Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Escape Clause Righteousness

This exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees from Mark's gospel account (10:1-12) struck me earlier today:

10:1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, [1] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Whole sermons can and have been preached on this, but what really struck me was how the Pharisees dodged Jesus's question, "What did Moses command you?" Notice that they answer "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away."

The Pharisees answered Jesus by noting what they viewed as an escape clause (see Deut. 24:1-4) to God's design for marriage. Self-righteous legalists --including yours truly all too often -- have a keen eye for loopholes. But Jesus goes back to God's ordaining marriage before the Fall, to God's original command regarding family life. This command was recorded in Genesis by none other than, you guessed it, the prophet Moses.

What's more, in the two verses that follow, can see that while the Pharisees are concerned with justifying themselves by making a legal case based on technicalities, Jesus demonstrates that you can technically and outwardly follow God's law while your heart is desperately sick with sin:

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Here Jesus addresses the heart motivation behind a lot of divorce common at the time. Sick of your wife? Want a younger, richer model? For the Pharisee, the answer might as well be to send the old one packing with a certificate of divorce and trade up.

Jesus makes clear that thinking doesn't cut it with God, who weighs the heart.


Righteous Anger Is A Grieving Anger

So I'm reading the Gospel of Mark now, partly spurred on by a book a friend gave me that attempts to interpret the gospel account through an existential lens. The result, of course, is stripping Christ of His divinity and his kingly reign.

But as Bible-believing Christians know, Mark's gospel is anything but a picture of a confused, befuddled postmodern Christ.

So I thought I'd camp out in Mark for a while, reading and re-reading the entire Gospel over the next few weeks.

Here's something that struck me the other day from the third chapter (vv. 1-6):

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, [1] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus looked at the Pharisees with anger, a response with which we can readily identify. Or can we? My anger would likely be an indignant, sinful human anger, full of nothing but rage.

Yet notice Jesus's anger is not a sinful anger of man. It's an anger accompanied by, complemented by, and tempered with grief over the hardness of heart caused by sin.

Jesus does not go on to angrily rail against the Pharisees.

Yes, there are plenty of times where Jesus does preach woe unto the Pharisees and does call them to repent. But here Jesus simply goes on to heal the man with the withered hand, determined to do the will of the Father and to do what his fiercest critics are so obsessively fixed on Him not doing: violating manmade laws about the Sabbath, laws the Pharisees made and kept in order to appear righteous before men.

Here Jesus did good on the Sabbath. Here Jesus saved life on the Sabbath. In response, the Pharisees went out and "immediately held counsel" about how to assassinate the Lord of glory. It is never lawful to hold counsel to murder the innocent, yet the Pharisees are so fixed in their hatred of Christ that they set to work on the conspiracy to kill him on the Sabbath day they professed to hold more strictly than others.

Indeed, the Pharisees were demonstrating the anger of man, which does not produce the righteousness of God but rather fixates on death and destruction.

By contrast, Jesus's righteous anger is just. It is directed at those who stubbornly oppose the gracious work of God through His Son Jesus Christ. Yet it is an anger that is not a blind and unremitting rage. It is an anger coupled with and inseparable from grief over the fatal effects of sin.

Jesus knows His opponents are dead in their sins, under the just wrath of God unless they repent. Jesus is angered at the Pharisees for "shut[ting] the kingdom of heaven in people's face", neither entering themselves "nor allow those who would enter to go in." (Matthew 23:13)

Yet Jesus is grief-stricken at their hardness of heart. Jesus demonstrates that He is slow to anger, abounding in mercy.

How often does my anger exhibit grief over sin? How often do I confuse sinful rage for righteous anger? How many times am I rightfully upset about an injustice but am not motivated to pray for the sinner who commits it? How often do I neglect to cry out for repentance and salvation to evildoers, rather than wish evil and death upon them?

Father, help me to watch my tongue and to guard my heart. Help me to respond to injustice with righteous anger that is demonstrated by grief over hardness of heart caused by sin.

Forgive me of self-righteous, prideful anger that compares myself favorably against other sinners, for I am a sinner saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is He alone that is perfectly righteous, and the righteousness I have is a gift from it, I have not earned it.

Thank you for forgiving me and adopting me into your family. Make my hearts cry be for the lost, including and especially those who in their hardness of heart violently oppose and conspire against the work of the Gospel. In the name of Your Son and my Lord Jesus I pray, Amen.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Apocryphal, But Edifying

So a Catholic buddy of mine at work had this up as his Facebook status message last night:

found a great Bible quote: "Sober drinking is health to soul and body" [Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 31:37]
To which I replied:

Apocryphal, but edifying.

Thanks. I'll be here all week. Try the veal.


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