I’m not preaching this week, we have our friends and colegues the Falconers coming down for the weekend and Scott has kindly agreed to preach. So for the time being you have a message from the archive, but it is not just any message, it is one of my favourites.
Hope you enjoy it, and are challenged by it.
For this message it will be helpful to read Matthew 23, and Mark 12:29-31
I want to tell you a story. Some months ago now, when Sam and I were living in our old house up in Perth, I remember one evening watching a movie together.
We would usually watch a movie on the laptop of an evening after we had dinner and cleaned up. The movie we watched this one evening must have been a good one because I don’t even remember what the name of the movie was.
Now Sam is pretty good at recognizing who the actors are behind the characters. She amazes me sometimes with her wealth of movie/actor knowledge. If we are watching a movie, I’ll ask her, “Who is that, he/she looks familiar?” And without a moments hesitation she tells me their name and their complete filmography.
She is my own IMDB. Just incase you don’t know what IMDB is, it stands for International Movie Data Base. The IMDB lists every movie and TV show under the sun. Anyway if we are watching a cartoon she can list the voices and what other movies they’ve been in. She can even tell me who sings the soundtrack. Her memory is spot on.
So we’re watching this movie, and as we are watching Sam asks, “Isn’t that Jack Nicholson, it looks like him?” Now I’m not the best with names and faces but even I knew it wasn’t Jack Nicholson. The only similarity that I could see was that this Actor was an American white male in the second half of life and so was Jack Nicholson.
Now there is probably something you should know about me, that you probably don’t. I sometimes make a big deal out of being right, usually at the expense of someone being wrong. I only discovered there is a word for this that night we watched that movie. Sam calls it being obnoxious.
So you could imagine what followed. Sam thought the actor was Jack Nicholson, and I knew it wasn’t. The more Sam wasn’t sure who it was, the more obnoxious I became. “Sam did you think that was Jack Nicholson? (laugh in a sarcastic way) Of course that is not Jack Nicholson.”
Now you can only begin to imagine what a darling of a husband I was being. Subsequently I, after a number of hours, was helped to my senses and apologized for my Obnoxious behavior. Sam still seems to think that it was only a half hearted apology that I’m still not sorry for.
Recalling the episode still brings a cheeky smirk to my face and an unimpressed look from Sam’s face. And each time I find myself being right and Sam being wrong I say, “Just like Jack Nicholson hey?”
Oh sometimes I’m such a lovely person to be around. But just to put any concerns at bay, Sam and I are still very happily married but only when I don’t mention Jack Nicholson in conversation.
Now I was right; Clearly the actor in the movie wasn’t Jack Nicholson. But I wonder if their is a difference between being in the right and being a loving husband.
Being in the right
As Christians we often focus on being right; doing the right things, believing the right things, saying the right things. One example that I can think of is in relation to tithing; Now I have been part of discussions where we debate how we should tithe.
We argued over: whether you are meant to tithe 10% of your take home income; or whether we are meant to tithe your 10% before tax and other deductions; We even argued over whether the percentage is 10% at all. We have these arguments because we want to be in the right, we want to do things the right way.
You can have this discussion with a whole range of topics. Some of the more controversial topics include, Whether or not we should drink Alcohol? Whether or not we should buy lotto tickets? Whether or not we should vote for the Greens. See with all of these topics, and there is a whole lot more we could look at, we want to be in the right, we want to do what is right.
How do we make it easier to do what is right? Let’s take for example Alcohol. Growing up I was taught that Alcohol was evil, It made people behave in very antisocial ways, and that was not very Christian. Alcohol led to drunkenness and Christians didn’t get drunk.
So how did I make sure I did what was right and didn’t get drunk and fall into sin. Well it was simple. I made sure I didn’t have anything to do with Alcohol. If there was going to be alcohol at a party I wouldn’t go to the party. If people were drinking I made sure I didn’t associate with them.
I made sure that I only had non-alcohol-drinking Christian friends and that when we went out somewhere we only went to places that didn’t serve alcohol. I made sure I told Christians that did drink that they were being sinners and that what they were doing was wrong. See to make sure I didn’t get drunk I made all these rules up.
Growing up, as far as our Church was concerned, “Do not drink alcohol” was the 11th commandment. The 12th commandment was “Do not dance”, and the 13th was “Do not watch the Simpsons.”
We all do it. We multiply rules to make doing the right thing easier. The Jewish experts of Jesus day are no exception. They would make more laws to make the big-idea laws easier to follow.
What the Jews call the Torah, and we call the Pentateuch, which consists of the first five books of the Bible, contains 613 separate commands and prohibitions.
And so what the Jewish experts of Jesus’ time did was add a whole lot of other rulings called ‘halakot’ to make doing the 613, found in the Torah, easier or at least that was the plan.
Rules to make rules easier
Do you think this made doing the right thing easier? Recently we brought a bread maker, and this bread maker came with something every man hates, an instruction book. Now if I want to make a loaf of bread there is the quick-start guide, let me read you the simple instructions. [Read Instructions p126], Simple isn’t it.
Now you can make a wonderful loaf of bread using these simple instructions, so what on earth is all this? [Hold up the rest of the book] The rest of this book is to explain the quick-start instructions. Now why do we need instructions when really all you need is a bit of common sense and the quick-start instructions.
A bit like the quick-start instructions and the full manual, Jesus didn’t really believe that having halakot made the Torah any easier to follow. And in fact he had some pretty harsh things to say to those who made all these halakot.
Let’s look at Matthew 23:4, 15, 23-24, 27-28
V4 “They 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.
V15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
V23-24 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices―mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law―justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
V27-28 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
This might not be a way to win friends but Jesus is making his point perfectly clear. The religious leaders were hypocrites who made too many rulings and didn’t do anything to help the everyday person live them out. Also Jesus wasn’t convinced that they were living them out either.
Can you see what making more rules does? We completely misunderstand what it means to be a Christian. And second, which follows on from the misunderstanding, we make Christianity so hard for people be a part of that everyday Christians–let alone non-christians fail to have a hope of understanding what it means to be a Christian.
Instead of creating more rules to make following the big-idea rules easier Jesus takes the 613 rules found in the Torah and reduces them to just 2. Instead of more rules he uses just two to guide how we live out the rest.
Just two rules
So What are these rules?
We find out what these two rules are in Mark 12:29-31, when a religious expert tries to trick Jesus in a theological debate (Or, in our terms, a debate about which denomination he belonged to.) In Mark 12:28 the Scribe asks, “Of all the commandments [the 613], which is the most important?” Now if Jesus picks one he might be guilty of picking the wrong one. If he doesn’t pick one, he looks lame.
Don’t worry Jesus had an answer and it deconstructed the whole “613+halakot” approach to the Torah.
He answered in verses 29-31, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Or as Matthew 22:40 finishes off this very same exchange: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
What Jesus is saying to the religious leaders is this: You are fixated on your love of Torah/Law and judging others by whether or not that they live up to your standards and your rulings, but what you must understand is that God gave us a Torah/Law of love.
See what God really wants from you and me, as his followers, is for us to Love God and love others, and if we do that everything else falls into line. Another way of saying this is that the 613 aren’t understood until we understand that every commandment is either a “love God” or a “love your neighbor” command. This is radical stuff. What does this look like for the commands that you obey and expect others to obey?
Do you remember the question I asked after the Jack Nicholson Story?
“I wonder if their is a difference between being in the right and being a loving husband?”
Today I want to ask a similar question but in a different context. “Is their a difference between being in the right and being a follower of Jesus?” To help us answer that question I am going to finish with a story, and once I finish the story I am going to ask the question again and then close with a prayer.
A Christian man was walking to Church one Sunday when all of a sudden while he was crossing the street a car, which was going very fast, came up from behind and hit him. Instead of stopping to check if the man was ok, the driver kept on going. Now the Cristian man lay severely injured on the side of the road. He had lacerations from head to toe, internal bleeding and broken bones throughout his body. He was unconscious and his vital signs were very weak.
As he lay there, the Baptist Pastor drove past. Oh he did feel guilty for driving past and ignoring the injured man, and spent the rest of the drive wondering whether or not he should’ve stopped to offer that poor man some help, but at the end of the day, his Church was waiting for him. It was important that he wasn’t late, especially this week. Just the week before he preached that lateness was a sign of disrespect to Jesus and that If we really love Jesus we should love him with our promptness. So it made sense that he wasn’t late, in his mind he did the right thing.
Next Steve drove past, now he couldn’t stop for two reasons; firstly he was a young teenager who had just got his license and was still a bit uncertain about driving. And Secondly he was picking up his non-christian girlfriend who after many years of being asked had finally given in and agreed to go to church with him. There was no way he was going to let an opportunity like this pass him by. He had to pick her up and get her to Church. He knew if he stopped, he was going to miss the service all together and who knows maybe Sally would refuse to go next time.
Finally after some time a young Iranian refugee called Mohamed, who was on his way to work at the local Caltex fuel station came upon the half-dead Christian man on the side of the road. Immediately he called for an Ambulance and waited by his side until the Ambulance arrived. When the Ambulance finally showed up he rode with him to the Hospital, there he waited by his side until the man’s family finally arrived. Mohamed lost out on one day’s pay for helping that half dead Christian man.
“Is their a difference between being in the right and being a follower of Jesus?”