WOE, IS ME!

woe

The Pharisees and religious leaders. They are bad and wrong, and by pointing out exactly how so, Jesus is warning us about other leaders like them. He is also warning us about becoming like them ourselves. In other words, Jesus, as God-the-Son, is expressing his very real, and thoroughly righteous anger against sin. Let’s consider how the Holy Spirit might want to speak to us through these ‘woes.’
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Matthew #82.  Matthew 23:13-36

We are in the middle of a long rant that Jesus makes against the religious leaders of his time. Frankly, when I just read through quickly, I don’t get a lot out of this portion of Matthew. The Pharisees are bad, Jesus is mad, end of story, right?

Whenever I encounter a piece of scripture that leaves me cold, like this, I often find it useful to pause and ask some questions. Why exactly does Jesus rant and rave like this? Is he just angry? Is he just venting? What is the purpose of this section of scripture – why did the Holy Spirit preserve these words of Jesus for Christians throughout the ages?

As I do that with this particular passage, I think the Spirit can show us several things.

First, there is the straightforward issue of the behavior of the Pharisees and religious leaders. They are bad and wrong, and by pointing out exactly how so, Jesus is warning us about other leaders like them. He is also warning us about becoming like them ourselves. In other words, Jesus, as God-the-Son, is expressing his very real, and thoroughly righteous anger against sin. Let’s consider how these woes might affect us as well.

Jesus points out seven or eight areas where the religious leaders are in deep trouble. He begins each one with the phrase: “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

First, let’s talk about the word “woe.” It can mean: “trouble, sorrow and distress.” There is often an element of sorrow associated with this word, both in Greek and in English; it can be a lament, like “Alas!” So, in Matthew 24:19, Jesus says:

“Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.”

But I think here, in this passage, Jesus is adding a sense of warning and judgment with it. The “woe” upon the pregnant women and nursing mothers was not because of anything they did. But here, Jesus clearly connects each woe to the behavior of the religious leaders. I still think he speaks with sorrow; I don’t think he is happy about it. Even so, clearly, he is enumerating their sins, and pronouncing that they will experience trouble and sorrow as judgement for them.

The first woe and sorrow (in verse 13) is because they refuse to enter the kingdom of heaven, and stop others from entering in. This is Jesus’ core issue with the Pharisees. They warned people against the only way of salvation, which is Jesus himself. Instead, they believed that they did not need him. Specifically, they taught (and obviously believed) that they could earn their salvation by behaving well. In a more general sense, this woe applies to anyone who leads others to believe that they can be saved by any other path than repentance from sin, and trust in Jesus. So Paul reiterates this woe in the first chapter of Galatians:

6I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! 9As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! (Gal 1:6-9, HCSB)

Make no mistake. Christianity has always insisted that Jesus Christ is the only way to forgiveness, reconciliation with God, and eternal life:

5“Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ” 6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7“If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:5-7, HCSB)

 11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. 13I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)

11This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.” (Acts 4:11-12, HCSB)

The Pharisees and Scribes rejected Jesus, and therefore rejected salvation, and led others to do so as well. Today, Christians must remember that our core belief is grace, forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. We don’t have forgiveness or life because “God is love, and just wouldn’t send anyone to hell.” That lie is just as bad as anything the Pharisees taught: Woe to anyone who tells it! We are not saved because we “have lived a good life, and tried to do the right thing.” We are not forgiven because we “aren’t worse than anyone else.” Sin is much more serious than that. We aren’t forgiven because we make sacrifices, or take mission trips, or because we “speak the words of truth.” We are saved through Jesus Christ alone, and we receive that salvation by grace when we repent and trust him. Woe to anyone else who teaches otherwise!

The second woe is found in verse 15. Some of you may not have verse 14 in your Bibles: it will skip from 13 to 15. Verse 14 is actually one of those places where there is a dispute about the original manuscript of the New Testament. The oldest and best manuscripts do not contain it. The textus receptus (which is the source for the King James version of the Bible), does contain it, as do some other later manuscripts. I think the best evidence suggests that this was not originally part of the book of Matthew. This is one example of why I am not a fan of the King James version. Even so, I’d like to point out that whether you leave verse 15 in, or take it out, it does not change very much at all; certainly it changes no Christian doctrine. This is considered a major variant, and once again we see that even major variants are actually extremely minor. We can have great confidence that the New Testament we read today is, in fact, what was written by the apostles.

In any case, I will move on to verse 15, where Jesus pronounces judgment upon the religious leaders for converting even non-Jews to the belief that they can earn their way into God’s favor, and eternal life. This is very much like the first woe, the main difference being who gets led astray: Jews, or non-Jews. For our purposes, it is a warning that if we get people to join our church, but do not teach them that forgiveness, life and salvation are found only in Jesus, given to us by grace through faith, we would be better off not bringing the new people in the first place.

The third woe is described in verses 16 through 22. Basically, Jesus is giving an example of how the teachers of the law, and Pharisees twist and undermine God’s word. Many times I have given you the example of the Sabbath, and how they added their own laws on top of the commands of God. Here, Jesus is referring to the way that they do mental gymnastics in order to benefit themselves in the matter of taking oaths. They argued that certain kinds of vows were not binding, and made fine distinctions that sounded intellectual, but were completely against all common sense.

These days, we don’t often make vows, particularly not religious vows. I made vows when I was married, and when I was ordained as a pastor. However, even in those cases, I did not swear by or on anything; I simply said: “I will, and I ask God to help me.” So the practice of swearing by (or on) something is no longer a big issue, at least not in Western culture. True, some folks might say something like: “I swear by my mother’s grave.” I don’t think anyone takes them seriously. Even so, I think we can learn something from this particular woe. The underlying issue is that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were playing games with the truth. As Jesus points out, clearly, if you swear by the altar in the temple, really, you are swearing by God. But the religious leaders came up with all sorts of obscure reasoning to avoid that obvious, common-sense conclusion.

I think that today this woe could refer to the way some people treat the Bible. Unfortunately, I have many times read Bible commentaries that tried to say that certain verses mean the exact opposite of what they clearly say. Now, you know that I’m all for thoughtful, scholarly Bible interpretation. Not all Bible verses are obvious in meaning. Even so, there are many people today, whom I can only call false teachers, who twist the words of the Bible, play games with the truth, and do mental gymnastics in order to eliminate the plain, common sense meaning of God’s Word. What they are doing is not careful interpretation, but rather, twisting the obvious truth. I think Jesus would say to them: “Woe to you!”

The fourth woe is essentially captured by Jesus’ words in verse 24:

24Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel! (Matt 23:24, HCSB)

The religious leaders spent a great deal of energy on relatively trivial matters, while ignoring the more important things. Notice that Jesus says that the trivial things are, in fact, good to do; but the important things should have first priority. I want to try and finish the woes in this sermon, so I won’t go into this one in great depth, but there are many, obvious applications for it. Woe to the church that is more concerned about the color of their carpet than about the homeless population all around it. Woe to the leaders who police the kinds of clothes people wear, and ignore the lust in their own hearts. I could spend all day on this one, but I believe you will be able to think of your own examples without too much effort. I do want to point out that this particular woe contains much of what really turns people off about churches and Christians. I think it’s good to know that Jesus hates it when people focus on minor things, while neglecting the things that are most important to true faith.

The fifth woe, found in verses 25-26, is much like the one before it. The religious leaders are concerned about looking good. They are focused on outward appearances, while they ignore the filth inside of their own hearts. Probably, Jesus is referring to the Jewish tradition of ceremonially washing cups. Mark records a different instance, where Jesus spoke about this at greater length. After discussion about ceremonial washing with the religious leaders, Jesus said this to his disciples:

18And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? 19For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean.) 20Then He said, “What comes out of a person — that defiles him. 21For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23, HCSB)

The sixth woe, is also similar. This time, Jesus describes them as whitewashed tombs, which look good on the outside, but inside are filled with rotten flesh and bone. I’m going to get personal for a moment. I don’t want to be offensive, but I do want us to get the full impact of the words of Jesus here. Here in the Southeastern USA, we have a somewhat religious culture. Even in areas where the culture at large is not particularly Christian, some churches can have a religious culture within their community. I personally know many people who are like these whitewashed tombs. They go to church and they talk a good talk. As far as the people that they go to church with know, these are wonderful Christian folks. But during the week they have affairs, they do drugs, they get drunk, they run businesses that are dishonest, they cheat people, and they are stingy and miserly. Of course, everyone struggles with sin. I’m not talking about Christians who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, but who sometimes fail and fall. I’m talking about people who pretend; people who talk the talk, but do not let Jesus have any real influence in their lives. Jesus says to such people: “Woe to you!”

Finally, Jesus says: “Woe to you who reject God’s messengers!” (verses 29-34). That is what this seventh woe is all about: rejecting those whom God has sent, and rejecting his message through them. In the Western world, thankfully, people do not kill, crucify, or whip Christian teachers and preachers. However, I think it is important for us to remember that this still happens regularly in other places in the world. And even in the Western world, often times those who seek to be vocal about their faith in Jesus are treated with contempt and derision. As one small, and relatively insignificant example, I offer Tim Tebow, former NFL quarterback. Tebow had a year or two as a starting quarterback in the NFL. It was his habit to kneel down as a sign of humility, and praise to the Lord, whenever his team scored. That may or may not be a silly thing; but it was relatively harmless. However, Tebow received a huge amount of criticism for this, and for his outspoken faith. In fact, he received more negative media coverage than many NFL stars at the time who were accused of things like drunk driving, drug possession, assault and rape. Woe to a culture that is more concerned about a public expression of Christian faith than about crimes that deeply hurt others!

Let me say another thing about mistreating God’s messengers. I will admit that this one feels a little personal with me, but that does not make it untrue. I also want to say that I am not complaining, and for the most part I have been very blessed to not experience too much of what I’m about to share with you. Even so, it is shameful – I can think of no better word – the way that many Christians and churches treat their pastors and teachers. Of course there are some bad pastors, and bad leaders, just as there are bad bartenders, truck drivers and school teachers. Even so, many of the pastors who are mistreated by their congregations have good hearts, pure motives, and have done no wrong. Sometimes people direct hateful and hurtful words towards them for doing and saying what they believe God wants them to do and say. Sometimes people slander them. Sometimes people try to run them out of a job, for no reason other than that the pastor has threatened their sense of personal power within the congregation. Sometimes pastors are threatened after teaching something unpopular that the word of God says. Quite often, pastors are underpaid, and it is unusual to find anyone who cares, in most churches, whether or not a pastor is being appropriately compensated. Almost all the time at least some people are critical of their pastor, without doing the least thing to help him.

When I look at these seven woes spoken by Jesus, I think of it as an extreme measure he is taking in order to bring the religious leaders to repentance.

Let me try and illustrate what I mean. About a year ago, I began to have constant pain in one of my kidneys, like I was having a kidney stone. After a long and difficult time, doctors finally determined that some of my nerves have been damaged by frequent kidney stones. I sat down with a pain specialist, and he outlined a number of steps to help me deal with the pain that I still have.

First, we will try a very safe, well-tested, inexpensive medication that has very few side effects. If that works, great! If not the next step is to try a second medication. The second drug is more expensive, and has not been tested for as long as the first. It has more side effects and risk factors. If the second drug works, great! However, if not, there is another step, involving directly stimulating the nerve. This is a more invasive procedure, with greater risks. There is another step after that, and another. Each new step is more drastic, increasingly invasive, and carries greater and greater risk. The final step involves “killing” the nerve that serves my kidney.

When Jesus confronts the religious leaders during these last few days of his life, he is taking the final and most drastic step in trying to bring them to repentance, faith, and salvation. He lived among them, letting his life be a testimony, but that was not enough. He gave them his preaching and his teaching, but they did not respond. He showed them miracles, and the power of God, but they turned away. And so now, he is directly confronting them with their sin. It is their last chance, and he says that if they do not take it, judgment will come upon them. He will “kill” the problem, if it can’t be fixed any other way.

In fact, he says: “I assure you, all these things will come on this generation.” I want to point out two things about this. First, it was literally fulfilled among those who heard Jesus say these words. Jesus was crucified sometime around 30-35 AD. In 70 AD, while that generation still lived, the Romans utterly crushed the Jewish people, slaughtering huge numbers, destroying the temple, and sending the Jews that survived into an exile that lasted almost 2000 years. That generation of unbelieving Jews was indeed judged.

Second, because of how Jesus said it, these words are also for us. Whether or not we are judged as a group, when it comes to the end of our life, when our “generation” passes, we will stand before the judgment seat of God. This is true of every generation that reads Jesus’ words. Let his words sink in. They are drastic, yes. But they are spoken in order to ultimately lead is into the grace of God by driving us to Jesus as our hope, life and salvation.

 

 

DO YOU REALLY NEED JESUS?

 

Jesus

 

As always what is at issue is not “religion,” but Jesus himself and how we respond to him. Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was not that they were religious. The issue was, they did not think they needed him. They were satisfied with themselves as they were. They weren’t willing to admit their need for grace, nor were they willing to humbly follow Jesus Christ. You can be a self-righteous Pharisee, and think you don’t need Jesus. You can be an obvious sinner, and still think you don’t need Jesus. Either way, it’s the same thing, and it’s a tragic thing.

 

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Matthew #31 Chapter 9:9-17

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me! ” So he got up and followed Him.

While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? ”

But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Then John’s disciples came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast? ”

Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one patches an old garment with unshrunk cloth, because the patch pulls away from the garment and makes the tear worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matt 9:9-17, HCSB)

Matthew records that Jesus came to him when he was a tax collector. In this incident, Mark and Luke call the same individual “Levi.” However, later on, when the twelve special apostles of Jesus are named, Luke and Mark use the name “Matthew” and mention no one named Levi. The obvious solution to this puzzle is that just as the apostle Peter once was called Simon, and Paul was once Saul, before he was changed by Jesus, Matthew was known as Levi. Matthew himself, feels the change is so profound that he does not even refer to his old name in the telling. He is fully convinced that he is not the old person, Levi, but rather the new person, saved and changed by Jesus Christ. He isn’t who he used to be. He is done with his former way of life.

What was his former way of life? Well, Matthew/Levi was a tax collector. The Romans controlled Judea and Galilee and the whole region, and they required taxes from it to run their empire. They used underlings who were not Jewish to help them – these underlings were the Idumean people, the most famous of whom was Herod the Great. The Idumeans owed the Romans the taxes for the region, and they also collected their own taxes to run the provinces and also to enrich themselves. The Idumeans, in turn, left the dirty work of actually collecting the taxes to traitorous, unscrupulous Jews, who willingly cooperated with these foreign oppressors because they could get rich doing so. Matthew was one such person.

Basically, the way it worked was this. Matthew was given an amount that he needed to collect to satisfy his Idumean masters (who in turn, also had to satisfy the Romans). But Matthew could collect any amount he wanted. In other words, suppose his masters needed a thousand dollars from each family. Matthew could charge a family $1500, give the Idumeans the $1000 and pocket the $500 for himself, and go on to the next family and do the same thing. So he was a traitor, because he worked to support the foreign oppressors, and he was a parasite, even a thief, because using his position, he took whatever he thought he could get from his fellow countrymen. If anyone objected to what he was collecting in taxes, he simply whistled for the soldiers, and the person who refused to pay was beaten and imprisoned, and the tax was forcibly taken anyway.

Not to belabor the point, but Matthew was not “good people.” He was a quisling and a snake. People looked at him the way you and I might view a pimp, or an organized-crime boss. He might have money, but it was the kind of money no good citizen would touch. Respectable folks did not hang around with people like Matthew.

We have to understand this, because it was shocking – scandalous, even, that Jesus, a godly Jewish Rabbi, would invite Matthew into his core group. It was even more shocking that right afterwards, Jesus went to Matthew’s house for dinner, and Matthew invited such friends as he had – none of which were good people, because good people wouldn’t hang around with Matthew. So use your imagination to recreate the picture. Jesus is at the house of a local organized crime boss. Next to him on one side is a drug dealer. Two places away is a pimp. Across the table from Jesus is a guy who makes his living breaking the legs of people who don’t cooperate, and he’s in the middle of a discussion with a hit man. The meal is being served by hookers.

If this makes you uncomfortable, then you are getting a sense of why the Pharisees reacted the way they did. They ask him why he’s hanging out with such people. It’s not an unreasonable question. Jesus says, basically, “I’m here for sick, not the healthy.”

It’s easy to mis-apply the words of Jesus here, so pay attention. What Jesus basically means by his words is, he is seeking people who need him, and who know it. Some people mistakenly claim that Jesus prefers blatant sinners to religious people. But Jesus’ problem was not with the fact that the Pharisees were religious. The issue was, they did not think they needed him. They were satisfied with themselves as they were. They weren’t willing to admit their need for grace, nor were they willing to humbly follow Jesus Christ.

Applying this to today, a “Pharisee” may or may not be religious, but the defining characteristic is that such a person does not truly, in his honest heart, admit that he needs forgiveness, grace or Jesus. So today, like back then, you find some “Pharisee-types” in churches. These people are concerned with the form of religion, but their hearts are not humbly surrendered to Jesus. They have never truly acknowledged that they need him.

Surprisingly, you can also find many “Pharisees” who never go to church, and who sin blatantly. They are Pharisees not because they are religious (they aren’t) but because they don’t think they need Jesus, or they aren’t willing to follow him. They may admit (even somewhat cheerfully) that they are sinners. But obviously, they don’t take it seriously, and they refuse to humbly receive the grace that Jesus offers them and to follow him.

You can be a self-righteous Pharisee, and think you don’t need Jesus. You can be an obvious sinner, and think you don’t need Jesus. Either way, it’s the same thing, and it’s a bad thing. As always what is at issue is not “religion,” but Jesus himself and how we respond to him.

There is no doubt that in the church we still have some people who look down upon those who are caught in overt sin. Jesus’ words should speak to us. He came precisely for everyone who knows they need him and want him. We have no right to reject, or look down upon, anyone who wants Jesus and is willing to take him on Jesus’ own terms. He says, “I’m here for those who know they need me, who want me, who know the desperation of their situation without me.” Matthew was precisely one such person and that is why Jesus called him. We can assume that Jesus was hoping to find other people like him at the dinner party in Matthew’s house. By all accounts he did.

Jesus was not affirming the sin of the sinners. But he was also not affirming the self-righteousness or prudishness of the Pharisees. As Christians, it is good for us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and welcome sinners who want him. We shouldn’t exclude anyone, no matter what they have done, no matter how bad they are. Jesus makes it very clear: his mission is to call sinners to repentance and faith in Him. Our mission should be the same.

It is also true that not every sinner wants Jesus. And I think it is a mistake to affirm people who are not interested in repentance or in following Jesus. We are not doing them a favor if we give them the impression that a sinful lifestyle is okay. Part of the proof of this is that Matthew’s own lifestyle changed radically. Matthew left his position as a tax collector. He gave up cooperating with the foreign authorities and he gave up vast wealth to follow Jesus. The same is true of other sinners whom Jesus encountered. For instance, Mary Magdalene, who gave up prostitution and followed Jesus, Zacchaeus, another tax collector, followed Matthew’s path, and even the thief repented as he was crucified next to Jesus.

The Pharisees were not the only people who failed to understand the mission of Jesus. The followers of John the Baptist were also puzzled. They approached the disciples and asked them why they and Jesus did not engage in fasting. What this has in common with the problem of Pharisees is that Jesus is not conforming to their expectations. The Pharisees expected Jesus to stay away from sinners. The followers of John expected Jesus to fast. Jesus did neither one.

Jesus’ reply to the followers of John is yet one more instance where he claims to be divine. His response is essentially, “Why would anyone fast when I’m here with them? The whole reason for fasting is to get close to me, and here I am!” Jesus clearly saw himself as the “bridegroom.” This picture is drawn from Jewish weddings, but basically what it means is that Jesus sees himself as the one everyone has been waiting for. Once more, this is not great moral teaching – unless it is true. Once more we are confronted with this choice: Jesus is either a megalomaniac, or God come in the flesh.

Matthew closes out this section with a comment from Jesus about patches and wineskins. Unfortunately, these days, many of us have never even patched a piece of clothing, let alone seen a wineskin or used one. We need to understand the cultural reference before we can realize what Jesus is talking about.

This was long before the invention of polyester or nylon so imagine a piece of cotton clothing. Cotton shrinks appreciably when it is washed and dried. So if you sewed a brand-new cotton patch onto a piece of clothing that had already been washed and dried, the first time you washed it after the repair, the new patch would shrink more than the fabric around it, and simply tear the shirt again.

The picture with the wineskins is similar. In those days most wine was not put into bottles like we do today. Instead, the wine was put into containers made from animal skins – basically, leather. However, the wine was not fully fermented when it was placed into the skin container. As the wine continued to ferment inside the leather container it bubbled and released gases, putting pressure on the sides of the container. If it was a fresh new wineskin, it would stretch with the expanding gases within it and continue to hold the wine securely. However, if you put new wine, not completely fermented, into an old leather skin that was already stretched out, when the gases expanded, the leather would have no more flexibility left, and it would burst.

It amounts to this: both the Pharisees and the followers of John wanted Jesus to conform to their own expectations. But Jesus was telling them “something new is happening here. You can’t contain it within the old forms of the Jewish religion. You can’t make it fit your own personal expectations.” It took a long time for both sides to realize, but this is the beginning of the split between Christianity and Judaism. Jesus was saying, “this is not the religion you have known. Something new is happening now. It will take a new approach to get the good wine I’m offering.”

So what does all this mean for us today? Have you thought of yourself as a sinner? Do you feel that you don’t deserve grace love and forgiveness? The wonderful news is that Jesus came precisely for you. His whole mission was to find people who are not perfect people, not “good” people, but rather, people who know that they need him and are willing to receive him. So receive him. There is nothing that you have done, or could have done, that puts you beyond his grace and forgiveness. He says that he came for people just like you and me.

As you receive Him, he calls you also to follow him by obeying Him, to the best of your ability. As you continue to trust Jesus, the Holy Spirit will make you more and more able follow him in obedience.

Next, I think it is important for us who have begun to follow Jesus to recognize that Jesus’ mission is to sinners. We don’t get to decide who deserves his grace. The fact is, he offers his grace to everyone: even tax collectors and prostitutes and hit-men. I believe he wants us right there beside him offering his grace to everyone. On the flipside of course, just because someone is a sinner does not mean that she automatically wants the grace that God offers to her in Jesus Christ. And it is not helpful for us to pretend that it is better to be an honest, yet unrepentant, sinner than a dishonest religious person; the truth is it is better to be neither, and instead to be a repentant Jesus follower. Even so, we Christians should not dismiss anybody out of hand. Jesus came for those who are sick, those who are sinners.

Another thing is that, like the Pharisees and John’s followers, I think we all tend to want Jesus to conform to our own personal expectations. But he has a way of bursting our paradigms like old wineskins. Are we willing for Jesus to be himself even if that turns out to be different from how we expect him to be? I think one of the biggest reasons that people reject God is because he often does not behave the way we want him to. He doesn’t always heal those we think he should heal. He doesn’t always answer prayers that we think are reasonable and even righteous. Jesus is calling us to forsake our own paradigms and accept him as he is; to follow him in trust, even when we don’t understand.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you today?

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