Monday, April 14, 2014

Cheers and Jeers

image used under Creative Commons license, photo by Kaz on pixabay
The Easter season, as described in the Bible, gives us a really startling picture in how it matches up with modern Christianity.  There are a number of ministries that emphasize what the worshipper can get by being connected to God.  And a number who spend more time fanning the flames of emotion instead of drawing people closer to God via getting deeper in the Word.

The problem isn't being emotionally involved in worship, praising God and raising hands.  The issue begins with emotion being the foundation of that worship.  Take a look at what I mean.

John 12:12-15 (KJV)  On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.  And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt.

Somehow, we always think of Palm Sunday as if it's in a vacuum.  People praising Jesus.  But we also know the reality and the context.  Let's make sure we're thinking of them together.  Because it creates an interesting comparison to today's church.

First, we need to remember that Israel had been conquered by Rome.  And, while Rome brought a higher level of civilization to the Middle East, they also eliminated much personal freedom in the nations they vanquished.  To ensure obedience, Rome also brought some of the most barbaric and cruel punishments in the ancient world.  That included determining that whipping someone 39 times with whips that had sharp objects on them would almost always leave the person alive   Add to that, Rome taxing the conquered people to keep them in power.  And very often, the Romans could take a conquered people and spread them throughout the Roman empire to dilute the people's power and influence in any one locale.

All in all, the Jews were not a happy people.  When they thought of the Messiah, they knew that He was a religious leader, but they were really looking for a political leader who would obliterate Roman rule.  When Christ entered Jerusalem, He did so in a way leaders usually did, riding in.  The Israelites took the miracles not as a sign of Jesus' spiritual leadership, but rather as a sign of power to overcome the Romans.  So, they were emotionally invested in temporal salvation, not eternal.

John 18:37-40 (KJV)  Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.  Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.  But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?  Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

There are several things to watch in that passage.  Pilate isn't Jewish.  So, when he asks Jesus about His kingship, he's not thinking in terms of Godhood.  Pilate wants to know if Jesus is an earthly leader likely to cause problems for himself and Rome.  Jesus responds that Pilate is the one thinking that possibility, not that Jesus had ever made that claim.  Jesus was here to create spiritual freedom with spiritual truth.  Pilate's response just seals the fact that he spiritually had no clue.

The second part of that passage is even more telling.  The people are given a choice of asking Pilate to release either Jesus or Barabbas.  This is the crowd hoping for temporal leadership to overcome Rome's hold on Israel.  And, very likely, much the same crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday.  There's not much spiritual thought in this at all.  

If we look at the other passages that record this event, we see the Scribes and Pharisees swaying the crowd's decision.  They wanted to make sure the crowd didn't choose Jesus for freedom.  There wasn't a lot of time.  So, like many modern political ads, they worked on the crowd's emotions, with little real content to their arguments.  The power was in the emotional context.  There wasn't much time for intelligent conversation.

Let's take our time warp to the modern day world.  I won't suggest that some of the pastors are Scribes and Pharisees.  But we all know that some of the television services we see are a combination of parts of several services to gain the most emotional impact from the overall service as viewed by the television audience.  The goal is to connect with the emotions, not the soul.  Get the individual to think in terms of what God can do for them, not who God is.  Healing, finances, relationships, God becomes the local repairman, worshipped only for His power to do things for us.

Now, this is where I'm likely to disappoint a few people, because I'm not going to name names or point fingers.  I've yet to see anywhere in Scripture that we're supposed to be fruit inspectors, qualifying or not for others.  The Word tells us to discern spirits, but says nothing about policing ministries.  And we're human, not God.  So, our discernment is going to be based on limited perceptions, not omniscience.  And I have to remember 1 Chronicles 16:21-22 (KJV), "He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.".  Especially since God thought that was important enough to repeat it in Psalm 105:15.  

Nor should we lump ministries together because of size or particular slant.  We just might be lumping tares and wheat together to pull them all out at the same time, ignoring that some are anointed, while others may not be.  And ignoring the heart behind what's being taught and done.

With all of that in mind, here are some verses to consider:

Matthew 5:7-9 (KJV)  Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Luke 6:45 (KJV)  A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

Luke 12:34 (KJV)  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Hebrews 13:9 (KJV)  Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.

Hebrews 4:12 (KJV)  For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The truth of the Word will help us discern, if we allow it to.  It's up to us to discern and live in truth, not emotion.  Do we use good judgement or judge the externals?

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