What a troublesome message the Jewish people were hearing during the time of Jesus beginning to walk the earth as the Messiah. What a troublesome message to hear that something more than the blind obedience of sacrificing animals was required. What a troublesome message that the rituals for centuries were no longer adequate to cover the evil heart of man and that God was now requiring something more…. a change of heart.
It began with that strange guy dressed in leather skins and eating locusts and wild honey in the wilderness, demanding something called repentance. (Mt. 3:4-12) Was it not enough, by rote and ritual, to have brought my sacrifice to the priests and walk away knowing I had done my part? It only cost an innocent lamb his life and after all there were certainly enough around. Even merchants were willing to accommodate by offering their “pre-certified” lambs and doves for sell. Why not make it easy on those traveling and provide the sacrifice at a reasonable cost. Let’s make this yearly pilgrimage convenient and as stress free as possible, so just write a check at the temple and you are good to go. Today we could probably order ahead online and with a few extra dollars, get someone to take it to the priest for us. This way we would not miss more important events back home. Is there any doubt as to why Jesus was so offended by the merchants in the temple, knowing that He would be that lamb that would be sacrificed for all and that His sacrifice could also become merchandized in the days ahead? (Mt. 21:12-13)
It became clear that little heart involvement was involved in the most important day of the year for God’s people. God had provided a way for His people, who by His grace were called into relationship with Him. God was providing a way for sinful man to “qualify” for the incredible promises of His covenant and that way was simple obedience. But is obedience true obedience if the heart is not involved? Isn’t every act of obedience for the purpose of gaining something if I follow the rules? Where did they lose track of what the sacrifice was all about and that the price required was minuscule in comparison to God’s benefit in their lives. John the Baptist recognized this when he told the Pharisees to “bring fruit consistent with repentance.” (Mt. 3:8)
What was to have been symbolic of the price God would ultimately pay for all mankind was now a business venture for many and a convenience for others. Are we guilty ourselves? Do we ever make our relationship with God a business rather than a relationship? Do we only want it on the terms of convenience rather than personal sacrifice? Do we mindlessly “follow the rules”, write the check and go about our way with little thought of what God has done and continues to do for us? Are we bearing fruit consistent with a repentant heart?
Jesus addressed this clearly when He said we must pick up our cross daily and follow Him, or we are not worthy to be called His disciple. (Mt 10:38; 16:24). Or how about when Jesus said whoever prefers his father, mother, sister, or brother more than their relationship with Him is not worthy of Him? (Mt. 10:37). And certainly Mt. 6:33 tells us that we are first and foremost to seek His Kingdom first, above all else. Or maybe when Jesus told the Pharisees and Scholars that their traditions have made God’s word of “no effect” in their life. (Mk. 7:9) Is it any wonder that Jesus would tell His disciples that few would find the way to true life because the way is narrow and not as broad and wide as we might be taught today? (Mt. 7:13)
These are troublesome Scriptures in many churches today because this message offends. This message is not convenient and requires not just obedience of ritual, but an obedience of the heart. When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was truly the Messiah, He told them to go and tell John what they hear and see. He said to go and tell John that the blind are seeing, the deaf are hearing, the lame are walking, and the dead are raised. He said to tell John that “blessed are the ones not offended by Him”. (Mt. 11:1-6) The gospel offends the carnal heart of man. The gospel requires more than blind obedience to rules and rituals without any heart engagement. The gospel requires that unrighteous anger and hatred be considered as murder is considered and lust is considered as adultery. (Mt. 5:21-30)
Does this offend us? If so, rejoice because God wants to heal everything in our heart that offends us. He wants to heal pride, self-sufficiency, independence, and all other things that keep us running away from Him and toward man made solutions to our dilemmas in life. Life is not found in ritual or lifeless obedience. Life is found in a passionate pursuit of God where we desire relationship with Him more than any temporary “fix” the world offers. Ironically, life requires life. To gain the life He has made available requires the sacrifice of the life we have made for ourselves. What does it gain to win the world and lose our very soul…our very life? (Mt. 16:26)