What Should We Say About Jesus?

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John 9:13 – 23

13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.

17 Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?” The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.” 18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”

20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind,21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.23 That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”

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Imagine what it what it would have been like for this young man who had been blind from birth to suddenly be able to see again.  We do not know exactly how old he was, but according to verse 21, he was no longer a child.  In fact, the Greek here implies that he was a young man for he was “of age” or “mature” now.

What happened to this young man was stunning to say the least.  And it left the Pharisees in a huge quandary.  How could they explain what happened?  What were they to do?  What were they to say about this man, Jesus?  Some said that Jesus was not from God, for He broke the Sabbath law handed done by God prohibitting work on the Sabbath day.  Yet others were unsure that such a miracle could be done by anyone unless God were with him.

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For us who live two millennia later and in another culture, it is difficult to see why the Pharisees had such a difficult time with this miracle that Jesus did.  I think it would be good then for to consider the historical and religious background of the whole situation.  To start with, we need to look at the regulations regarding the Sabbath which God spoke to Moses upon Mount Sinai.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”  Exodus 20:8-11

Most people are familiar with the “Ten Commandments” that God gave to Moses and the Israelite people.  Keeping the Sabbath holy for the Lord is Law #4.  The intent of this law was that God’s people (and all household members, servants and animals) would rest from their work (a practical issue) and set aside time to worship their Creator God (a theological issue).  All of this was good.

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But the Jewish people seemed to always get it backwards somehow.  In the Old Testament period, from the time of Moses until the time of the Exile hundreds of years later, the people couldn’t get the idea straight that God was their one and only God and King (theocratic monarchy).  And because of their polytheism (worshiping multiple gods), the LORD God sent them into Exile to disciple them for this sin.

Amazingly, when the Jews came back less than a century later, they were from that point on a completely monotheistic people.  The problem is they were so fanatical about their desire not to offend God, that they created hundreds of laws to regulate every day living and created ritualistic legalism, and forgot the importance of having a living and dynamic relationship with God.

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And so the control of the Pharisees became almost tyrannical in nature, even though they really believed they were helping the people to be in right relationship with God.  When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, they could not see the miracle (or the Man behind the miracle) because of their over inflated importance of keeping their “religious rituals” intact.

You know, there is an important application for us here for today.  When you get to the real root of the practices of the Pharisees, they believed that it was utterly important what you did in order to be acceptable in God’s sight.  And we have this tendency among people today.  It is still believed that “if I am a good person and do the right things, then I will be accepted by God and will enter Heaven.”

My friend, there is so much more to faith than rules and regulations.  Ultimately, all of us will also have to decide what we will do with Jesus and what we will say about Him.  Follow along in the next two Bible study articles on John 9 to see the progression of faith in this young man and learn from him.  My prayer is that you will see Jesus for who He really is.

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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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