We have perfected the art of picking one another apart. We have so sharply honed our skills at finding the least little thing that we can exploit about other people. If there was a Ph.D. awarded to those who were successful in scrutinizing the lives of others in order to bring them down to size and let the world know that they are a fraud, or worse, we would have that academic achievement hanging on our wall in our favorite room.
Our expertise in being able to expose the fraud, lies, hypocrisy, immorality, and duplicity of others is not executed in equal measure. No, no, we are selective in who we target. We easily, intentionally, overlook our own wayward ways. We are more than capable of pointing out and criticizing the waywardness of others that we don’t care anything about, even though we do the very things we despise in them. It’s really interesting when you stop to think about it. We will downplay and even dismiss the immorality and fraudulent ways of family members that we love while we scrutinize, analyze, and ridicule our co-workers that we can’t stand. We can explain away the hypocrisy of our neighbors that we care about when it’s brought to our attention, but if it is someone that we don’t like, someone that we don’t get along with, then we have more detective tools than CSI to ferret out the evil that lies hidden from the rest of the world.
I hear it all of the time. Husbands and wives who sat holding hands and talking about their love-filled future end up as mortal enemies who are willing to spend their last dollar in court sitting across a table with clenched jaws and steely eyes. Business partners who scraped enough money together to launch their dream, together, who were willing to work their fingers to the bone, together, end up with only one thing on their mind, destroying one another. Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV) The stories of love morphing into loathing, admiration turning to animus, and friends becoming foes…well, it’s a story as old as time. In Psalm 55:12-14, David writes in his journal about the painful situation he endured in his own life. Listen in.
12 If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. 13 But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, 14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers. (Psalm 55:12-14 NIV)
Tragic and yet true. Some relationships tatter and fray and still others are never given a chance. For whatever reason there are many folks around us that we will never give a chance. We would rather hold onto the stereotypes and prejudices that have been either taught to us or acquired on our own than hold onto one another.
Deepening the Divide
Racial lines are drawn and we say ridiculous things like, “That’s how they are!” or “I told you to never trust them!” A black teenager is shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. and the tragedy is used to reinforce the hypothesis, which many believe to be a proven fact, that white people are just looking for a reason to kill black folks. A white woman is beheaded by a black man in Moore, OK., who recently converted to Islam, and the tragedy is used to reinforce the idea that all Muslims are wannabe members of Isis. That is until the police announced this past week that the crime was really racially and not religiously motivated. That announcement was a game changer. Ah, you see, it’s a race thing! All of us white folks know that black folks can’t stand us. And on and on the story goes. As the story continues to be written in each new generation the divide deepens, the animosity is heightened, and the fingers of accusation get longer and more pointed.
Herman and I were talking last week about these events and how they are used by those who don’t have our best interest at heart. I told Herman, “The tragedy is that we see through our eyes what we want to see instead of recognizing that we are all just people.” A man beheaded a woman. A police officer shot and killed a young man. Mothers and fathers are still grieving. Brothers and sisters have been robbed of a future with their sibling. Children and grandchildren will miss out on making memories with their parents and grandparents.
We are so quick to condemn others for pride, prejudice, malice, hatred, bigotry, lies, and the like while at the same time those poisonous parts of the human heart that we hate in others are resident in each and every one of our own hearts. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning and see what we can learn.
19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” 20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?” 21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:19-24 NIV)
There’s a month of lessons for you and me in verse 24 alone. “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” Jesus didn’t just pluck this sentence out of the thin blue sky; He lived constantly under the watchful eye of those who had it out for Him. They had Him in their crosshairs and they were going to get Him one way or another, regardless of whether what He said was true or not.
As we take the time to read through our Scripture for this morning it is very apparent that Jesus’ accusers wanted to focus on something He did about one year earlier—He broke the Sabbath when He healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda. Sometime after Jesus healed the man, He left Jerusalem and ministered in the Galilee for the better part of a year. He had fed the masses, healed the sick, calmed the raging Sea of Galilee, and taught the most powerful spiritual truths ever heard by anyone, but none of that mattered. All His accusers could think about was what He had done a year earlier…He had healed a lame man on the Sabbath. Go back to John 5 with me and let me refresh your memory.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 4 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” (John 5:2-10 NIV)
The healing of a man who hadn’t walked in 38 years was irrelevant. Jesus had broken the 4th Commandment in their minds—“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Healing a man was considered “work,” picking up your mat and walking was also considered “work” by the rabbis. Instead of celebrating the man’s healing the religious leaders began persecuting Jesus. John tells us,
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. (John 5:16 NIV)
If showing mercy to those in need was considered work then Jesus was guilty as charged. On the other hand, if the rabbis had transformed the Sabbath into something that God never intended then they were wrong and Jesus was right.
Jesus’ Miracles on the Sabbath
If you go through the Gospels you will find that Jesus performed seven miracles on the Sabbath. Jesus casts a demon out of a man who was in a synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-26). Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39). He healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue (Matthew 12:9-13). In Luke 13:10-16, we read about a woman who had been crippled and bent over for eighteen years, but Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. You need to know that Jesus didn’t slip around healing folks on the Sabbath. He had nothing to hide. Let me give you an example. Turn to Luke 14 with me and let’s read together.
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. 5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” (Luke 14:1-5 NIV)
“Jesus asked the Pharisees and the experts in the law, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’” We’ll come back to that in a minute. I want it to be so clear to us that Jesus wasn’t dodging the Pharisees, He didn’t have a guilt complex from healing people on the Sabbath, and rather than breaking the Sabbath, He was fulfilling the Sabbath. The final two Sabbath miracles that are found in Scripture are the healing of the man at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:5-9 and the healing of the man born blind in John 9:1-14.
Is It Lawful to Heal on the Sabbath?
Let’s talk about Jesus’ question to the Pharisees and the experts in the law for a minute. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” The straightforward answer to the question was, “Yes!” but the religious leaders had turned the Sabbath into work. Isn’t that ironic? The one thing God had required of His people on the Sabbath day was to stop working, to set the day aside as different than every other day, and focus on God.
God instituted the Sabbath at Creation. In Genesis 2:3, after six days of creation we read that God rested from His work. Then, in Exodus 20:8-11, God gave the commandment for His people to keep the Sabbath holy. Listen to this:
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 NIV)
There is another reminder to keep the Sabbath holy in Exodus 31. Nothing different. Don’t work. Whatever work you normally do throughout the week, don’t do that on the Sabbath. Relax, worship, pray, renew, recharge, and fix your thoughts on the Lord. The religious leaders, with all of their rules, regulations, and rituals made the Sabbath the hardest working day of the week. You had to work hard to follow all of their rules and regulations.
They turned the Sabbath into a show, a sham, rules made by men that had nothing to do with focusing on God, relishing His presence, and being mindful of His grace, mercy, provision, and goodness. The Sabbath became a parade of self-righteousness and a pursuit of those who would break their laws.
There are two important lessons that I’ve learned this past week that I want to share with you. First, those who were the most vocal about the necessity of following the law were guilty of breaking the Sabbath. Second, things are not always as they appear.
Those who were most vocal about keeping the Sabbath, following every prescription handed down by the rabbis, and enforcing the Sabbath mitzvots had their loopholes to get around the rigid requirements. The religious leaders said you could only travel 2,000 cubits, a little less than half a mile on the Sabbath. Yet, those same religious leaders developed loopholes that would allow them to travel further. For example, take a little dirt from your yard with you when you travel. When you get near the limit allowed for travel, drop a little dirt, and you can start over. I’d call that a loophole.
In John 7:19-25, Jesus pointed out to the religious leaders that they regularly did work on the Sabbath by circumcising babies. In verse 22, Jesus said,
22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. (John 7:22 NIV)
The rite of circumcision, the sign of God’s Covenant with His people, came about with Abraham and not Moses. Turn with me to Genesis 17:10-12 and let’s read together.
10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner–those who are not your offspring. (Genesis 17:10-12 NIV)
A baby boy was to undergo circumcision on the eighth day of his life. If the eighth day fell on the Sabbath then the need to circumcise the boy took precedent over the prohibition to “do no work” on the Sabbath. John MacArthur writes,
If they themselves broke the Sabbath law to circumcise children, how could they object to Him making an entire man well on the Sabbath? If they did not object to the ceremonial cleansing of one part of the body on the Sabbath, how could they object to His healing the entire body on the Sabbath? In this way, Jesus not only exposed their rank hypocrisy, but He also demonstrated that it was permissible to do good on the Sabbath. (MacArthur, John. MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Gospel of John. pg. 296.)
The rite of circumcision was important; it was the sign of the Covenant given by God. Circumcision was so important that it even took precedent over the Sabbath. Jesus made it clear that doing good on the Sabbath also took precedent over their understanding of keeping the Sabbath.
Those who were grilling Jesus were so caught up in their rules that they had lost the true meaning of Sabbath. In Jesus’ case, the Sabbath became a tool for the religious authorities to get at Jesus. I’m afraid that many of us modern-day followers of Jesus are much more like the religious leaders than we are our Lord.
Just think of all of the ways that we crush and condemn those around us who don’t follow lockstep with our every doctrine and align on our side of the debates of society. Just think of the ways we use verses of God’s Word to hammer those we want to put in their place. Just think of the times we’ve had an opportunity to love someone who the rest of the world deemed as unlovable and yet we turned and walked away letting our disgust be known. Just think of the causes we align ourselves with to take our stand against “this” group and “that” group. Jesus didn’t say that the world will know that we are His disciples if we are members of PETA, the Sierra Club, the Premillennialists, Post-millenniallists, Fundamentalist, Evangelicals, N.O.W., the Democrats, Republicans, the NRA, or some racially charged activist group. Jesus said they will know we belong to Him if we love one another.
The difference between Jesus and the religious leaders when it came to the Sabbath was that they had as their number one priority, enforcing the Sabbath. Jesus, on the other hand, was a force for good on the Sabbath. We should follow in His steps.
The second lesson I learned was this: Things are not always as they appear. Jesus said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24 NIV) The Greek word used by Jesus for “appearances” is the word, “????” (opsis) and it means, “sight, what one sees, or the outward appearance.” Some say, “What you see is what you get,” but that is rarely the case isn’t it? There’s always more than meets the eye when it comes to people. Things are not always as they appear.
What is interesting about this word is that it is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, in 1 Samuel 16 where the prophet Nathan went to Jesse’s house to find the new king of Israel. He saw Jesse’s son, Eliab, and thought to himself, “That’s the one! Got to be that kid! He’s big league, a Blue Chipper, definite 1st round draft choice, future Hall of Famer!” The Lord calmed Samuel down when He said to him,
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)
I don’t know about you, but it’s encouraging for me to learn that Samuel could get swept up in drawing conclusions from first impressions just like me. This story is also a great reminder to me that I need the Lord to keep me from doing just that…drawing conclusions from first impressions or what I’ve heard or how I feel about someone.
Is there anyone who actually lives that kind of life? Someone who is free from preference, prejudice, bias, bitterness towards those that have hurt and harmed them, animosity towards those they feel might be a threat to them, coldness and callousness towards those they just don’t like? Is there anyone who actually lives looking to bless and encourage others, to redeem those who have buried themselves under sin and shame, to lift up those who’ve been broken down, to befriend the jerk that nobody can stand? Is that anyone that has their eye on others for their benefit and not their own?
There is Someone. For thousands of years, through billions of tears of brokenness, heartache, rage, frustration, confusion, sorrow, and hopelessness with the human condition, there was a quiet whisper in the human heart that there had to be something more. What was a thought, a theory, a hope was personified by the prophets as they painted His portrait with their words and confirmed that the “something more” was in actuality Someone. God spoke through Isaiah and foretold the One who would come. Turn with me to Isaiah 11.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD–3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. (Isaiah 11:2-4 NIV)
Did you see it? “He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes or decide by what He hears with His ears…” He will not deal with people in a superficial way like we deal with others. He will deal with people “righteously.” There’s that great Hebrew word that should be literally translated, “right relationships.” The people of Isaiah’s day were told that He was coming, the One who would satisfy their deepest longings, the One who would reign and rule in righteousness.
Then He came. He emptied Himself of His royalty and climbed into our skin. They knew Him as Jesus. As we read the Gospels we find that He was everything that the prophets said He would be and more. He came to give His life so that we might be reconciled with the Father. He gave His life for you and me to pay a debt we could never pay and claim us as His very own. He’s got His eye on you my friend, but not in the way that others had their eyes on Him. He’s not looking to bring you down; He’s looking to lift you up. He’s not looking to condemn you; He’s looking to save you. That’s why He brought you here this very morning. Won’t you stop running, stop playing church games, stop pretending you’ve got it all together, and fall into His arms of grace and mercy?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 5, 2014