God Looks On The Inside

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John 7:14 – 24

14 Then, midway through the festival, Jesus went up to the Temple and began to teach. 15 The people were surprised when they heard him. “How does he know so much when he hasn’t been trained?” they asked.

16 So Jesus told them, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. 17 Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. 18 Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. 19 Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

20 The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. 22 But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) 23 For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? 24 Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”

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In the section of John chapter 7 just before this passage, we saw that Jesus was trying to keep a low key profile.  As some would say today, it looked like he was trying to “fly under the radar”.  It must have been difficult for him seeing as the annual “Feast of Tabernacles” was meant to be a joyous time for all Jews, and especially in Jerusalem.

And then suddenly during the middle of the week of celebration, we see Jesus marching straight up to the Temple and beginning to teach.  I wonder what was going on in his mind.  Could it be that he saw the shallowness and superficiality of the faith of many of his countrymen and he wanted them to come to know his Father like he did?  Or more probably, he could no longer stand the hypocrisy and the abuse of religious power that the Jewish leaders exercised over the people and Jesus finally had to speak up against this.

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The encounter that followed was very dramatic.  Jesus taught with great boldness concerning God and His Kingdom and the people were amazed at this.  They saw that his message was full of spiritual power, but they had always been led to believe that a person had to go through the Rabbinical schools (their form of theological seminaries) to have such power and authority to teach and preach like Jesus did.

But Jesus points out that religious pedigrees and positions are things that are important to men, but not to God.  What is really important is to lead people back into a living relationship with God.  Even if it means pointing out the sin in one’s life that is keeping that person away from God.  Jesus knew that his teachings struck at the hearts of those selfish hypocrites of his day, and he calls them out to the table by stating that they even have it in their heart to kill Jesus, and thus kill his message that would convict them.

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The truth is laid bare when Jesus revealed their hypocrisy over actions done on the Sabbath.  They claimed that no one could do any work of any kind on the Jewish day of rest.  And yet they had the command of God for circumcision, which was older than the Law, that they said allowed them to break the Sabbath rest.  In other words they used one law to break another law.  And they felt quite justified in their rigid legalism.

On the other hand, Jesus did a tremendous act of compassion by healing a lame man on the Sabbath.  But rather then praise Jesus for his action, they accused him of breaking a religious law.  To God, this is so absurd!  To allow a religious rule to overshadow meeting the needs of hurting people goes against the very nature of God.

Jesus pointed out what the real issue was when he said, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”  Whenever we put the focus on conformity to external behavior (which is what legalism is all about), we lose sight of what is really important, the true condition of the person’s heart.  It is not difficult for a person to do “all the right things” and still be miles away from God in his heart.  But if a person’s heart is pure and open and receptive to God and His grace, then all his external actions will match the inner beauty of his heart.

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And that brings us to some important application here.  Let us be very slow to judge and condemn another person simply on the external behaviors that we might see.  We must instead take the time to get to know that person and what is going on in the inside of him or her.  We do not need to promote conformity to rules to be the basis of thinking that person is right with God.  We need to help nurture a person’s relationship with God.  That is a heart issue.

In closing, let me remind us all that Jesus gave a stern warning to us in his analogy that we might have a plank sticking out of our eye (metaphorically speaking) while we judge someone else’s sin (which he compared to as a speck of dust in their eyes).  Let us clean up our own heart before we think we can help clean up someone else’s heart.

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Hypocrite! Who Me?

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A Translation Challenge in Matthew

Last week I was working with the W. language team and checking their translation of the final eight chapters of the book of Matthew.  The translation was in very good shape, so we were able to proceed at a pretty good pace.  The goal we had set to be able to check these chapters in eight days was to check an average of 55 verses each day.  On the morning that we were finishing chapter 22 and starting chapter 23, we had checked and revised 44 verses.

So when we gathered after lunch to continue doing the checking, I was feeling optimistic that we would be able to easily reach our goal, and surpass it.  But then we hit the “Woe” sections of chapter 23 of Matthew.  Seven times Jesus gave a strong warning to the Pharisees and the Scribes, two of the religious groups that existed during the times of Jesus and the New Testament.  And both groups knew all the rituals and regulations of the Jewish religion, but they only gave lip service to God rather than serve Him out of their hearts.

There is no question that these “Woe” sections of Matthew 23 are difficult to translate across different languages.  There are many concepts that are rather foreign to people who are subsistent jungle farmers.  How do we translate “Kingdom”, “temple”, “altar”, “tithing”, “proselytizing”, etc.  We did find ways to handle these difficult concepts, but there is one more term in this section that has caused us to discuss it at length.

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The term I am referring to is the word for “hypocrite”.  I have had the privilege to work with a number of Papuan languages and have checked the books of Matthew and Mark a couple of times.  And I am fascinated by the variety of ways in which different languages can handle the same term or phrase.  And this is definitely one of them.

When translating the term “hypocrite”, I have seen that it usually has to be expressed as an idiom or as a longer descriptive phrase.  For example, I have seen “hypocrite” translated like “the lying person”, “the two-mouthed person”, “the two-tongued person”, “the pretending to worship God person”, and what the W. language decided to use, “the person who lies and says, ‘I am a good person.'”

The common thread here is that a hypocrite is one who basically lies, pretending to be one thing when in fact they are the opposite.  They are people who deceive others by saying one thing, but their behavior shows that their values do not match their behavior.  As the idiom in English says, they in effect speak out of two sides of their mouth, which is very close to the Papuan idiom of being two-tongued or two-mouthed.

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In effect, these are nasty, lying, deceiving people who not only are trying to fool men into believing they are good people, but some are even thinking they are pulling the wool over God’s eyes.  And of all possible kinds of hypocrites, perhaps the worst ones of all are the religious hypocrites.  By their words and actions, they try to elevate themselves as someone better than other religious people, and in the end, they tarnish the name and reputation of God, and the true believers who worship God as He requires, out of a heart of humility and selflessness.

No wonder Jesus used such harsh language against the Pharisees and the Scribes in His day.  Not only should they have known how to properly approach God and worship Him, but these men were the religious teachers of the people.  But Jesus calls them to the carpet to challenge their hypocrisy for what it was, and as He said, they were like “white-washed tombs with nice decorations on the outside, but on the inside they were full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of ritual impurities.”

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And yet, when I really study this word and all that it implies, I need to be careful before I brand someone else with this word–hypocrite.  True, it is very obvious in Scripture that the Pharisees and the Scribes were very bad men, but am I that much different.  In degree, yes.  They were fierce and terrible opponents to Christ, and they ultimately had Jesus crucified out of pure jealousy against Him.

But in nature, I am a sinner just as much as they were.  And am I not guilty in many instances of some level of being a hypocrite.  I tell people I will pray for them, and do I follow-up on my promise to do so?  Not always.  Do I dress in my nicest clothes and put a smile on my face when I go to church, sending the message that I am well-to-do and that my life before God is all in order, when in fact I may be falling apart inside, and having doubts about God’s goodness?

We are encouraged in Scripture to make the most of every opportunity (referring to share Christ), but often I have no desire to talk to the person next to me on the airplane.  Do I turn away and pretend not to notice the poor man coming my way who is asking people for a quarter?  Can I truly call myself a “follower of Jesus”, when I act in so many ways that would be contrary to how Jesus would act?

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These are tough questions that do not have quick easy answers.  Each situation is unique.  But sadly, I think I must say that our modern and comfortable Christianity is something we wear on Sundays, and don’t do much with during the middle of the week to demonstrate we are Christ’s disciples who are carrying out His mandate to “seek and to save the lost”, and “to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Dear Readers, I know that I, and perhaps you too, still have a lot to learn in the School of Discipleship.  Jesus has set a good example, and He is our Headmaster.  Let the school of humility, selflessness, love for others, and self-sacrifice begin.

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