Guess what, guys! Another great sermon yesterday means I’m gonna rehash it here with you today! Woo! (seriously, I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I do!)
So balance. It’s something almost everyone strives for in life. At least for some stretch of time. We all feel it when we’re off-kilter, teetering on the edge of madness while our life seems to be swinging wildly between one extreme and another. Hopefully, this state isn’t a long-lasting one, but it seems to hit us all many times as we keep at this thing called Life.
Yesterday, Pastor Trevor spoke about how Jesus is the perfect example of balance in all areas of life. He was always balanced, even when it doesn’t seem to us that He is. You have to remember that since He is the one person who could ever fulfill the title of “Perfect”, then He is the only one who could understand those times when we just can’t seem to “get” what He’s showing us. That always helps me whenever I find myself struggling to comprehend something our Savior did that I can’t reconcile with my faulty human brain.
This whole sermon series (found HERE & this week’s sermon–BETTER COMMANDMENT) has been about Jesus’ perfect example of balance in all areas. Mainly, though, in the area of Grace VS Truth.
In Jesus’ day, this seemed to be the religious establishment’s main issue with Him…that Jesus would introduce the concept of Grace while all the guys in charge of making, enforcing, catching people not keeping the rules wanted desperately to make RULES the main thing.
As you will see from reading the Old Testament, God instituted LOTS of rules for the Israelite nation. He did this, in large part, for their benefit. You see, when the nation of Israel first set out across the desert after fleeing the Pharoh and Egypt, these people had lived as slaves for CENTURIES! Four + centuries. They had no clue how to live free and under their own ‘rule’. They’d lived all those generations being told what to do and when to do it.
Of course, this aspect of slavery is THE most burdensome, but it also led to the nation really not having a clue how to govern or really even take good care of themselves! They needed rules for the preparation of food, how to keep illness to a minimum by having proper “elimination” practices, among other things. So when you see God’s “commandments” in this light, it makes the whole “God is too big on rule-making” thing seem less of a sore spot. Of course, there were also those rules we find offensive that categorized people as clean or unclean according to their health or physical state of being or even for a period of time after touching something dead.
I mean, let’s be real… for any of the women out there (and men too, because according to those rules, if you touched someone considered ‘unclean’ then you were also unclean!), it can’t be just me that finds it to rankle the nerves just a bit to be referred to as “unclean” while menstruating and required to undergo a cleansing ritual when the monthly bleed-fest is over. Can’t it?? That’s just, well, kinda RUDE! I mean, it’s not like we can help the fact that our bodies do what they were created to do, is it? I’ll be the first to admit, yes, the monthly menses are NOT a fun time and yeah, it can leave a woman feeling pretty icky, hygiene-wise. But unless we do something unnatural (yep, I’m referring to those awful birth control meds that cause you to stop menstruating for months or years at a time… that can’t be good for your body!) our bodies are going to shed all that tissue and stored blood if we don’t conceive that month. It’s just a fact of life! When I think about that, it just makes me really not understand why a woman had to be considered ‘unclean’… but then again, I realize that since the people needed SO much instruction about how to live life independently and manage to stay healthy, God naturally had to tell them how to care for those unmentionable things like disposing of waste products, including menses, and I realize that’s how the people had come to refer to these things, as ‘unclean’… it still just rubs a raw spot on the nerves to classify people as either clean or nasty.
So yeah, since the Israelites didn’t know how to take care of themselves, God gave them rules and laws so they wouldn’t suffer from all this freedom they had no clue how to control.
Later on, men (or humankind, if you prefer) got far too involved in all these laws. You know how some people are real sticklers for keeping rules and like to remind everyone that they know the rules and especially when someone else is breaking one of them? Well, these people were kinda like that. They LOVED the rules. Not always keeping the rules themselves, of course, but ALWAYS reminding others to keep them. Then they began to add to the rules, to add stipulations and codicils. There was all manner of crazy laws like precisely how far was permissible to walk on the Sabbath day. It became so burdensome to try keeping all the hundreds of laws that is was actually impossible to do!
When following God becomes burdensome and oppressive, it starts to be very attractive to just walk away instead. And there were lots of pagan cults around then to take up the slack for people when they wanted to give up on following God. Where the Jewish religion had an abundance of laws, pagan religions had an abundance of gods.
And neither group felt a close connection with any of the deities offered to them. Jews felt a distance from a God who demanded so much rule-keeping, especially when a lot of those rules seemed impossible to keep and made life sad and depressing. On the pagan side, they felt that their gods were always toying with them. They felt like playthings in the hands of vindictive and manipulative gods that cared nothing for their well-being or happiness.
Thinking of how weighty and hard living life as a Jew back then must have felt reminds me of how it was at our last church. It seemed every sermon was about how bad we all sinned and that if we didn’t do and think and behave exactly like the pastor or the small elite group who did most things in the church, then we were never good enough. When we left a service, it felt like the way a dog will act when it has been caught doing something bad…. you felt like you had to tuck your tail and hunker down to be beaten about the head with a rolled-up newspaper. There was never any mention of how to turn things around or of the hope that can be found in God’s word. There was never a challenge to do better, never a solution given to overcome these many sins that so easily overtake us.
When Jesus stepped on the scene and began talking about a new covenant and grace and forgiveness of sins, it upset the Jewish religious establishment. In their minds, Jesus was just entirely too grace-y. Too much grace! They could never hear what truth Jesus spoke because He showed the importance of grace which the established order of Jewish law had done away with. There was no grace in all those laws.
That is why Jesus had to come in the first place. He was the only person who could or would ever be able to keep all the law. He was the only one perfect enough to follow all those rules and because He was the embodiment of the deep love God had for His creation, Jesus poured out grace, even though He knew full well that none of us could ever keep the law like He could.
I think that’s why we as Christians can sometimes have a hard time with grace ourselves. It just doesn’t “feel” right. We know there are laws and there are things that you just shouldn’t do so when grace comes along and forgives that? We just get this all-over tense discomfort with it. We can’t seem to manage a balance between grace and truth. But Jesus does. He can freely give grace in spite of the fact that we’ve ignored His truth. We have sinned, and sinned greatly against God and deserve all the punishments written in the law…most notably, death! But Jesus can see past that through the deep love of God that we can’t seem to fathom. He came, willingly, to take our punishment and not just that, He continues to love us. It wasn’t “Okay, I’ve paid your debt, now I’m outta here.” Jesus continues to be with us and comfort us and bless us.
That’s why it’s called amazing.