Monday, November 11, 2013

Offended Pharisees

Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus.  “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition?” they demanded.  “They ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”  Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?  For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’  But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you.  For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’  In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents.  And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.  You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear.  “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand.  It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”  Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”  Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them.  They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”
Matthew 15:1 - 14 (NLT)
Just imagine the grand (tragic) comedy of it all.  Pharisees, the grand religious leaders, got offended by the preaching of God incarnate! 
They got offended? 
At what? 
Jesus had told them their lives offended God.  The blessings God had put in their hands were meant to be a blessing for the community, not a windfall to be hoarded.  Yet the Pharisees found all sorts of loopholes to get around Scripture’s teaching, even to the point of ignoring destitute parents.  Blind leading the blind!  And God help the preacher who calls them on it!
Does the teaching of Scripture offend?
Elizabeth and I watched the Billy Graham special last Thursday evening.  In his message, Dr. Graham referred to the cross of Christ as “an offense”[1] many times. 
Why is the cross an offense? 
It has to do with the sinful nature of humanity.  By nature we are a rebellious sort; we want to hoard our treasure.  It’s not just the treasure of bank accounts and material possessions – it’s the treasure of our sovereign independence.  We don’t mind letting God be a part of our lives; we don’t mind including a little church in our schedules, or a little charity here and there.  But go against my will, my comfort, my choices
Yes, that is exactly what the cross requires, to deny self, pick up the cross and follow Jesus.  That inspires grateful people who have been saved; it makes willful people angry!

What to do about preaching that offends

Preachers don’t have to be ignorant, bigoted, angry or ugly to offend people if they will simply stick to preaching the “offensive cross of Christ”.  There are enough Pharisees to get angry in any crowd.
Preachers like me are not infallible; we make mistakes.  Looking back over a ministry of 35 years I realize some days my “sermon” could have been a whole lot better if I had just read the text and called it a day.  But one thing was true about every sermon – it was always an attempt to preach Christ, and Him crucified, and how we can better serve this King of Glory.
If you find yourself getting angry over a sermon, use this checklist:
o   Is that preacher saying something that’s “tied to the cross”?
o   Am I in need of repenting of that thing?
o   Or am I just cranky and need a nap?

[1] See Galatians 5:11

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