Justice, Mercy and Faith

justice faith love (1)

Matthew 23

Now that Jesus has turned the tables against the Pharisees in their little word games, he turns his attention to the crowds and his disciples. He begins his final public speech and absolutely destroys the Pharisees. He rips into everything that the Pharisees do, calling them out for their pride and hypocrisy. He acknowledges that these men are the best minds when it comes to The Law; they know The Law backwards and forwards, but they are not good examples. In particular, he calls them out for neglecting the importance and weight of justice, mercy and faith. This is one distinction that sets followers of Jesus apart from followers of The Law.

Justice

Justice is the administration of law. Based on this definition, you would think that the Pharisees understood justice quite well. However, this definition has the connotation of the administration of law on the general population, not just in one’s personal life. What the pharisees got correct was righteousness in their private lives without achieving justice in their public life. Justice is law applied equally to everyone, while righteousness is law applied to yourself. The Pharisees look at themselves, see that they are following the law perfectly and commend themselves for it. The problem isn’t their piety, it’s their pride. God didn’t command them to follow the law so that they might puff themselves up and hold themselves in high regard, but rather to benefit all of society. This is justice. Righteous acts are not righteous because they benefit you alone, they are righteous because they benefit everyone around you.

Mercy

Not everyone can follow the law as closely as the Pharisees. Those men were men who dedicated themselves to the reading of scripture day in and day out. Living the law is the only thing that they know how to do. When they look on the masses and see sin: adultery (John 8:1-11), blasphemy (Mark 14:64), greed (Luke 19:7)…what they fail to see are people. People who fall short. People who don’t live the same lifestyle as the Pharisees. The Pharisees know the scriptures, but they don’t seem to remember how God showed the Israelites mercy time and time again. Instead, they turn their noses up at the sin that they see and tell themselves that they are above that. The truth is, no man is above sin except for Jesus himself. The Pharisees poured over their scriptures to make sure that they washed their hands before meals and tithe even their small incomes. They strained their water for gnats. But they swallowed a camel instead. They failed to show mercy. They failed to show people the mercy that their God showed to them.

Love

Love is at the center of Christianity. Jesus said in Matthew 22 that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love people. Apparently the Pharisees didn’t get that. They were too worried about appearing like God-loving individuals that they didn’t have the time to love God’s people. In doing so, they made all of their love for God worthless. If you only love God, you are neglecting one of the greatest commandments. It is as simple as that. Show your love for God by showing your love to His people.

-Nathaniel Johnson

What Fills YOUR Heart?

Matthew 12

matthew 12 34 b

We find in Matthew 12 that Jesus hasn’t slowed down. In fact, all the surrounding naysayers,  the Pharisees, are turning the criticism up. They were obviously feeling threatened. What I find most interesting though in these 50 verses is how familiar it all sounds. Just like then, the Pharisee in many of us now is also killing the mission and effectiveness of the church too.

 

Not uncommon in today’s age is to view a Pharisee as bad, yet the Pharisees were, to some extent, well-meaning people. They studied the law and knew it as well as anyone. Some were sincerely seeking God. After all, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both Pharisees, arranged for Jesus’ burial. They were sympathetic to Christ and, from what I can tell, ultimately ended up following him. The mission of the early church was radically advanced by a converted Pharisee – Paul. The irony is the people who declared to love God the MOST ultimately killed his offspring when he showed up to heal and teach the nation.

 

Rightfully, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their pride, lack of compassion and hypocrisy. Observe some of their exchanges in this one chapter alone and you might find it leaving a bad taste in your mouth, too. They were always trying to trip him up and I can’t recall one time where he was praised for his tireless work.  In verse 34 Jesus compares the Pharisees to a cluster of snakes and remarks “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” How all too often do I find myself under pressure or stressful situations looking to my own self-justification and self-importance, just like the Pharisees. Denying God is exactly what I do when my attitude justifies me more than reflecting the heart and love of Christ.  

 

The religious leaders of the time were obsessed by their rules and detailed interpretations of the Old Testament law but they had largely ignored the key points of it – justice, mercy and faith. Oh that we learn this lesson in our congregations today opening wide the doors to welcome in the broken, bruised and hurting. Jesus is interested with reality. It is easy to pretend that everything is okay and that we have everything together. If we want to pretend that everything is fine when it isn’t that is up to us, but we shouldn’t expect other people to live up to the standards that we are pretending to live by.

 

The gig is up for me. I won’t do it anymore. My heart is full and declaring just like Paul that “but for the grace of God go I.” (1 Corinthians 15:9) I am imperfect and Jesus is restoring me everyday. Use me, Lord, as you will to build your church.

 

-Julie Driskill

How to Be Great!

Matt 23 pic

Matthew 23

15 Seconds of Fame. All eyes on you. Receiving an applaud. Taking a bow. If we’re being honest, it is easy to seek recognition in life’s little & big moments. In Matthew 23, while speaking to his disciples and to the crowds, Jesus warns against acts of hypocrisy & the seeking of self-glorification. Moreover, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were setting a poor example in their daily lives for they did not practice what they preached.

 

Matthew 23:4 states, “they (referring to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law) tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

 

The teachers of the law & the Pharisees acted on a daily basis for all the wrong reasons. As it is said in verse 5 that “everything they do is done for people to see.” They craved high status. What do you think this may look like today? Maybe you have helped in a service activity with the sole intent of posting about it later on Social Media. Maybe you did the right thing just to impress someone. Maybe your worship service has lost the factor of authenticity and has become more of a production than anything. To this day, there are several ways that we may resemble the actions of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, even if we are doing so unknowingly.

 

I love this passage because Jesus paints a clear picture of how one can be great and it is not found in status. Matthew 23:11-12 states “for the greatest among will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

This verse reminds me of a prayer that I have come to like. “God, hollow me of anything that would get in your way… Hollow me of any pride, insecurity, and doubt. Make me hollow enough that You can breathe something through me that would turn people’s eyes to You. Make me a hollow enough vessel that You can breathe something that is literally beyond me.” –Toby Mac

 

According to Mac, this has become his heartfelt prayer- one that he prays right before he composes a new song of worship. Even in the midst of fame, Mac knows that God is the one worthy of praise.

 

Are you willing to do what is good even if you are not glorified by the world? Are you willing to get your hands dirty with your teammates, classmates, co-workers, employees, peers, (etc.) to complete a task? Are you willing to humble yourself? We are vessels, equipped with the ability to turn eyes to the Lord above. Vessels who can shine a glimmer of light into an all too often dark world.

 

Finally, consider Matthew 6:1-2 as you go about your days. “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:1-2).

-Kayla Tullis

 

 

Live a Changed Life

Luke 12

Be PreparedforHis Return

In the Old Testament God set up the Jewish religious system through Moses as a way to set them apart.  By the time of Jesus the Israelites had turned away from God so many times it gets hard to count, and they had turned the law into something unrecognizable from its original intent and had given into greed, hypocrisy and selfishness.  Jesus spent much of his time on earth battling and rebuking the Pharisees who epitomized all of the flaws with the Jewish religious system of the time.  Knowing that the church will have a strong Jewish culture with these traditions and tendencies and that they will be persecuted after he is gone, Jesus gives the advice found in Luke 12.

First in Luke 12:1-3  he warns them against hypocrisy because that is the quickest way to errode the witness and testimony of the church.  Similarly for us today, if we want to reach those around us for Christ, then we have to be consistent in our actions and words.  If you are a different person on Sunday than the rest of the week, or if your friends outside of church are genuinely surprised that you are a Christian because they cannot tell by your actions, then you need to evaluate your heart.

 

Then in Luke 12:4-12 he warns them to fear God more than the world and the government and people who are persecuting them.  We are also given a promise that when we boldly stand up for Jesus despite the physical consequences he will stand up for us before God.  As believers in Jesus we cannot stand idly on the sidelines.  Now that we have the knowledge of our sin, and the fact that Jesus died for our sins and requires us to live a life set apart we have to make a choice and stand up for it every day.

 

In Luke 12:13-34 Jesus warns his disciples against greed, and being bad stewards of the things that God has given us.  Of those who are given much, much will be required.  This is true for riches as well and talents and abilities.  If we knowingly put ourselves before the Kingdom and spend all our time and talents on ourselves and buying worldly items and position and popularity then we will be held accountable for those actions.  If we are living a truly changed life for the gospel then we should be using our money and talents to further the gospel in any way we can.  If we put God first in this then he will take care of our physical needs as well.

 

Finally in the rest of the chapter he tells them to be watchful for his return, and to not grow complacent.  The entire Old Testament led up to the ministry of Jesus and everybody in Israel knew the scriptures and should have known that Jesus was the Messiah, but they did not interpret the events correctly, and their hearts were not ready.  Similarly we have been given a promise of the return of Jesus in the future and need to be always ready for his return.  We cannot grow complacent in our Christianity.  We cannot let sin creep back into our lives and we cannot allow our passion and fire for the gospel to dwindle.   We should also be familiar with the prophecies of his return so that when they start to be fulfilled we can be prepared for his return.  We do not want to miss out like many of the Israelites of Jesus’ time did.

-Chris Mattison