At church this Sunday a man entered the sanctuary and sat down in the back pew. He appeared downtrodden, ungroomed and wore a trench coat. It was unclear if he was homeless or had just lived a difficult life. Somehow, looking at him, it felt so right that he should be there. He almost seemed to belong more than those dressed in their Sunday best. It reminded me who Jesus valued and who he came to save. Beneath our smooth veneer we are much the same, broken people with broken lives. Christians have long been criticized for hypocrisy and a judgmental nature. The misuse of Jesus’ name has driven many unbelievers away from Christianity, assuming that the gospel is synonymous with Evangelical Christianity. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jesus’ message was considered progressive and controversial in his day. He preached unheard messages of equality, humility, sacrifice, and understanding. This message was so unpopular that it ultimately resulted in his crucifixion. Sometimes we forget how truly revolutionary Jesus’ message really was. At a time when women’s thoughts and opinions were of little significance, Jesus defied cultural norms by allowing women to accompany him in his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). He commended the faith of women (Mark 12:41-44), praised their selfless actions (Matthew 26:6-13), and healed their afflictions (Matthew 9:18-26). He chose to appear to two women first after his resurrection, even though others would be unlikely to believe their testimony (John 20:11-18). Women having equal intrinsic value was just one of Jesus’ unconventional messages.
At a time of political oppression by the Romans toward the Jews, Jesus provided healing for a Roman centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13). Likewise, there was racial tension between the Jews the Samaritans, a race that was half Jew and Half gentile. Yet, Jesus chose to reveal himself and his purpose to a Samaritan woman the beginning of his ministry, offering her redemption. (John 4). He also taught the value of children (Matthew 18:2-6) when society either disregarded them or treated them as small adults. He was also willing to touch the untouchable, healing lepers (Luke 5:12-14) and casting out demons (Luke 8:26-39).
Jesus also took the values of the world and turned them upside down. He blessed the disheartened, the grieving, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12). His purpose was to seek the lost, including those who were detested, ostracized, belittled, and forgotten. He raised up those who were thought to be insignificant, while lowering those who elevated themselves.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Matthew 20:25-28
Jesus did not come for the wealthy or the self-righteous. They had no use for him or his message. His teaching angered them as he warned of the love of money and called out the hypocrisy of the religious elite. Like the Pharisees of those days, Christians can also become preoccupied with the rules of our religion. When we become focused on ritual and tradition we begin to believe we are better than others. We believe that we somehow we deserve our salvation. This causes the focus to shift away from compassion and service and toward pride and selfishness. Without a true love of God and others our religion stands for nothing. Jesus reserved his greatest words of criticism for these people.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!Matthew 23:13-32
Is it any surprise that Jesus was despised by the rich and powerful? His message condemned the hierarchy of power. Instead, he made us brothers and sisters with equal value. Men and women, master and slave, Jew and Gentile all had equal access and equal share in the kingdom of heaven. This unconventional teaching was revolutionary. Today, the need for change is just as real and Jesus has the same ability to save the lost. Change is never well received by those wanting to maintain the status quo, but his message of love, forgiveness, and grace is something we all need to hear. The truth of the gospel is timeless and unchanging, and is still just as applicable today. What would the world look like if we followed Jesus’ teaching? Love is revolutionary change.