Maybe it’s because I’m scanning headlines from the other side of the world, but something about this article caught my attention. We don’t need another blog post about the decision. Instead, we need to think biblically about how the nation got here. We can try to fix it, change it, escape it, or whatever else, but we should at least try to understand it. Romans 13:1 is clear. The is no authority (or supreme court decision) except from God. The biblical side is easy to understand. God is always clear. What about the vexing problem of interpreting what we see in front of us? That’s where the insightful article above is helpful. It approaches the decision from a different angle entirely, and is one of the few that isn’t rehashing the same information.
There are a lot of things I don’t get. Ice fishing. Skinny jeans. Oprah. But near the top are parades. I mean honestly, can anyone give me a good reason to invest valuable time standing on the side of the road watching people walk, roll, or stilt their way by? The Sabbath was a sort of Pharisee Parade every week. This was their day to shine, give alms, inspect the troops, rebuke the Messiah, and just be radiantly sabbatical. Jesus consistently trivializes them. However, what is so fascinating about his approach is that he minimizes them by drawing attention to them. He does things on the Sabbath that forces them to perform their duty as Pharisees and confront him. It’s like promoting gun control in public and watching the Republicans spring into obligatory objection. When Jesus discarded their rules he destabilized their hold on the people. I’ll never ice fish with Oprah in skinny jeans, but I do know if you give people biblical freedom it’s interesting to watch who gets nervous.
Jesus and the Pharisees wrestled over one of their sacred cows. In addition to tithing and giving alms, the rigid observance of man made Sabbath law came to define them. What they apparently missed was the fact that God intended the day to be one of rest and relaxation, not stress over whether or not you had done something wrong. The average Jew on the Sabbath was like the average American traveling abroad; constantly on the verge of violating local etiquette. The Pharisees just had it all wrong when it came to God’s intention for the Sabbath. Originally it was created for man (Jesus uses the generic word for mankind) as a means to an end, namely the good of mankind. It applied to both the man and the woman. It was time to cease from labor in the field and in the home. The intended result was a blessed rest filled with joy, laughter, peaceful meditation, and appreciation for the grace of God. In many ways the Sabbath was the grace of God to mitigate the effects of the curse. Sin resulted in the curse of hard work, but by grace it was only for six days and not seven. This gave everyone a mandatory opportunity to reflect on the goodness of God. The opposite of joy and rest was the burdensome and silly restrictions that the Pharisees imposed. God meant it for good. They made it loathsome. Pharisees (ancient and modern) place additional limits on pleasures created by God to mitigate the pain of the curse.
From John Russell to Burt Lancaster to Steven Seagal, the mystique of the Lawman is embedded in American popular culture. From sheriffs in the Wild West to snipers in the Middle East, we’re attracted to those who represent law, order, justice, and courage. When good triumphs over evil we see the hand of God. The same was true in Jesus day. Ancient Palestine was a relatively peaceful place. Law enforcement agencies included Rome and the Pharisees. Their respective jurisdictions were political and religious. However, one represented oppressive dominion from a godless occupier; the other claimed to represent God and his Law. Ironically Jesus always obeyed the Roman authorities, but made hash of the Pharisees legalism. Jesus was a model citizen but number one on the Pharisees most wanted. This brings up another staple in American culture: the rebel. It’s one thing to shed nostalgic generational preferences. Just because it’s old doesn’t make it good. In that way Jesus was a rebel. It’s a different case entirely when you rebel to be noticed, feared, or to garner publicity for yourself. That’s cool today in some circles, and even some pulpits. In this regard Jesus was not a rebel under any circumstances. The accent is never on his disobedience to human authority, but on his obedience to his heavenly Father. He was not the James Dean of Rabbis. He always obeyed the Law of God. He could follow God and ignore custom without ever tarnishing his character. He was the ultimate Lawman. Violators beware, even if you were the High Priest.
In Luke 5:39 an interesting quote is added to the famous wineskin parable. Following the statement about new wine needing new wineskins, Jesus says, “and no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” What does that mean? It means that wine gets better with age. Fine bottles are often left to sit for years. Over time the chemical reactions inside the bottle improve the quality of the product. Apparently Jesus was well aware of this and alludes to it here. Given the choice, the people would take aged wine over new wine. What does this represent? Simply put, the Pharisees and all their legalistic followers got far more satisfaction out of their traditional formality. The old system was like wine aged to perfection. Most Jews liked the old style, the old hymns, the old expectations, the old rules. Jesus understood he was competing against a known product. It was Napa Valley in the 60’s vs. Bordeaux. The existing system, though hopelessly corrupt, was the wine of choice, and it took great courage to switch. The old wine of Judaism was an outstanding vintage, especially if you didn’t want the burden of thinking for yourself.
Many classic songs have been subject to the indignity of a dance version remix. Even legends like Bruce Springsteen and Blue Oyster Cult haven’t escaped the treatment (I’d take a Weird Al parody over this fate any day). For the uninitiated, a remix is usually a classic song that has been adapted for a night club dance floor. The halmarks of a remix include just enough of the original song to make it clearly identifiable, but just enough rhythmic repetition to repurpose it. I think we’re seeing a similar thing happen in evangelicalism. We could call it Pharisee Remix. Pharisees exist to remind us that following rules doesn’t mean bearing fruit. Works that prove justification have been replaced by works that precede justification. Our Lord found this kind of teaching intolerable. Jesus decimates this group every time they dare to step into the ring with him. They can’t land a punch. He drops religious mobs with a single word. Jesus is always compassionate and gentle, except when it comes to hypocrites. It’s hard to avoid the fact that many believers, whether they realize it or not, promote allegiance to certain life principles and man made rules that don’t come from the Bible. Parents are often the worst offenders. We think that just because our kid obeys, it verifies our hope that this is fruit. The dangerous reality is that almost any young person can be intimidated into a profession of faith, or punished into acquiescence. Sadly the evangelical landscape is littered with the wrecked lives of kids who never developed true wisdom by discerning for themselves what is good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). They never flew solo under supervision, or even took a turn in the simulator. Parent’s never gave them a chance to mess up when the stakes were low, or freaked out when when they did. It was just shelter one day, and a hostile world the next. Let’s be honest, we all hope and pray that our kids one day prove to obey and bear fruit. Therefore we need to be committed to the hard work of regularly clarifying the true gospel in contrast to external compliance. We need to give them grace, and show them how much diversity exits within the family of God. If we’re not careful, real believers will find themselves under the critical eye of a new religious group claiming to be the guardians of morality. We must diffuse a potential generation of Pharisaical time bombs. The church has enough of those.