One of the more familiar quotes in C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” (specifically in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”) is “Of course, He’s good. But He’s not safe. He’s not a tame lion.” “He,” of course, is Aslan, the Great Lion, who represents Jesus Christ throughout all seven volumes of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
There is a side to Jesus Christ that most people tend to ignore. There are several incidents in the New Testament where this side comes out, but one that makes very clear how He feels about the religious elite is found in Matthew 23. At the beginning of the chapter he is addressing his disciples and the crowd that had gathered with them and a few verses later he strikes out at the religious elite–the religion scholars and Pharisees. Let’s read it from The Message Bible:
Religious Fashion Shows
23 1-3 Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
4-7 “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
8-10 “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
11-12 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
13 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.
15 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.
16-22 “You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.
23-24 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
25-26 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
27-28 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.
29-32 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count.
33-34 “Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It’s on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse.
35-36 “You can’t squirm out of this: Every drop of righteous blood ever spilled on this earth, beginning with the blood of that good man Abel right down to the blood of Zechariah, Barachiah’s son, whom you murdered at his prayers, is on your head. All this, I’m telling you, is coming down on you, on your generation.
37-39 “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me. And now you’re so desolate, nothing but a ghost town. What is there left to say? Only this: I’m out of here soon. The next time you see me you’ll say, ‘Oh, God has blessed him! He’s come, bringing God’s rule!’”
As you can see, Jesus Christ is not tame. And He could not tolerate religious pretense and games . . . not back in His day, and not now, either. At the beginning of the chapter when He was addressing his disciples and the crowd, He stated that “the religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer” (Matt. 23:2-3). The religion scholars and Pharisees were competent teachers, but “they don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior.” In other words, they didn’t walk the talk; they didn’t practice what they preached, but they expected those listening to them to follow what they said. And Jesus said, “be careful about following them.”
Fast forward 2000 years later . . . does any of this sound familiar? Scandals have rocked the evangelical world in the past century right up through today. Here’s a lengthy list on Wikipedia.com that have rocked our world in recent years just to name a few (well, more than a few). Times haven’t changed much since Jesus gave His advice to be careful about following after folks who don’t walk the talk, who don’t practice what they preach. Yet many follow after these folks like moths to a light.
Spiritual discernment is in short supply today. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that we don’t take time to read and study the Bible for ourselves and instead we depend on pastors or teachers to give us everything we think we need. Of course, not all pastors or teachers fall into the category that Jesus described in Matthew 23, but if you don’t develop your own relationship with Jesus Christ and get to know Him personally through prayer and Bible study, you’ll start worshiping at an altar other than His, and that’s idolatry.
In Matt. 23:8-12 Jesus said, “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”
Whether you’re a religious leader or a person sitting in the pews, don’t draw attention to yourself. Walk the talk, practice what you preach, and take a back seat. Be a servant, and don’t follow the crowd or worship at the altar of anyone other than Jesus Christ.
Jesus gave us His warning for good reason . . . .
Are we listening?
YouTube Video: “Takin’ It To The Streets,” Michael McDonald & the Doobie Brothers:
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