What can Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Luke 5 teach us today?
5 17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. . .
. . . 24 "But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.". . .
. . . 27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. . . .
. . . 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
31 Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
33 They said to him, "John's disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking."
34 Jesus answered, "Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast."
36 He told them this parable: "No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, 'The old is better.'"" . . .
. . . 6 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
"Well, all religions are pretty much alike anyway, aren't they? They're all striving for the same thing, so what does it really matter?"
I had been standing in the sanctuary foyer making small talk with a woman. Then, these words startled me. They startled me even more as I realized she was the church office secretary.
There, in the foyer, we continued to talk. As the conversation progressed, it slowly became clear that this church secretary wasn't a born-again Christian. Nor did she understand what it meant to be one.
There she was, however, working as a receptionist and secretary for a Church of the Nazarene. She had no idea there might be a difference between superficial acceptance of a religious label and a transformed, authentic life in Christ. Yet, she was working eight hours a day for a church which says reaching the unsaved is a top priority.
What had happened? Why had she never been confronted with a clear gospel message? Why had a local church, seemingly intensely interested in "winning the lost," not made a clear call to repentance and transformation those on its own payroll?
Has the "live-peaceably-with-all" of our Christian ethic become so distorted by the "anything goes" spirit of the age that it's considered out of place for church leaders and members to witness to their congregation's own employees? Has Satan successfully deceived us into accepting a live-and-let-live philosophy under the guise of "living peaceably with all"?
I can't believe that Christ would be satisfied with such a live-and-let-live philosophy. His life was one of purposeful searching for opportunities to talk with sinful people. Wherever He met people, without regard to who or what they were, He talked to them on their level about the necessity for radical change in their lives.
With Jesus, friendship evangelism never stopped with the adjective "friendship." It always went on to the noun "evangelism."
The religious leaders of Jesus' day had not understood that He could be -- and had to be -- both holy and evangelistic. Jesus was the pure, spotless, perfect Lamb of God. He was also the Savior who walked midst the din of the marketplace.
That's the kind of tension we also face. In one sense we are called to be separate Yet, we must follow Jesus into the streets, there to live and consort with sinners (although I still have my doubts about hiring them to run the church office!). We can go to the sinner as Jesus' disciples only if we go in His company, with His passion in our hearts to reach and win and heal.
Christianity is always in danger of lapsing into a Pharisaical mode. Therefore, we must be certain that our lives demonstrate the difference between "religion" and an authentic "life in Christ."
We who have grown up in the church have sometimes struggled with that. It can be easy for us to imitate religious forms without experiencing and living a real Christian life. Too often, the world has quickly seen through us, and it has rejected our Christ.
May Christ never allow us to be satisfied with going through the motions. May He never let us be satisfied with living and letting live. May it ever be clear to us that His call is to a live-and-share lifestyle.
I wrote these devotional thoughts while a missionary in Italy. They were published in Standard, a Faith Connections curriculum take-home piece for adult Sunday school classes produced by The Foundry.
-- Howard Culbertson,
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