Holiness is not something God requires only from Christians. He asked it of the Jewish people first, and as we previously discussed, He put laws in place to enable His people to stand out and be separate from the pagan world around them. The laws themselves would not make them holy, but they would help the people see what God saw as sin in order to keep themselves from it. After a time, the rulers of the law (those priests who enforced it) added their own rules and interpretations of holiness, and by doing so, became slaves to those laws. But Jesus saw their hearts and called them hypocrites. So let’s look at how Jesus showed “holiness” while he walked among us. Let’s also compare his actions to those of Christians and the church in general today.
We’ll start with the culture of the day and go from there. In particular, let’s look at the political situation of the day. Why? Because so much of what goes on in this world seems to revolve around politics and Christians have somehow got it in their minds there is only one Political Party of which God approves. In the States, it is the Republican Party, and in Canada, it is the Progressive Conservative Party. Did Jesus involve himself in politics? Would he do so today?
When Jesus walked the earth, the rulers, or the main political party if you will, were the Romans. Rome, at that time, was the largest and most powerful city in the world. Jesus never went there. However, we do know that he obeyed Roman law because he said in Matthew 22:21, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
Rome and its relationship with the Jewish people was not an easy one. After they broke free from the horrific rule of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, they realized their rebellion against God had brought the bondage of the Greek Empire upon them. In their determination to never again stray from God’s laws and obedience to Him, they became zealous in their commitment to keeping His commandments. This resulted in the birth of fanatical groups which promoted “holiness.” One group was called the Pharisees (who were strict about observing the Law) and the other was called the Sadducees (who rejected the authoritative nature of God’s laws). Like most extremist groups they both started out with good intentions, but along the way, those intentions and beliefs got skewed so much that they drifted away from the original plan – to obey God and keep His commandments.
In addition, there was a hierarchy of rule. The Jewish people had the Sanhedrin, a Jewish court whose foundation was laid out by God. In the Torah, God commanded Moses to bring seventy of Israel’s elders who were known as leaders and officials among the people (Numbers 11:16). Also, in Deuteronomy 16:18, we read, “You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” If there were 120 men as heads of families in a city, then they had a local court called the Sanhedrin. The people would come to them with their disputes, which were settled according to the Laws of Moses (Torah).
The Great Sanhedrin was in Jerusalem (think of it as the Supreme Court). It was made up of seventy rabbis (teachers) and the high priest. This court convened every day (except for festivals and on the Sabbath) to deal with matters about religious and ritual law. While they had the right to self-govern, ultimately the Roman government required that everything and everyone be subject to Roman authority. So, if a case was heard in which the penalty was death (as in Jesus’ case), the Jews had no power to carry it out, so it fell to the local Roman Governor, which would have been Pontius Pilate, to decide the case. The hierarchy was like this – while the Sanhedrin governed the Jews, they still reported to the Governor who reported to the King (Herod), who reported to Rome (Emperor Caesar).
So the Jewish people were not only ruled by what I’ll call “big brother” aka Pharisees and Sadducees (their religious rulers), but they also had to deal with their new oppressors – Rome. Rome wanted their obedience, their worship and their money. The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted the same. They loved it when people saw their piety and often flaunted it (Luke 18:9-14). In fact, the rules for fasting increased under the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees added two fast days, Monday and Thursday of each week, as a case of public display and piety. These were days not commanded by God. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 6:16-18. The Pharisees made a point of appearing in the synagogues carelessly attired during these fast days. They wore mourning clothes and disfigured their faces to look sad in order to exhibit their superior “holiness” before the people. The phrase “disfigure their faces” (Gr. aphanizō) denotes covering their faces and is a figurative expression for mournful gestures and neglected appearance of those wanting to call attention to themselves. The critical thing about these two religious groups is how Jesus noted their hypocrisy. They did not practice what they preached, for their motives weren’t out of love for God, but out of a desire to gain praise from the people for their actions.
So, if we could look at these two groups of people - the Pharisees and Sadducees, in modern terms, we would see that one group, the Pharisees, sort of resemble Evangelical Christians today as they love to adhere to the authority of the Scriptures and often add things to the Scriptures that aren’t commanded. For example, many churches have rules about not dancing, not swimming with the opposite sex, not drinking wine, etc. So I place these types of Evangelical Christians as far right, and their choice of a political party would be the Progressive Conservatives in Canada or the Republicans in the States. And the other group, the Sadducees, who did not accept the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God, would be far left and seen as Liberals or Democrats.
How did Jesus see these two groups?
Jesus never called out the Roman government on their laws, their rampant idol worship, or their sexual immorality. He only called out the Jewish religious leaders of his day. In fact, he took an entire chapter of Matthew to tell us what he thought of the Pharisees and the scribes (recorders/interpreters of the law) in Matthew 23. At times the Pharisees and Sadducees would even team up to confront Jesus (Matthew 16:1-12), but Jesus made a point of calling out the Pharisees, which were the most dogmatic of the two groups.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:23-27, NKJV).”
Jesus came into the world to save sinners, but he didn’t call them out about their sin, he called out the religious for their hypocrisy. What it comes down to is this – you can’t claim one party is “Christian” because they align with your value system and one is anti-Christian because they don’t align with your value system. If Jesus called the religious rulers of his day “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” imagine what he would say of those currently representing us in government! No one is righteous. Not one. Romans 3:10-18 says it best:
There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb, with their tongues they have practiced deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:10-18).
Unfortunately, today, some Christians (not all) have somehow managed to tarnish the name of Jesus with their politics by ignoring or condemning those whom the Lord came to set free – the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19).
Who would those people be today?
There are two ways to look at Luke 4:18-19 – figuratively and literally – and so we should look at them both ways because then we can see what Jesus meant when he rebuked those in positions of power (the Sanhedrin) when he said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17). Jesus also made it clear he was not preaching to the Romans who believed in all forms of idol worship (the Jewish God was just another god to them), but he came for “the lost sheep of the house Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Why? Because their leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees were leading them astray. And today the wolves among the sheep have led many Christians astray. Instead of leading people to Christ, they are driving them away with outlandish behaviour and false doctrine that is contrary to Jesus’ example.
Who are the poor today?
Who are the broken-hearted?
Who are the captives?
Who are the blind?
Who are the oppressed?
When Jesus walked the earth, his example of holiness was far removed from that of the Jewish ruling body. He offered tangible help. He loved the loveless. He communicated and associated with people who were considered “sinners” and often found these same people giving up their sinful lifestyles to follow Him. He was always at odds with the religious elite of his day because he offered love, healing and hope to all who came to Him. He favoured justice and mercy over the rule of law (Matthew 12:7, 9-13). He did it all without condemning those who sinned or condoning their sin.
Not so with some Christians today. There are many issues in the church that get Christians riled up. The two most common are abortion and gay rights. If you think abortion or homosexuality did not exist in Jesus’ day, you would be wrong. Romans often killed children after they had been born. The practice of infanticide was so wide-spread throughout the Roman Empire, it was considered normal. As for homosexuality, it was as widespread then as it is today. But Jesus did not come to earth to address the sins of the world in general; he came to address the sins of the Jewish people, who were called to be holy, to be God’s example to the world.
And now, because of Jesus, Christians stand before God as holy priests. We are also called to be God’s example to the world. If Christians think that standing outside an abortion clinic with protest signs and gruesome pictures of dead babies, somehow glorifies God then they are wrong. If they think that protesting at a gay pride parade with signs condemning all homosexuals to hell is glorifying to God, they are wrong. Jesus taught us what holiness looked like by showing us how to interact with the world. He didn’t condemn or condone. He reached out in love which resulted in many being saved.
Why does God require holiness from you? To show the world the light and love of God Himself. Jesus came that we might have life, our job is to share that life with those still walking in sin, and we are to do it without condemnation.
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