since the Herodians were politically affiliated with Herod’s house, but religiously and economically in agreement with the Sadducees. The testimony of Matthew and Mark reveal that the Herodians were willing to work alongside their rivals to oppose Jesus of Nazareth.

Samaritans

Samaria was the hill country located between Galilee to the north and Judea to the south. Jesus told a parable of a Good Samaritan who helped a man that was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road (Lk. 10:25-37). Several pious travelers walk right on by the helpless man, but it is the Samaritan that reflects the kingdom of God.

This story cuts to the heart of Jewish prejudices towards this religious and ethnic group. For the religious Jews living in the first-century, it is impossible to miss Jesus’ provocative challenge to reconsider popular opinion about a religious neighbor and fellow keeper of the covenant.

So who were the Samaritans? Why were they disliked among many Jews?

The Samaritans were considered an unclean and illegitimate “half-breed race” that was neither Jew nor Gentile. This was due to their practice of intermarrying with pagans, being descendants of the northern tribes that split from Judah after the time of Solomon, and their establishment of a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim.

The woman at the well discusses this point of contention with Jesus in John 4:1-42. Jesus proposes that the religious feud of temple worship is no longer relevant because the Messiah has come to set the world to rights.

Jesus indicates that God has something else in mind which goes beyond what was being anticipated and practiced by all religious Jews.

What Religious Brand Was Jesus?

It is worthy of careful consideration that Jesus did not entirely agree with any Jewish Religious group of his own day. Jesus rebuked representatives and ideologies from each group in an effort to reform their ideas of covenant faithfulness, ritual purity, and Messianic expectations.

For some of these religious folk, he did affirm that certain points of their theology were correct, still they needed to be refined through his own divine interpretation of Scripture (Jn. 5:39). Jesus claimed to be the only one able to interpret and teach without any blind spots or lapse in judgment.

Jesus refused to affiliate himself with any of the Jewish denominations of his day. He would not allow himself to be pigeonholed, and he was angered by the efforts other Jews made to place God in a box, constrained by their own theological and philosophical paradigms.

No, Jesus kept a healthy distance from these religious groups and he refused to weigh in on the hot political and religious debates of the day.

Jesus turned the tables on his opponents. He shocked his audience by challenging their view of the Father’s love, teaching the inclusion of all those that welcomed him as Messiah, and proclaiming himself savior of the world.

Instead of joining these religious groups, Jesus gave a clear and resounding call, “Come, follow me” (Mk. 1:17). And the invitation still stands today.

Suggested Reading

  • DeSilva, David. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
  • Evans, Craig, and Stanley Porter. Dictionary of New Testament Background. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
  • Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003.
  • VanderKam, James. An Introduction to Early Judaism. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001.
  • Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God, Vol. 1: Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

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