This has been the year of royal weddings. People all over the world love the pomp and pageantry of these occasions.
As I watched the Monaco wedding, I wondered whether the religious “goings on” were the real reason why Jesus came. Did He come to set up another religious system or is man the one with the amazing ability to systematise everything into boxes of doctrines? If anyone dares to question these interpretations, he becomes prey to the “theological predators” who stalk the media to devour an outside-the-box thinker.
Jesus was an “outside-the-box” thinker who challenged the religious leaders of His day. Why? He had a lot of correcting to do because they had created a legalistic religious system which they bound on people. Woe betide anyone who broke it!
To understand Jesus’ mission, we must understand the Hebrew culture in which He was nurtured. Every Jewish boy went to school to become a rabbi. Those who failed were sent home to learn the family trade. Those who succeeded became rabbis, with or without authority depending on whether they were recognised as having authority or not. Most were rabbis without authority and were obliged to be disciples of the rabbis who did have authority.
Jesus was a rabbi, trained in the Beth Safar (elementary school) and Beth Talmid (discipleship school) of His day. John the Baptist testified to His authority (Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world) as did His Father at His baptism (This is my beloved Son) and He joined the ranks of Rabbis Hillel and Shammai who were the recognised authorities of His day.
A rabbi with authority had the right to develop His own interpretation of the Torah, called his “yoke”, and to call disciples from the Beth Talmid to become His followers, who were then obliged to imitate him and live and teach his yoke. To call anyone to “follow me” was the greatest privilege for a Jewish man, who obeyed without question.
Jesus fell foul of the disciples of the other rabbis with authority, mostly the Pharisees, because His yoke was based on the compassion and mercy of God rather than on the 613 laws of the Torah and the many laws devised to protect the Law. He taught and demonstrated His yoke by treating sinners with mercy rather than justice. He invited people burdened with the yoke of the Pharisees to take His yoke and learn from Him because His yoke was easy, flowing from His gentleness and humility rather than their harsh interpretation of the law.
Jesus went to the disqualified, not the Beth Talmid, to call His disciples; fishermen, tax collectors, political activists and ordinary guys, acting with mercy, not law. He taught them to love, not judge, modelling and teaching the heart of the Father - compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.
When He was confronted with the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees thought they had cornered Him. It was up to Him to pass judgment as a rabbi with authority. If He released her He would have broken the Torah. If He condemned her to be stoned, He would have acted contrary to His yoke. Jesus knew the Word. To condemn someone to death needed at least two witnesses. Jesus unmasked her accusers’ hypocrisy, leaving no witnesses to testify against her. Then He applied His yoke of mercy by forgiving and releasing her.
At Caesarea Philippi, the “red light district” of Israel where people worshipped Pan, the goat-god, in a public display of sexual debauchery with goats, Jesus challenged His disciples. “Who am I?” He asked. On the strength of Peter’s confession He declared, “Here, in this place I will build my church and not even hell’s gates, will be able to withstand it.”
How would that work? By loosing people from the judgmental, legalistic yoke of the Pharisees and by binding on them His yoke of mercy, compassion and forgiveness.
Jesus is not about a religious system with rituals, clothing, and hierarchy. He is about freeing people from guilt and shame and restoring them to the Father as sons so that God can have a family of people just like Him.