Opposition to the Mission of Christ
James R. Davis
Many view Jesus as weak and mild, as a man
who really tried to live at peace with everybody and at times tried to
avoid controversy. But when you read the gospel accounts, you see that
from the very beginning Jesus deliberately provoked certain groups. In
fact, he became too hot to handle, and the establishment decided the only
way out was to get rid of him.
John R. W. Stott, author of Christ the Controversialist, said, "Jesus lived a stormy life. His teachings angered the Establishment and brought him face to face with those who disagreed . . . Pharisees who were shocked at his lack of respect for their traditions, Sadducees who could not accept Jesus' view of the after life, prostitutes and other social outcasts who could hardly imagine how a good man would even talk to them."
Shortly after the beginning of Jesus' ministry, people begin to realize that Jesus was making astounding claims about himself. It was clear that he identified himself as more than just a prophet or teacher. He obviously made claims to deity. He presented himself as the only avenue to a relationship with God, the only source of forgiveness for sins, and the only way of salvation.
Jesus' teaching touched every area of humanity. His teaching touched questions of morality, worship, and authority. Through the centuries, Jesus' unparalleled teaching on these subjects has provoked much opposition. In opposing Christ's teaching on these subjects, many have opposed God's intentional will for themselves.
Opposition to Christ Moral Teaching
When the verses for this lesson are put in the context of the book of Luke they are seen more clearly. Luke's gospel stresses God's universal concern for mankind. He also stresses the universal need of salvation. In explaining that the gospel is for all, he also implies that all men are morally obligated to recognize God's moral law and obey it. Luke stressed out moral obligation to God.
The Jews refused to recognize their moral obligation to God. They were critical of Christ's actions and teaching. They criticized him for eating with publicans and receiving sinners (Luke 5:27-32; 7:36-50). His actions were criticized in an effort to destroy his reputation; by destroying his reputation they thought his teaching, which morally obliged them to live according to God's precepts, would be discredited and destroyed.
Our modern age rejects its responsibility to God. We recognize that something is terribly wrong, but we refuse to accept personal responsibility. Sin is called everything but what it is. Man suffers from idiosyncrasies, neuroticism or psychoticism, but it is far from man, to be sinful. A rejection of personal responsibility causes men to see no need of accepting the gospel message of salvation. When salvation is preached it is like casting pearls before swine which are unable to discern between that which is priceless and that which is worthless.
The Jews opposed their moral responsibility to their fellowman. Christ taught that everyone should be treated right, regardless of what his outward appearance or reputation might be. The Pharisees refused to recognize their moral obligation toward all man. They adapted an attitude of condescendence toward the common people. Their ostracism of the publican and sinner was so well known that Jesus used it to explain what the church's excommunication of a stubbornly impenitent sinner would mean, we should treat him like a "heathen and publican." That is as the Pharisees treat such. Jesus borrowed the term from the vocabulary of the Pharisees.
Jesus demonstrated and taught the kind of compassion we are to have toward our fellowman. He taught it was more important to be a good neighbor than to have good neighbors (Luke 10:36,37). Christ taught that God preferred mercy to sacrifice (Matthew 9:13; 12:6; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). But the priest and Levite were more interested in observing their feast days than helping one in need. The Jews were more interested in observing their traditions concerning the sabbath, rather than allowing one's hunger to be quench or a man's withered hand to be healed (Luke 6:1-12). The Jews actually placed a higher value on animals than on human beings. Jesus asked, "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day (Luke 14:5)?
The Pharisees were formal and ritualistic. They would make sure that they remembered the widows and orphans in their prayers, but they would turn right around and devour houses (Matthew 23:14). They had no compassion; they would bind heavy burdens upon men which were difficult to bear, but they would not lift a finger to help (Matthew 23:4). They would excuse their moral obligation to their parents by saying what would have been given them was given to God instead (Mark 7:11).
The Pharisees, for the most part, felt no obligation toward the lost. They were shocked that the Lord preferred the company of sinners to theirs.
The New Testament portrays Jesus denouncing sin in the strongest terms, yet when sinners came in touch with him they were made better. His life and words influenced them by lifting them up and giving them hope for a better life. His words never sought to discourage those sinners who sought to change their ways. He sought to save sinners from the condemnation of sin and to lift them out of a life of disgrace. Jesus said, "For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world: but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17)."
A new day had dawned with Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth. How refreshing Jesus' approach must have been to Matthew and his friends. Christ was unlike the self-righteous religionists of his day. He came not only to stir the minds, but also to change the hearts of sinners. The sinners did not see him as harsh, self-righteous, and unconcerned about their needs. But they saw him as a helper . . . a friend to sinners. It was this compassionate heart of Jesus that drew Levi into the service of the master.
Opposition to Christ's Teaching Concerning Worship
The Pharisees were formal and ritualistic in their worship. They thought that Jesus should have recognized their traditions in regard to worship. They wanted to know why Jesus and his disciples failed to observe the fast which John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees observed (Luke 5:33). They sought to bind their traditions concerning Sabbath worship upon Christ (Luke 6:1-12), rather than listen to the author of the Old Testament explain the true meaning of the Sabbath worship.
The religionists of Jesus day endeavored to make sure that no bodies hung upon crosses on the sabbath day (John 19:31), but thought nothing of crucifying an innocent man. They took the utmost precautions to go to Jerusalem upon prescribed feast days, but while there, thought nothing of turning God's house into a den of thieves (Luke 19:45,46). They thought nothing of going out on the streets and making long wordy prayers to be heard of men (Matthew 6:1-4), but thought nothing of whether they were heard of God. They might hate their fellowman, but thought nothing of how that hatred affected their worship to God (Matthew 5:21-24). They sought to stone the woman caught in adultery, but thought nothing of the Law's teaching that both the man and woman should be stoned (John 8:1-11). They sought outwardly to do good, but thought nothing about what went on in their hearts (Matthew 23:25-28; 5:27,28). The Jews placed, great emphasis upon the place of worship, but Jesus told them the most important thing was the condition of their hearts (John 4:21-24). Outwardly the Jews would draw nigh to God, but their very attitudes denied their sincerity and destroyed their worship (Matthew 15:8.9). It was the Jew's attitude toward God that caused them to observe unauthorized traditions.
Do we by our attitudes rise in opposition to Christ teaching on worship? Do we have a formal and ritualistic worship? Do we attend worship and walk by on the other side when our fellowman needs help? Do we attend worship and shut our eyes to our opportunities? Do we pray for widows and orphans and refuse to put them in our budgets? Do we pray for unity and work for strife and division? Do we go to worship and neglect to partake of the Lord's supper or to give of our means? If so, we are as opposed to Christ's teaching on true worship, as were the Jews.
Opposition to Christ Authority
To the Jews were committed the oracles of God (Romans 3:1,2). God had committed his written word to them in order to prepare them and the world for the coming of the Messiah. They painstakingly preserved the oracles for the following generations. Unto them we are indebted for the preservation of the Old Testament as it was originally given. Ironically though, they had failed to really understand that which they so tenaciously preserved. "And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them" (Matt 13:14-15).
A proper understanding of those scriptures would have brought about an awareness of their sinful condition (Romans 3:19), and prepared them to accept the authority of Christ (John 5:45,46). Yet, the Pharisees gave preference to the traditions of their fathers over the plain teaching of God's word (Matthew 15:8.9). The Jews sought to interpret Christ actions and teaching in light of those traditions. They desired to put Christ in their own little mold, in an effort to make him say what they wanted him to say or thought he ought to say. They sought, as it were, to put new wine into old skins and it was destructive to the teaching of Christ.
Man's attention must be properly focused upon the scriptures. Christ endeavored to bring the Jews back to a true understanding of the scriptures. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus took many of the erroneous attitudes of the Pharisees, which they thought to be based upon the teaching of God, and showed them to be false in light of their scriptures. Jesus took extremist, Pharisees and Sadducees, and strove to lead them back to a true understanding of God's revelation. But, for the most part, they rejected his teaching, thus rejecting the authority of God.
It is essential that we come to an understanding of God's will. We must lay aside all prejudices and search for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is the truth that will make us free (John 8:32).
Opposition to Personal Obedience
It is not enough to possess a Bible. It is extraordinary how much superstition lurks in the human heart. Some people's only acquaintance with the Bible is that they have it on a shelf somewhere. They suppose that its mere presence there somehow adds sanctity to the home. A fellow told me on that when he was a soldier in Vietnam he carried a New Testament in his shirt pocket everyday, but he never read it. To some the Bible has sentimental value because it is a family heirloom.
It is not enough to read the Bible or hear it preached in the pulpits. There is no special value in reading it as a piece of great literature either. The Bible must introduce us to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. The Bible was designed by God to persuade men to come to Christ. Whenever the Bible is read or preached, what is needed is an eager expectation that through it we may come to understand Christ's will for our personal lives.
It is not enough to study the Bible. Some search the scriptures; they find it a fascinating textbook. They pride themselves on their biblical knowledge, and excel in tracing the biblical allusions in cross word puzzle clues. Like Apollos they are "mighty in the scriptures." They have committed large portions to memory. Fine! But an accumulation of Bible knowledge is one thing and a growing personal knowledge of Christ will for one's personal life, is quite another.
We are required to obey the Bible. The best way to honor God is by doing what He says. The Jews made the foolish mistake of searching the scriptures while failing to understand God's will for their personal lives. "What a tragedy that men for centuries have looked but have not seen, have listened but have not heard; they have rejected the greatest treasure of all to go and seek it in vain else here."
To misunderstand the practical purpose of Christ mission for one's life is to oppose Christ mission. Each person must understand that he/she is morally obligated to accept the authority of Christ. That teaching must enter into man's heart and bring his life into harmony with God's will so that his entire life may become a living sacrifice. Then and only then will man's life be an act of homage which is acceptable to God.