In Jesus’ day, when he walked the Promised Land, he never failed to upset the religious leaders. I mean they were worse than the paparazzi of our time and seemed to swarm him everywhere he went. Although they didn’t have cameras they were always pointing and inspecting every minute detail of his life and teaching. They would say things like, “Moses said…what do you say?” or “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” Of course Jesus didn’t seem to help things by healing folks, and doing things the religious leaders considered work, on the Sabbath. It’s almost as if he did these things on purpose in order to get a rise out of them. Do you think he would do such a thing?
Just about every upheaval Jesus had with the religious leaders concerned, what they viewed as, his breaking the Sabbath. I think Jesus did these things in order to provoke them in a way. Jesus was always, and only, focused on the person in front of him, whereas the religious leaders were always checking the books to see if he was stepping out of bounds. You see they elevated the traditions and doctrines of men above loving and caring for those in need, so Jesus took every opportunity to highlight God’s viewpoint by caring for the person rather than the meticulous following of rules. In fact, at least one time Jesus told them “you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your traditions.” While they were worrying over whether the rules were being broken Jesus provided healing and wholeness to all that came to him in faith. Even still they were so rule minded they actually said things like “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” as if the healing wasn’t enough to prove God’s involvement.
In the small group Bible study at the jail we have been studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Of course the controversy there was based on whether or not Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses or not but it struck me how it really was no different than the problems Jesus had. Jesus’ main trouble with the religious leaders was his constant, so called, breaking of the Sabbath with Paul it was what to do with the Gentiles that were putting their faith in Jesus.
As we started to read chapter two of Galatians I took the men to Acts 15 and we looked at how the early church dealt with the conflict. What struck me about this was the simplicity with which the early church leaders handled the conflict. After Paul and Barnabas shared how God was working miracles and saving the Gentiles they had preached to, Peter stood in agreement with them against the ones that demanded they be circumcised. He said, “we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” Wow! There it is! Peter said Jews were brought to salvation the same way as Gentiles and circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses wasn’t it. I know most reading this may not feel the full impact of what this meant. The Jews had for centuries understood circumcision to be required in order to be in covenant relation with God and without it they were outside without him. So to say it isn’t required of the Gentiles coming into the faith was earth shattering to say the least.
Reading a little further in Acts 15 we find out exactly what the church leaders told the Gentiles in order to settle this squabble. They sent a letter carefully telling them to “abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.” The letter said absolutely nothing concerning circumcision, and I can only imagine the relief on the faces of the male Gentiles when they heard that.
While looking at these few prohibitions given to the Gentile believer I couldn’t help but notice they boiled down to diet and sex. They were told to stay away from food sacrificed to idols, blood and things strangled. While the animals sacrificed to idols did entail worship and conscience primarily it was about their eating habits. Fornication, on the other hand, touched on their sex lives. As I read these it dawned on me that both of these, food and sex, are the most basic necessities for life to continue on this planet. Without food you will die and without sex the human race cannot continue. So, what God is really after isn’t for us to watch all of the rules in order to be pleasing to him rather he wants us to “be fruitful and multiply” in order to rule his universe without a glitch. This may sound somewhat familiar to you that know your Bible, after all wasn’t that what God said in the beginning? Watch your diet “Don’t eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” and “Be fruitful and multiply.”
God never intended life to be so complicated. It was only after man’s disobedience that death came in and the need for more and more laws quickly followed. Man took what God created to be so beautiful and simple and complicated it until Jesus himself was unrecognizable, even as he stood directly in front of those claiming God as their father. It isn’t God that makes life difficult it is religion that makes things so complicated.