A Flexible Heart to an Inflexible Ritual
This past weekend Your Church took a big technology step and had its first video service, as opposed to me preaching live in person. It has been great to have people coming consistently week after week and watching what God is doing. Not just for the church, but for those that come. Seeing how He continually reaches out to them, all of us, and ministers to our hearts. Things are happening at Your Church +Hillsboro! Keep us in your prayers as things are shaping up for us in adding Sunday morning gatherings at a location not far from Coyote’s.
One of the things that I love about Jesus is that He is so real and personal. He made complicated things easy, knew how to get to the heart of the matter in helping people sort through their messy stuff, and He knew how to torque the minds of the religious in order to help them think out of their box. I’ve listed some verses from Matthew 12 in the Message translation to help explain one such instance.
1 One Sabbath, Jesus was strolling with his disciples through a field of ripe grain. Hungry, the disciples were pulling off the heads of grain and munching on them. 2 Some Pharisees reported them to Jesus: "Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!"
In Genesis chapter one, the Bible records how God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days. Then it states that on the seventh day, God rested. Later when God gave Moses the Law with the children of Israel, it was made official that on day 7 everyone was to rest from their working. Without going into too much detail, over the next 1400+ years Rabbi’s trained in the Law and given the authority to teach, expounded on the commandments given Moses. They explained how they felt the commandments should be ‘walked’ out, thereby helping alleviate questions the Jewish people had like ones pertaining to the Sabbath and what should be considered ‘work’. I was in Israel a few years ago and witnessed the effect of how these added laws (Talmud) still have an effect on the Jewish people to this day. For example, our hotel in Jerusalem had 2 elevators, which isn’t uncommon, but on the Sabbath one elevator was meant for Gentiles to use, the other for the Orthodox Jews. I don’t remember reading a sign signifying that, so of course I got on the Orthodox elevator and it happened to be Sabbath. What was the difference? The Orthodox elevator ran at a quarter of the speed that the Gentile elevator did thereby making it an elevator that wasn’t really working on the Sabbath! And they were right. For me I considered the elevator as not working at all!
That may sound crazy, but in essence we all add rules upon those found in God’s Word. For some reason we tend to complicate simple instructions. I don’t believe when God gave the instruction for us to rest on the 7th day that He intended for all elevators to work at ¼ of the speed, nor allow anyone to mow their lawn on it being the ‘Lord’s Day’. The point is, just like the Jews we bind ourselves to extra rules – our rules – rules that we force ourselves to keep which end up complicating, not simplifying our lives. Believe me, I’ve created my fair share of them!
3 Jesus said, "Really? Didn't you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, 4 how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? 5 And didn't you ever read in God's Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it's not held against them?
This is where things got rough for Jesus when it came to the Pharisees. Simply put, He told the Pharisees that a lot of God’s people have broken Sabbath rules and rituals and it has never been held against them. Whew! Good thing Jesus was only talking about the Sabbath rules, since we know that none of God’s people in the past 6000 years broke any other rules without it being held against them…right? Sorry. You’ll find that a lot of God’s people broke rules and rituals and some paid for it dearly, but most times it was never held against them. Does that give us a license to sin? Not at all. Rather it speaks of God’s mercy and grace.
6 "There is far more at stake here than religion. 7 If you had any idea what this Scripture meant — 'I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual' — you wouldn't be nitpicking like this. 8 The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he's in charge."
Now Jesus goes after the jugular. The point isn’t who is breaking which rule and who is getting away with it. Man puts the focus on keeping the rules and rituals, while God focuses on the person or the heart. Jesus told his disciples at another time that it was the heart that gave meaning to the words that we spoke, not a dictionary. In other words what is going on in the heart will show up in your life. Ask yourself this, “Why am I keeping God’s rules? Is it because I want to, or because I have to?” What Jesus told the Pharisees was that He IS the rules. If Jesus is the rules and you follow Him, you will follow the rules. It’s that simple. But what happens when you sincerely follow Jesus yet you make a decision to not follow the rules? Mercy happens. Loving kindness happens. A grace so rich and so free and so full of love reaches into your heart and reminds you of who you are to Him. He heals your broken heart and then somehow restores your soul. He gets you back on your feet again and it brings us down on our knees again. That’s why He prefers a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual.