Don’t you cross that line!

Has your Christianity devolved into a set of rules, keeping of traditions that are disconnected from the Person of Jesus? It is not a silly question. Today, I want to go back to Matthew’s Gospel and read about a day when Jesus incurred the wrath of some important leaders by challenging their understanding about what it meant to love and serve the Living God.

Jesus met some religious leaders of His day who had lost sight of God’s Presence, who had made law more important that God and people. They hid their true motives behind an external conformity to the traditions that they had wrapped around the Law of Moses. To use a modern metaphor, they couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

At the outset of Lent, Jesus’ words will help us to use this traditional time of reflection for truly good and holy purposes.  

“At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off heads of wheat and eating the grain. Some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Your disciples shouldn’t be doing that! It’s against the law to work by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.” But Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what King David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and they ate the special bread reserved for the priests alone. That was breaking the law, too. And haven’t you ever read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned those who aren’t guilty if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’ For I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath.”

Then he went over to the synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it legal to work by healing on the Sabbath day?” (They were, of course, hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, “If you had one sheep, and it fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you get to work and pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, it is right to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Reach out your hand.” The man reached out his hand, and it became normal, just like the other one.” (Matthew 12:1-13, NLT)

The Sabbath, a command of the Law, was a gift to the people of God, one day in seven when they were called from the routines of life to remember the Lord they served. Pause, remember, worship! The focus of the Sabbath was not to be the  prohibitions of the day. They were to use the time to renew their relationship with God. But the Pharisees had turned the Sabbath observation into a rigid set of rules that made the day a burden, so that people were more concerned with making sure they did not break the rules than finding God’s Presence.

Sabbath law had become burdened with layers of a combination of inconsequential, restrictive, and harmful traditions. “Keeping the Sabbath” had become a key issue of Jewish identity obscuring the real reasons for the celebration of the Sabbath. Since Christians are not defined by that tradition, we can nod our heads in agreement with Jesus about the Pharisee’s rigidity while forgetting that we have our own ‘sacred’ traditions and woe be the person who treads on them!

Let’s not lose the lesson Jesus is trying to teach with an argument over modern “Sabbath” rules.  He condemns their rigid observance that would keep hungry men from eating, a suffering man from being healed. Jesus does not throw away God’s call to living holy and obedient lives that honor Him. He asks us to show some compassion, to understand that we can slip into a place where we love our traditions more than people, even more than the Lord Himself. We can, and many Christians do, become slaves of our rules that keep us from being compassionate, humble servants of Christ.

I am aware that some will twist these words into a  justification for doing whatever they please, for ignoring the call to holiness that is part of the Gospel. But I am willing to risk that abuse to keep Jesus front and center in the Gospel. When we love and worship Him – wholeheartedly and with integrity – He will lead us to please His Father. We are not saved by keeping up appearances and careful conformity to the rules, both written and unwritten, of our Church. We are transformed by daily intimacy with the Spirit that is made possible by the grace of Jesus Christ. When we seek Him first, He will lead us from darkness into Light, and the old things will pass away. We will become fruitful in the evidence of that life – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Galatians 5)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of a traditional season of sacrifice for many Christians. Don’t allow your choice to observe the fast to become more important than your desire to know the love of God. Use the disciplines of the Spirit to open your heart to Him, to invite the Spirit to make you alive.

Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on it for a few minutes and then, go bless your world with the love of Jesus!
You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, “Look, I have come.
And this has been written about me in your scroll:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
for your law is written on my heart.”
(Psalm 40:6-8, NLT)


Lord I Need You

(A prayer in song.)

Lord I come I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
And without You I fall apart
You’re the one that guides my heart

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

 Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

 So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher © 2011 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Sweater Weather Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Valley Of Songs Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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