Focusing On Exceptions

This week in our Men’s Bible Study, we will be reviewing Matthew 19: 3 — 20: 16. As I prepared this morning I was struck by a similarity in our modern theology to that of the Pharisees of Jesus day. Here is what I mean.

In Matt 19: 3-12, Jesus is en route to Jerusalem as his Galilee ministry is coming to an end and it is time for him to make the ultimate sacrifice in Jerusalem. As Jesus and his group enter Judea and travel on the opposite side of the Jordan to get there, some Pharisees ask him, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

This is so much more than a teaching on divorce, which Jesus will do. This is a teaching on where we place our emphasis in Scripture and to what authority we submit. The Pharisee’s are asking Jesus to make a decisive ruling of the Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 ruling on the grounds for divorce. Will Jesus support the Hillel or the Shammite schools pragmatic teaching, which is what they want to find out.

We must recognize what the Pharisees are asking Jesus to do. Will Jesus question the Law of Moses? This is why they ask him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away,” when Jesus responded to their question on divorce that God created man and woman from the beginning and the two shall become one flesh from two and therefore what “God has joined together, let not man separate,” from Gen 1-2.

The Pharisee’s are focusing on the exception Moses authorized because of the sinfulness of mankind, but Jesus puts the emphasis on God’s true intention for marriage, which is that those who marry do it for life. Jesus answered their question and pinpointed one of the major problems with their understanding of the kingdom of God.

The Pharisee’s and their theology focused on the exceptions to the Law and what was lawful for man to get away with, remember their initial question? Whereas Jesus references God’s actual intention and plan for mankind and that is humans actual followed what God wanted and said, there would not be a need for an exception.

To further this point, children are brought to Jesus and the disciples try to stop the children from approaching Jesus and he says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of heaven,” (Matt 19: 13-15). Children take what is said for truth, they have not yet figured out the grey areas where pragmatism can find areas to squeeze through the cracks and do what one wants, not what is expected, yet in their culture children are of low status.

Immediately following the teaching with the children and to further make the point, the Bible describes this rich young ruler in Matt 19: 16-30. This fellow is young, moral, interested in being spiritually sound, and wealthy. This guy is the exact kind of guy the disciples would want in the kingdom, as opposed to the children Jesus just said belong in the kingdom, but Jesus sends him packing.

The rich young fellow asks Jesus which of the laws he needs to follow. You see, in his mind he is thinking of the 613 supplementary laws in the Old Testament. Jesus though does not let him off the hook. Jesus takes him right to the Decalogue or Ten Commandments, “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The young fellow says he has kept all of these, so what does he still lack? Jesus informs him that if he would be perfect, then he should go and sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, which will result in treasure in heaven, and come follow Jesus.

In their cultural context, having wealth was a sign of being especially blessed by God (is it much different in North America?). So for Jesus to say get rid of your stuff, give it to the poor, and follow me was a complete turn around on their cultural expectations of honor and godly living. Exercising his free will the young fellow leaves filled with sorrow, because he had many possessions, which we must remember Jesus teaching about two masters in Matt 6: 19-24.

The point of this long post is I realized during my study and preparations this morning we have maintained many of the Pharisee teachings and theology in the Church in North America. We focus on the exceptions to God’s Law as a pattern of theology and what is acceptable within our churches and lives.

When the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” We better take notice to the response of Jesus. Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” We had better focus on the actual teaching of righteousness and what God expects of us as disciples to be perfect, than on our own free will.

Otherwise we will practice the opposite of what Paul describes when he says we ought to just go on sinning all the more so God can get even more glory.What I see in the church and in the lives of many Christians these days is exactly what Paul describes, ignoring the standard Jesus set and demands and exercising free will to keep sinning and be forgiven.

Paul wrote in Rom 2: 12 – 3: 8,

“12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (Emphasis mine). 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law (Emphasis Mine). 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded[a] as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically[b] uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code[c] and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter (Emphasis Mine). His praise is not from man but from God.

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.”

So here is my challenge to you Christian. Be faithful. Be just. Be a doer of the Word and love God with everything you have and your neighbor as yourself and when you stand before God on the day of judgment, you will be saved in Christ from damnation and nothing else matters. Can you? Will you? Or will you slink off like the rich young man because the comfort of this life is more important than the cost of following Jesus?