Stupid Pharisees. They waited, prayed, studied, and waited some more for the Messiah. And when the time came, they blew it. They wailed at the graves of the prophets, adored Moses, and memorized the messages of the prophets, and then they killed the greatest prophet of them all. How could they have been so blind to the Messiah with so many miracles, so much wisdom, and so many fulfilled prophecies? Simple, Jesus made them angry by telling them that they had it wrong.
But how could they have been angry at Jesus? Even some of the most hardened sinners have a soft spot for the Son of God. The truth is that Jesus attacked their theology, their religious system, their politics, and their lifestyle. He was a very real threat that needed to be disposed of in order to keep the status quo. What’s truly terrifying is that Jesus is just as much a threat to us today and we are in real danger of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees.
Perhaps the most important issue is contextualization and the power of crystal clear hindsight. It was a piece of cake to look back at Moses and take his side, feeling his frustration at the idolatry of Israel. Fiery snakes, plagues, and earthquakes all point to the sovereignty of God and his servant Moses. All of the Pharisees loved Moses, why would anyone challenge his authority or make a golden calf?
Though we are limited in reconstructing history, it’s a safe bet to say that 400 years in one of the most idolatrous civilizations would have a profound effect on one’s feelings toward polytheism. In other words, Moses challenged the status quo, the “way things are,” the wisdom of the age, and centuries of tradition. Let’s not forget all of the traditions that have accumulated in just 200 years in America. It’s easy to like Moses after 1,000 years of monotheism, separation from the context tames Moses down and makes the demands of God very reasonable to many readers. From the standpoint of the Pharisees, nobody could top Moses.
And then there’s a wide array of prophets from the time of the Israelite kings. Isaiah’s message was heard, but not understood. Jeremiah was put into prison. As the Pharisees wept at the graves of these and other prophets they swore that they would have received them and their message. But without the context of the kingdom, the struggles with idolatry, and the wars with powerful kingdoms, the judgment messages of Isaiah fall flat and the weighty message of Jeremiah to surrender to Babylon just glides past our radar.
Would we have liked someone who predicted doom for our nation, advocated peace with sworn enemies, and who condemned the religious establishment of the nation? Not likely. And that’s why Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jesus had it so hard in their respective times. As hindsight became clearer, people lost touch with the power of the original messages of each prophet and subsequently missed out on the next prophet to the scene by God.
In his own time, Jesus challenged the system of Torah developed by the Pharisees that aimed to bring about the restoration of Israel. He destroyed the money-making system of the temple and then predicted the destruction of a sacred, time-honored institution first brought about by David and Solomon. After 50 years of construction they were not ready to see it get leveled or neglected. Jesus let people in who were most certainly out. He challenged the morality, piety, and ethics of the prominent leaders of his time. Jesus claimed to be the true king while not taking up a political party to set up his rule on earth. What could the Pharisees do with such a man? If you support him, you lose everything that you and your ancestors have given their lives for: your country, your temple, your religious system, your status in society, and your plans for the future. If you reject him you can keep everything as it was.
And so the question becomes “If we could hear Jesus the way his contemporaries heard him, would we like him?”
• He said your church will be destroyed in 3 days after you’ve invested 50 years in an ongoing building program.
• He commanded us to love the terrorists who want to attack our country.
• He told us to give lavish tips to companies and individuals who rip us off.
• The Messiah came from the roughest side of West Philly.
• He told us to unplug the guitars, drop the microphone, step away from the piano, and be still before him.
• He told us to stop teaching about him and start living with him, doing what he did, and putting aside sin.
• He commanded to donate extra car to the poor.
• He said that homosexuals, liberal theologians, and criminals are going to heaven before many in the church.
• None of the church leaders he chose were trained in seminaries.
The struggle I have is to hear Jesus as the revolutionary person that he was. He challenged so much in his time and I don’t want to miss that side of him. Time and culture can dull the sharpness of his message. I don’t want to know Jesus from the standpoint of a historian who knows about him, I want him to enter our world and to shake things up. The question for me is, “How?”