Sunday, June 22, 2008

Matthew 23:23-24


23 ``Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 ``You blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

The point of Jesus' saying is this. It was universally accepted that tithes of the main crops must be given. But mint and dill and cummin are herbs of the kitchen garden and would not be grown in any quantity; a person would have only a little patch of them. All three were used in cooking, and dill and cummin had medicinal uses.

To tithe them was to tithe an infinitesimally small crop, maybe not much more than the produce of one plant. Only those who were super meticulous would tithe the single plants of the kitchen garden. 

This is exactly what the Pharisees were like. They were so absolutely meticulous about tithes that they would tithe even one clump of mint; and yet these same men could be guilty of injustice; could be hard and arrogant and cruel, forgetting the claims of mercy; could take oaths and pledges and promises with the deliberate intention of evading them, forgetting any sense of right and wrong. In other words, many of them kept the trifles of the Law and forgot the things which really matter. 

Jesus uses a vivid illustration of straining out a gnat. A gnat was an insect and therefore unclean; and so was a camel. In order to avoid the risk of drinking anything unclean, wine was strained out, so that any possible impurity might be strained out of it. This is a humorous picture which must have raised a laugh of a man carefully straining his wine through gauze to avoid swallowing a microscopic insect and yet cheerfully most willingly swallows a camel. It is the picture of a man who has completely lost his sense of proportion.

They majored in the minors and minored in the majors! And its still going on today.

Matthew 23:16-22


16 ``Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `Whoever, swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever, swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.' 17 ``You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 ``And, `Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.' 19 ``You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering ? 20 ``Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 ``And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 ``And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.

In verses 13-15 we saw that the legalism of the Pharisees actually served to shut others out of the Kingdom.

"We have already seen that in matters of oaths the Jewish legalists were masters of evasion (Matt 5:33-37). The general principle of evasion was this. To the Jew an oath was absolutely binding, so long as it was a binding oath. A binding oath was an oath which definitely and without equivocation employed the name of God; such an oath must be kept, no matter what the cost. Any other oath might be legitimately broken. The idea was that, if God's name was actually used, then God was introduced as a partner into the transaction, and to break the oath was not only to break faith with men but to insult God."

Jesus is saying, "You have brought evasion to such a fine art that it is possible to regard an oath by the Temple as not binding, while an oath by the gold of the Temple is binding; and an oath by the altar as not binding, while an oath by the gift on the altar is binding." The whole idea of treating oaths in this way, the whole conception of a kind of technique of evasion, is born out of deceitfulness. The truly spiritual man will never make a promise with the deliberate intention of evading it; he will never, as he makes it, provide himself with a series of escape routes, which he may use if he finds his promise hard to keep. For Jesus your oath is bound in two ways. God hears every word we speak and God sees every intention of our hearts.

This was legalism at its best! Legalism lurks around every corner with all of its man-made distortions. It's so tempting for us all and easy to slip into at most every level. Life is not that complicated. What is required for salvation? JESUS. What is required for holy living? JESUS.