Tag Archives: Pharisees

Getting out of a Lose – Lose Situation

31 Mar

Ever been in a lose-lose situation?

They make you feel trapped.  No answer seems good.

Mutually Assured Destruction.  You shoot an arsenal of nuclear bombs at me, and I will shoot my arsenal of nuclear bombs at you.  Boom.  Not a good solution.

What about other lose-lose situations that are more a part of our daily lives?

Maybe a job interview that goes like this:

Employer: “So tell me about your experience in this line of work?”

Applicant: “I don’t have any.  I was hoping to gain experience on the job.”

Employer: “Sorry, you need minimum of three years experience to get the job.”

Applicant: “Well how will I get experience if I can never get a job until I have experience?”

Or it is like the true story I heard of a man who had amassed nearly a million dollars for retirement.  When retirement came he decided to invest some money in stocks.  It was when tech stocks were booming and he sunk $100,000 into what seemed a sure bet.  The tech bubble burst and the price of the stock dropped precipitously.   He was sure it would rebound.  It did not.  Instead it hit new lows.  So he sold the stock for a quarter of his purchase price.  When the stock dropped again, he decided to invest again, thinking the rebound was coming.  It didn’t.  Another $100,000 mostly lost.   But when the stock kept dropping he kept thinking it had finally hit rock bottom, and he would invest with dreams of getting his investment back.  The stock astounded him by dropping every time.  All told he lost $700,000.

There are other ways to describe this:  A no win situation.  A dilemma. A pickle.

Have you ever had to get out of a no-win situation?  Did you have to take a loss?

In our ongoing study of the Life of Jesus through the Gospel of Luke, we have come to his final week. Last week while we fast-forwarded to the resurrection for Easter Sunday, we also rewound to a parable he told of a great banquet.  At that time he was having dinner with a Pharisee and he boldly predicted their demise before God.  The Pharisees didn’t like him for that.  Now back to his final week, and things are coming to a head.  The religious elite, including the Pharisees, are desperate to take him down.  For Jesus it seems like a lose-lose situation.

Check out Luke 20:1-18 and join us at Faith Church on Sunday April 3 to see if Jesus gets out of a lose-lose situation.

That time Jesus told us to do evil

14 Jan

Yeah. That time Jesus told us to be evil.

For real.  He did.

Is there a catch?  Though I’ve barely written ten words, you’re probably suspecting that there’s a catch.  There’s no way I would believe that Jesus told us to do evil, would I?

Except that this is what he Jesus said: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves…”.  You can read the whole context if you want at Luke 16:1-15.

What Jesus is doing in this section is normal enough for him.  He is teaching his disciples.  Some Pharisees are there too, Luke tells us.  Though not mentioned specifically, we suspect the large crowds that have been following him in this phase of his ministry are still there too, hoping to catch him healing or say something offensive to the Pharisees.

Go ahead and click on the scripture link above and read the section.  There’s a very interesting parable, and the teaching I mentioned.  Does Jesus really tell people to use their money to make friends?  Yes, but can he mean that?  Is there more to the story?

I did some digging this week and found that scholars are conflicted about this section.  Kenneth Bailey, in his work Poet & Peasant, says that “many commentators affirm that this parable is the most difficult of all the synoptic [material in Matthew, Mark and Luke] parables.”  He goes on to quote C. C. Torrey as writing:

This passage brings before us a new Jesus, one seems inclined to compromise with evil.  He approves a program of canny self-interest, recommending to his disciples a standard of life which is generally recognized as inferior: ‘I say to you, gain friends by means of money.’ This is not the worst of it; he bases the teaching on the story of a shrewd scoundrel who feathered his own nest at the expense of the man who had trusted him; and then [Jesus] appears to say to his disciples, ‘Let this be your model!’

Huh?  What gives?  Is Jesus compromising with evil?  Why is no one talking about this?

Bailey tells us that people have talked about this: “The seeming incongruity of a story that praises a scoundrel has been an embarrassment to the Church at least since Julian the Apostate used the parable to assert the inferiority of the Christian faith and its founder.”

Have you heard of this before?  I hadn’t.

So what should we do?

Join us at Faith Church this coming Sunday morning, and you’ll find out.

Woe to you, Christians – Part 2 – How to stop the two main things that will cause your death

11 Nov

Imagine you have been invited to your pastor’s house for dinner and some leaders of the church are there.  It is a nice meal with pleasant dinner conversation.

Do you think you would take this time to point out all the things you didn’t like about the people around the table?

Some of you might!  Some would be mortified of doing that.

Jesus, in Luke 11:37-56 was invited to dinner with a Pharisee, and an expert in the Law was there.  Before dinner Jesus chose to forgo the traditional washing, and the Pharisee noticed and was surprised.  Jesus saw this as a cultural open door, and stormed through it.   Over the course of the next few minutes he proceeds to insult the Pharisees and Law Experts, using a prophetic Woe Oracle against them.  I introduced the concept of a Woe Oracle last week.  Woe Oracles used funeral language to proclaim “if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will die!”

I also said last week that perhaps the American Church would do well to listen in to this sharp conversation.  Stats have been telling us that we are declining.  Maybe there is something that Jesus was saying to the religious leaders of his day that could help us avoid death in our day.

So what were the Pharisees and Law Experts doing that was so wrong?  Two things.  They were being hypocritical and legalistic.  Read through the Woes again and you’ll see how they were not practicing what they were preaching (hypocrisy), and they were burdening people with extra laws (legalism).

Is it possible that the decline of the American Church is attributable, at least partially, to our own hypocrisy and legalism?

I know this is a difficult passage. These are hard and harsh words from Jesus. He is speaking to those who are living a lifestyle of hypocrisy.  I know that we are not the Pharisees, but don’t we all have areas of hypocrisy?  I know not too many of us are living lifestyles of complete and total legalism, but I don’t want to let us off the hook here either.  Instead I think we all should wrestle with a passage like this.  We are disciples of Jesus.  And Jesus certainly called out his disciples, who had areas of struggle, many times, just as he is calling out the teachers of the law here.  I think it is always good for us, as people who are disciples of Jesus, who desire to make our hearts more and more like the heart of Jesus, to take a hard and honest look at ourselves and see what areas we have improved in and what areas we still need to work on. We should always have teachable hearts, ready to make changes and to do the hard work to change attitudes that work themselves out into our actions.

To use the language of the parable Jesus told to the Pharisee, in what areas are we clean cups on the outside and filthy on the inside?  Are we living secret lives?  Are we hypocritical in any way? We need to get that out in the open, confess it, and change.

This does not mean that you need to be proclaiming all your junk to the public all the time – that is not what I am saying. I am saying that our hearts should be beating like Jesus and that will naturally overflow into our actions.

Additionally, we need to address any potential legalism in our lives.  If the Gospel is about grace through faith, not by works, we can hinder people from the Gospel by emphasizing rules.

Do we believe that following these rules define us as a Christian? If so, is it possible that we have led people astray by communicating to them the perception that they, too, if they want to be a Christian must follow those rules?

Let me give you an illustration. In the early church, in Acts chapter 15, the leaders of the church called a conference. At this point the church was maybe 10 years old or so, and it had grown a lot from the original 120 who started out. Guys like Paul and Barnabas had gone on mission trips and non-Jews from outside Israel had become Christians. Some of the Jewish Christians, including some Pharisees who became Christians, heard about these non-Jews becoming disciples of Jesus, and while they were happy, they felt that the non-Jews needed to start following the Old Testament Jewish Laws now. Especially the law of circumcision. Imagine that. These Jewish Christians felt that adult male non-Jews needed to be circumcised! Ouch!

Paul was totally against this. He argued that the message of Jesus was that the Old Testament Law was fulfilled in Jesus, and that Christians, disciples of Jesus, didn’t have to follow those Laws. Those Laws were essentially the treaty or the covenant between God and Israel, not between God and the church. Paul was right, and thankfully the leaders saw things Paul’s way and they did not require the non-Jewish disciples to get surgery. Whew.

Just like them, let us not put rules and regulations in place of faith in Christ and a life of discipleship!  What defines us as a Christian is that we have hearts that beat for the Lord. That we are his disciples, and our lives are totally arranged about being a disciple who makes disciples.

So in conclusion, the message of Jesus’ Woe Oracle to the Pharisees and teacher of the law is that we should remove hypocrisy and legalism from our lives. We should not be one person on Sunday at church and someone very different in our private lives.

Have you heard the story of the police officer who recently committed suicide because he had a double life? Two sets of families?  We don’t ever want to hear Jesus say Woe to you Church, and that means we should live a life fully for him. Ask him to reveal any hypocrisy in your life. And then remove it.

If there are rules you are imposing on others, maybe even unwittingly, would ask God to reveal them to you, so you can present a pure Gospel and not trip people up on legalism?

Woe to you, Christians! – Part 1: How a woe oracle could save the church from death

6 Nov

“Woe!” but not “Woah!”

What’s the difference?

“Woah” is an utterance of surprise, or a command to “Stop!”

But “Woe” is a wailing of sadness.  In the Bible there are Woe Oracles in the Old Testament.  That word “woe” was used in Israel primarily at funerals.  People would loudly proclaim “woe” at the passing of a loved one or friend.  From the descriptions we have in the Bible, it seems like a funeral could have been quite a boisterous, awful display.  Some cultures around the world still today have similar practices of mourning.

A common phrase in our culture is “Woe is me.”  We use this phrase to have a pity party for ourselves, to explain that we are feeling sad.  But in the Bible, the word “Woe” is most often directed at someone else.  In the Bible we don’t read “woe is me”, but instead we often read “Woe to you!”

The biblical prophets often uttered woe oracles crying out the word “Woe” as a part of their prophecy against a nation. In so doing, they were invoking funeral language over that nation.  “Woe to you, who are complacent in Zion” the prophet Amos declared, for the people of Israel lived lavishly while practicing injustice.  There are examples in many of the other prophets as well.  The gist of a prophetic woe oracle, then, was that the nation should be very sad because their funeral was impending!  Thus, a woe oracle is designed to shake people up, to make changes, so that their funeral could be delayed.

In our ongoing series through the Gospel of Luke, our next section is an episode in which Jesus joins the chorus of prophets and proclaims a bold woe oracle.  Who would he say this to?  Like the prophets of old, would he say “Woe” to the nation of Israel?  No.  There was a different group he focuses on.  The religious leaders.  You’ve probably heard of them: the Pharisees and the experts in the Law.

Why would Jesus give a woe oracle against them?  Take a look at Luke 11:37-53, and you can see what he has to say.

As you read this, try to learn why Jesus got so bold.  And then try to imagine what he might say to Christians!  Is it possible that Jesus might have reason to proclaim “Woe to you American Christians…”?

I think he might.  And I think it could be hard for us to hear.

Recently on the Today Show, the hosts each answered one of those “Would You Rather?” questions.  A “Would You Rather?” situation asks you to choose between two options, neither of which is completely desirable.  In this case, the question was “Would you rather know the time of your death or the way you will die?”  I can imagine that the knowledge of either of those could lead to lots of anxiety.  Which would you choose?  I lean toward knowing the way I will die.  But really, I don’t want to know when or how I will die.  When a prophet proclaims a woe oracle they are doing something far better than the “Would You Rather?” question.  A woe oracle is saying “People you will die if you continue living this way!  So make a change and live.”  Therefore, I think we Christians should want to know the woes that Jesus might proclaim over the American church.  We’ve been hearing for years that the American church is in decline, dying.  Perhaps we need a bold woe oracle to shake us up and help us get healthy again!

On Sunday at Faith Church, we’ll study the woes that Jesus proclaims against the religious leaders of his day, and we’ll see if those woes might lead us to woes that he would have for us.

What happens when Jesus tells the Bible scholars they don’t know the Bible?

20 Mar

grain-fieldThe religious establishment is on him.  They’ve been following him ever since he splashed onto the scene months earlier, healing people and preaching and gaining a following of large crowds.  These Bible teachers, these Pharisees, are the religion police of their day, and they have dispatched some agents to check Jesus out.  Now they’re following him everywhere.  In this passage, they are walking through a grain field.  And they confront his disciples for picking some of the grain…a major no-no?  So Jesus responds with with a story.  He even starts it off by saying “Have you never read…?”  And you know they read it many, many times.  But there he is taking the Bible scholars back to Sunday School.

Basically he is saying to them “You guys who are supposed to know this Bible inside and out, you missed something.”  I wonder how he said this.  I would love to know the tone in his voice.  Was there any sarcasm?  A twinkle in his eye?  Frustration?

I think the Pharisees are quite surprised by Jesus.  Take a look at Luke 6:1-11, and see what you think.  Does he surprise you?

He tells them a story from the life of Israel’s most famous king, David.  When you read it, my guess is that it would rank, for most people, in the category of little-known stories.  The bible scholars of his day would have been, or should have been, really familiar with it.  It’s a story when David was in a tough predicament and he did something unheard of.  Scandalous even.  And actually a priest let him do it!  A priest let David break the Law.  Shocking?  Not really, when you find out the details.  But why not?  We’ll learn more on Sunday.

And we’ll see why Jesus brings this story up on a Sabbath day in the middle of a grain field to confront the religious establishment guys who are ticked off.

Why are the Pharisees so upset?  Why does Jesus confront their Bible knowledge?  As we study this passage, perhaps we need to go back to Sunday School too.  It is possible that we might have a little learning from Jesus to do too.

If you’re not part of a church family, we’d love to have you join us at Faith Church!

Why Jesus would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints – Luke 5:27-39

18 Mar

Last week I introduced this past Sunday’s sermon with a game of Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition.  We had a lot of fun playing the game live in worship on Sunday.

I wanted to play Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition because of some lines from his song “Only The Good Die Young”:  “I’d rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints.”  In our next passage studying the Gospel of Luke, we discovered Jesus doing just that!  Take a look at Luke 5:27-39 and you’ll see what I mean.


“I’d rather laugh with the sinners…” Did you see Jesus laughing it up with the sinners! Levi (Matthew) the tax collector throws a party in Jesus’ honor, and it is filled with people who the religious establishment, and pretty much everyone else, considers sinners! And Jesus is right there in the middle of it.

“…than cry with the saints.” The Pharisees and teachers of the law are outside watching him. These so-called saints are there crying their eyes out as they look inside. But note that they don’t confront Jesus! Instead they ask his disciples: “Why are you eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”

And when the Pharisees question the disciples, I can see those disciples getting sick in the stomach, armpits start sweating and they clam up.  These are religious big-wigs!  They might pull out their wooden rulers and slap the disciples on the wrist.

The Disciples don’t answer. But Jesus does. I love that! I don’t know for certain that the Pharisees and disciples were on the outside of the house, on the veranda, or inside. But what Luke does confirm is that Jesus answers.

He uses a medical metaphor that a doctor is not for healthy people, but for sick! He explains what he means: he came not for the righteous, but sinners to repent. Though he is more than willing to laugh with sinners, he also calls them to repent. God has a heart for sinners! God loves even the despised tax collector, the prostitute, the homosexual, and you and me.  But in love, he calls them to repent. To repent is to lead a lifestyle of repentance.  To repent is to change.

When we follow Jesus as disciples, our lives should be changing. You should be able to look at your life and see how you have changed. Praise God that he loves us sinners and that all of us have the opportunity to be his disciples, but that doesn’t mean we can take his love for granted, or disrespect it. He loves us and wants us to follow him so that we can change! So that we can stop sinning and begin to live the wonderful life, the far better life, as one of his followers!

So for Jesus to focus on sinners to repent is a radical move. Where the Pharisees saw sinners as people who could infect them, Jesus saw the sinners as people who could have a renewal of heart, who could change.  He goes to the sinners. He goes their party. But in the middle of that, he calls them to change.

In verse 33 the Pharisees question Jesus about this, “There are other people or groups that have disciples, like ours, and those disciples practice fasting and prayer.  What’s the deal with you and your disciples partying with sinners?” Basically they’re saying, “Our disciples are more spiritual than your disciples!” And they have a point, one that we would probably use. We look to prayer and fasting as deeply important to the life of disciples. Spiritual disciplines are important! Shouldn’t Jesus respond by saying “Aw man, you got me. I’ve been really screwing up in leading my disciples. I’m sorry Pharisees. Come on boys, let’s scram. We shouldn’t have been partying it up with the sinners. My bad. I promise, Pharisees, we’ll never do that again. Serious. I swear by the name of me.”?

Nope. He didn’t say that. Instead, it’s another surprise. In verses 34-35 he now uses a wedding metaphor. When the bridegroom is there, it’s party time! We know this in our culture too. When the bride and groom leave the reception, pretty much the party’s over, right? We all go home, sometimes quite sad that it is over. I remember some friends’ wedding where I did not want that party to stop!  They eventually wanted it to, but I didn’t.

So basically Jesus is saying to these leaders, “Chill out guys. God loves sinners, and he is calling sinners to repent, and you know what? Look at what God is doing in Matthew’s life! We should throw a party about that! A sinner, a tax collector has said that he is leaving behind his tax collecting to follow me!”

There was good reason to celebrate!  Jesus doesn’t avoid sinners. He mixes it up with them. But in the midst of the party, he calls them to repentance. Matthew would go on to be changed.

In our day, we have to be very very careful that we are not like the Pharisees. We need to call sinners to repent, but it might look very different than what we’re used to. In fact, it should look different.   I believe we are coming through a period where much of the methodology of the church resembles the method of the Pharisees rather than that of Jesus. The church for too long wanted to people to clean up their act, and then come to church. Jesus, however, says I am coming to you, to where you are, right in the middle of your mess, and I am going to party with you, and I am going to call you to repent of your sin.

Seriously, that’s a bit mind-blowing isn’t it?

If there is sin in your life, Jesus says that you need to call it sin and repent; you need to change. The tax collector had to leave his life of cheating and stealing. Levi did just that. And guess what? He went on to write one of the books of the Bible! Amazing!

What if Jesus would have passed Levi by, saying “Disgusting…I hate those tax collectors…they’re sinners, I’m not going near them because they sicken me with their cheating. And I don’t want them to pollute me.”

Imagine Levi running after Jesus and saying “I’ve been listening to your sermons, Jesus, and I’ve seen your miraculous healings, and I want to change my life…I’m so excited about what God is doing in my life, I want to throw a party for you!” After hearing that, what if Jesus responds and says “A party? Are you serious? I don’t party. Who do you think I am? A sinner like you and your friends? You’ve got the wrong idea about following me, buddy. If you want to follow me, get down on your knees right now and start praying and fasting.”

But praise the Lord, Jesus is NOT like that.  Praise the Lord, Jesus meets us where we are and calls us to become new people.

  1. This affects us. Jesus meets us where we are. But he doesn’t say that we can stay where we are. We change to be like him. What sin do you need to call sin and repent of and change?
  2. This affects others. Just as Jesus met us where we are, we should follow his example and meet people where they are. Who are the sinners in your life that need Jesus that you need to go to and love and party with?

Which Jesus will we be like? The one who laughs with the sinners or the one who cries with the saints?