Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jesus, Pharisees, and Muslims

We all know the importance of ceremonial cleanliness and purification in Islam. For instance, if you touch something haraam you have to wash yourself in a specific way seven times. I have even heard of a ceremonial cleansing prescribed for Muslims if you pass gas while praying. I am not trying to make Islam seem corny; being physically and spiritually clean/pure/spotless is at the heart of Islamic faith, with many rules and regulations to govern what it means to be clean before God.

Much of Islam parallels 1st century Phariseeism. I find it interesting that Jesus and his disciples ceased (or never did in the first place) ceremonial washings before eating (Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:2; Luke 11:38) given how important it was to Pharisees. So when I saw the book Learning Evangelism from Jesus I was excited to see in the Table of Contents a couple chapters about how Jesus dealt with Pharisees called, Revealing the Pharisee's Heart, and Religious and Moral Traditionalists: The Problem of Rules and Traditions. Here are some quotes from those chapters:

"Those who think they are well have no need of a physician. Those who believe themselves to be righteous will never listen to Jesus' offer of mercy to sinners. Such people need to be persuaded that they are sick, that they are sinners."

"In Luke 18, Jesus is speaking to some who were "confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else" (Luke 18:9, NIV). As he does on so many similar occasions, Jesus tells a story, this time about two men at the temple… Luke 18:10-13… The story teaches us about three basic characteristics of a Pharisee." 1. Pride, 2. A Critical Spirit, and 3. Lack of Mercy.

"How does Jesus respond to all this seemingly well-intentioned effort to be zealous for God?" [See Mark 7]

"He begins by quoting the prophet Isaiah and accusing them of hypocrisy… An external focus readily decays into hypocrisy, for the outer appearance of spirituality can quickly replace the much more demanding inner devotion of the heart." [Mark 7:6]

"Jesus accuses them of raising human rules to the status of God's law… The apostle Paul teaches in his letter to the Colossians that, despite their appearance of wisdom, such rules for Christian living have no value in restraining the indulgence of the sinful nature (Col. 2:23)." [Mark 7:7]

"Whenever we add our rules to God's law, no matter what the original motivation, the effect will be to replace God's commandments with human rules." [Mark 7:8]

"He says in effect, "The teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes is absolutely worthless in helping you walk in God's ways."" [Mark 7:14-23]

"The words of Jesus to the crowd were so shocking and so radically different from anything they had ever heard before that the disciples did not understand this "parable."" [Mark 7:17]

"Jesus denounces the traditions and spiritual disciplines of the Pharisees and teachers of the law far more strongly that we might expect."

"If we try to make worship obligatory, we will produce either spiritual arrogance or superficial observance and a resistant heart."

"We also need to think about Jesus' evangelistic intent in this discussion of the problem with the rules and traditions of the Pharisees and scribes… Jesus is hard on them because their pride in their knowledge of the laws and their commitment to keep them is an obstacle to faith. His passionate denunciation has the purpose of humbling them."

"When we read in the book of Acts that a great number of the Pharisees eventually came to faith, we know that the Lord's severe words bore their fruit in time; for he did at last gather many of those reluctant and obstinate people to himself."

"The problem we face is this: "When could it ever be appropriate for us to speak to people with the severity of Jesus?" This is a very difficult question to answer, for unlike him, each one of us has a Pharisee in our own heart… Is our denunciation of these obstacles to the gospel motivated by a passion for truth and by compassion for the Pharisees?"

"We must sit at Jesus' feet and recognize that legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace."

"Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that the legalists impose upon them. We are to proclaim liberty: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world."

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