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“Starting New” Has a Long History in the Church
During the last week of His life, Jesus was found many times to confront the chief priests and the pharisees. One of the biggest problems of the leaders of Jesus day was that they had taken the initiative to usurp the divine prerogatives. They desired to take things to the next level of worship and devotion to God by instituting traditions that they devised. They thought that their “best practices” would lead to a holier nation and a more effective community of people striving together for righteousness. On the face of it, they had every good intention.
But as they spent time developing a better plan to accomplish God’s purposes according to their own thinking, the result was that they downplayed the role of the means that God had established to uphold and sustain His people. God had given His Word for the elders and the pharisees to preach and teach. And through that Word and the sacramental delivery of forgiveness administered by the priests in the temple sacrifices, God worked to create and sustain the faith of the Israelites.
A Chosen Race, A Holy Nation, A People for God’s Possession
In and through the glory of the temple worship, God declared to the world that the nation of Israel was His chosen race, a holy nation, a people for His own possession and through their devotion, they proclaimed the excellencies of Him who rescued them from the darkness of slavery in Egypt and brought them into the light of His love and blessing.
But, as happens in many places in Christendom today, the leaders in Jesus’ day sought to hold themselves out as gurus and experts. They were convinced by the father of lies that they needed to place themselves at the top of the organizational chart as somehow closer to God – given special knowledge of God’s plans and purpose and vision for the community.
Jesus numerous times condemned them – not because they were leaders – but because they down-played the importance of what God had established and ordained and, in what we might call their own entrepreneurial spirit, sought to start new – or, at least tweak the old so that it outwardly seemed to work better. Then, when called to account, they looked down on those who taught and proclaimed the truth in the pattern of sound words that God, Himself, had established just as many today deride and castigate those who contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
But just as He did when Adam allowed the devil to seize control over creation through his disobedience,
God lovingly sought to correct them.
God condescended to come to earth and speak the truth in love. And, with His own lips He called them to repent and turn back to Him for forgiveness and life.
In the end, they sought to silence Him. They rejected the proclamation of the good news that the Kingdom of God had already come — in and through the work of Jesus – and that He is the one true king and head of the enterprise.
Rather than relying upon God, the leaders of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day desired to bring about God’s Kingdom by their own works and actions. They shut their ears to the voice of the King and rather than obeying His clear wishes and commands as revealed in Holy Writ, they set out to do something new. Though they didn’t necessarily intend to, they were deceived into doing something different and counter-productive to what the King had revealed He was doing.
The Organizational Chart was Threatened by Jesus’ Authority
At the heart of it, the problem of the chief priests and pharisees and the other leaders of Jesus’ day was that they felt their position at the top of the org chart to be threatened by Jesus’ work. These men, whom God, Himself had placed into their position of authority in order to labor in His vineyard. These tenants to whom God leased out the vineyard He had planted and built up — thought more highly of themselves than they ought. They proved beyond a doubt that they saw equality with God something to be grasped. And when Jesus, God in human flesh, came into Jerusalem declaring the Kingdom of God and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor through the jubilee of the forgiveness of sins, the chief priests and elders and pharisees and Sadducees went to work.
Marshalling all their resources,
they created a network and conspired to start a movement in their faith community
They induced the rulers and authorities to hoist the very Son of God upon a cross to hang there and die.
Then, with the self-assured arrogance that comes from achieving their objectives, when news of Jesus final victory reached their ears, they denied it. Lying through their teeth with the forked tongues inherited from their real father, the devil, they sought to cover up and hide God’s work in space and time.
After Jesus was raised from the dead and seen by many witnesses, they sought to silence the ancient message of God’s forgiveness of sins through the Son of Man who came to seek and to save what was lost. Instead of rejoicing in Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, they persecuted those who proclaimed the truth – beating them publicly to discredit them and their message. They went so far as to publicly stone them for the supposed blasphemous activity of being faithful workers in the enterprise that God, the first and only Sacramental Entrepreneur, had established thousands of years before.
And why did these upstarts – these peddlers of works-righteousness kick against the goads of God’s ongoing work and seek to set up shop with their own brands and gimmicks? – Because the humble and simple message of the free forgiveness of sins won by Christ Jesus was foolishness to them.
In many and various ways
the devil speaks to the people of our day – especially to those who claim the title Christian but reject the clear and plain word of God. In that Word, God reveals that He works faith where and when it pleases Him through the means He has established.
(To be concluded…)