In 1897, author Charles Monroe Sheldon penned a volume titled "In His Steps" that went on to become an international bestseller. It is from this book that the popular WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement emerged. MacArthur, bestselling author, pastor of Grace Community Church and president of the Master's College and Seminary, begins with this notion and expands it to ask the question, "What didJesus do?" He acknowledges that knowing the mind of Christ can be a challenge, especially when confronting the widespread influence of secularism and irreligion. But he also notes that Jesus encountered the same kinds of challenges. By studying the gospels, a modern pilgrim can get a sense of how Jesus handled similar situations, and extrapolate from his example ways in which we, today, can live. "His [Jesus'] style of ministry ought to be the model for ours," the author writes. MacArthur insists that we can engage contemporary culture using the same techniques that Christ used to meet head-on the challenges of his day. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Jesus You Can't Ignore: What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christby John MacArthur
In the much-needed message in The Jesus You Can't Ignore, renowned Bible teacher and best-selling author John MacArthur reintroduces the compelling and often unsettling passion of Jesus' ministry. MacArthur points to the picture of the real Jesus the world is so eager to gloss over. And he calls readers to emulate Jesus' commitment to further the kingdom by… See more details below
In the much-needed message in The Jesus You Can't Ignore, renowned Bible teacher and best-selling author John MacArthur reintroduces the compelling and often unsettling passion of Jesus' ministry. MacArthur points to the picture of the real Jesus the world is so eager to gloss over. And he calls readers to emulate Jesus' commitment to further the kingdom by confronting lies and protecting the truth of God.
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The Jesus You Can't IgnoreWHAT YOU MUST LEARN FROM the BOLD CONFRONTATIONS of CHRIST
By John MacArthur
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 John MacArthur
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen It's Wrong to Be "Nice"
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Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes ..." Luke 20:45–46
Jesus' way of dealing with sinners was normally marked by such extreme tenderness that He earned a derisive moniker from His critics: Friend of Sinners (Matthew 11:19). When He encountered even the grossest of moral lepers (ranging from a woman living in adultery in John 4:7–29 to a man infested with a whole legion of demons in Luke 8:27–39), Jesus always ministered to them with remarkable benevolence—without delivering any scolding lectures or sharp rebukes. Invariably, when such people came to Him, they were already broken, humbled, and fed up with the life of sin. He eagerly granted such people forgiveness, healing, and full fellowship with Him on the basis of their faith alone (cf. Luke 7:50; 17:19).
The one class of sinners Jesus consistently dealt with sternly were the professional hypocrites, religious phonies, false teachers, and self-righteous peddlers of plastic piety—the scribes, lawyers, Sadducees, and Pharisees. These were the religious leaders in Israel—spiritual "rulers" (to use a term Scripture often applies to them). They were the despotic gatekeepers of religious tradition. They cared more for custom and convention than they did for the truth. Almost every time they appear in the gospel accounts, they are concerned mainly with keeping up appearances and holding on to their power. Any thought they might have had for authentic godliness always took a backseat to more academic, pragmatic, or self-serving matters. They were the quintessential religious hypocrites.
THE SANHEDRIN AND THE SADDUCEES
The ruling power these men possessed was derived from a large council based in Jerusalem, consisting of seventy-one prominent religious authorities, collectively known as the Sanhedrin. Council members included the high priest and seventy leading priests and religious scholars. (The number was derived from Moses' appointment of seventy advisors to assist him in Numbers 11:16.)
The Sanhedrin had ultimate authority over Israel in all religious and spiritual matters (and thus even in some civil affairs). The council's authority was formally recognized even by Caesar (though it was not always respected by Caesar's official representatives or his troops on the ground in Jerusalem). The council was a fixture in first-century Jerusalem, and it constituted the most important ruling body in all of Judaism until the destruction of the temple in AD 70. (The Sanhedrin continued to operate in exile after that for more than 250 years—though for obvious reasons, their power was greatly diminished. Persistent Roman persecution finally silenced and disbanded the council sometime in the fourth century.)
The gospel accounts of Christ's crucifixion refer about a dozen times to the Sanhedrin as "the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders" (e.g., Matthew 26:3; Luke 20:1). The high priest presided over the full council, of course. The chief priests were the ranking aristocracy of the high-priestly line. (Some of them were men who had already served as high priest at one time or another; others were in line to serve a term in that office.) Virtually all the chief priests were also Sadducees. The elders were key leaders and influential members of important families outside the high-priestly line—and they were predominantly Sadducees too. The scribes were the scholars, not necessarily of noble birth like the chief priests and elders, but men who were distinguished mainly because of their expertise in scholarship and their encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish law and tradition. Their group was dominated by Pharisees.
So the council consisted of a blend of Pharisees and Sadducees, and those were rival parties. Although Sadducees were vastly outnumbered by Pharisees in the culture at large, the Sadducees nevertheless maintained a sizable majority in the Sanhedrin, and they held on to the reins of power tightly. The status of their priestly birthright in effect trumped the Pharisees' scholarly clout, because the Pharisees were such devoted traditionalists that they bowed to the authority of the high-priestly line—even though they strongly disagreed with practically everything that made the Sadducees' belief system distinctive.
For example, the Sadducees questioned the immortality of the human soul—denying both the resurrection of the body (Matthew 22:23), and the existence of the spirit world (Acts 23:8). The Sadducean party also rejected the Pharisees' emphasis on oral traditions—going about as far as they could in the opposite direction. In fact, the Sadducees stressed the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) almost to the exclusion of the rest of the Old Testament. As a result, the powerful messianic expectation that pervaded the teaching of the Pharisees was almost completely missing from the Sadducees' worldview.
The two groups also held conflicting opinions regarding how ceremonial customs should be observed. Both Sadducees and Pharisees tended to give more attention to ceremonial law than they did to the law's moral ramifications. But the Pharisees generally made ceremonies as elaborate as possible, and Sadducees tended toward the opposite direction. In general, the Sadducees were not as rigid as the Pharisees in most things—except when it came to the issue of enforcing law and order. As long as the Sadducees enjoyed a modicum of power that was recognized by Rome, they were fiercely conservative (and often harsh) when it came to the implementation of civil law and the imposition of punishments and penalties.
But in most respects, the Sadducees were classic theological liberals. Their skepticism with regard to heaven, angels, and the afterlife automatically made them worldly minded and power hungry. They were much more interested in (and skilled at) the politics of Judaism than they were devoted to the religion itself.
MEET THE PHARISEES
Nevertheless, it was the Pharisees, not the more doctrinally aberrant Sadducees, who became the main figures of public opposition to Jesus in all four New Testament gospel accounts. Their teaching dominated and epitomized the religious establishment in first-century Israel. They were the spiritual descendants of a group known as the Hasideans in the second and third centuries BC. The Hasideans were ascetics, devoted to Jewish law and opposed every kind of idolatry. In the mid-second century BC, the Hasideans had been drawn into the famous revolt led by Judas Maccabeus against Antiochus Epiphanes, and subsequently their teachings had a profound and lasting impact on popular Jewish religious culture. Hasid is from a Hebrew word meaning "piety." (The modern Hasidic sect, founded in the eighteenth century, is not in any direct line of descent from the Hasideans, but their beliefs and practices follow the same trajectory.)
The word Pharisee is most likely based on a Hebrew root meaning "separate"—so the name probably underscores their separatism. Indeed, Pharisees had an ostentatious way of trying to keep themselves separate from everything that had any connotation of ceremonial defilement. Their obsession with the external badges of piety was their most prominent feature, and they wore it on their sleeves—literally. They used the broadest possible leather straps to bind phylacteries on their arms and foreheads. (Phylacteries were leather boxes containing bits of parchment inscribed with verses from the Hebrew Scriptures.) They also lengthened the tassels on their garments (see Deuteronomy 22:12) in order to make their public display of religious devotion as conspicuous as possible. Thus they had taken a symbol that was meant to be a reminder to themselves (Numbers 15:38–39) and turned it into an advertisement of their self-righteousness, in order to gain the attention of others.
The historian Josephus was the earliest secular writer to describe the sect of the Pharisees. Born within four or five years of Jesus' crucifixion, Josephus records that he was the son of a prominent Jerusalem priest (a Sadducee) named Matthias. Beginning about age sixteen, Josephus studied with each of the three main sects of Judaism—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Not fully satisfied with any of them, he lived in the desert for three years and followed an ascetic teacher (whose rough, spartan lifestyle was in some ways reminiscent of John the Baptist, and undoubtedly very much like the desert-based Essenes who originally hid the Dead Sea Scrolls). But then after his desert sojourn, Josephus returned to Jerusalem and pursued the life of a Pharisee. His life was severely disrupted, of course, by the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Josephus subsequently became a Roman loyalist and wrote his history at the behest of the Empire. Most scholars therefore believe he deliberately slanted portions of his history in ways he knew would please the Romans. But he nevertheless wrote as someone with inside knowledge of the Pharisees, and there is no reason to doubt any of the details he gave in his descriptions of them.
Josephus notes that the Pharisees were the largest and strictest of the major Jewish sects. In fact, he says the Pharisees' influence was so profound in early first-century Jewish life that even the Pharisees' theological adversaries, the Sadducees, had to conform to the Pharisees' style of prayer, Sabbath observance, and ceremonialism in their public behavior, or else popular opinion would not have tolerated them.
So the Pharisees' clout was palpable in Israel's daily life during Jesus' lifetime—especially with regard to issues of public piety like Sabbath regulations, ritual washings, dietary restrictions, and other issues of ceremonial purity. These things became the emblems of the Pharisees' influence, and they made it their business to try to enforce their customs on everyone in the culture—even though many of their traditions had no basis whatsoever in Scripture. Most of their conflicts with Jesus centered on precisely those issues, and from the very start of His public ministry, the Pharisees set themselves against Him with the fiercest kind of opposition.
There were some exceptional Pharisees, of course. Nicodemus was a prominent "ruler of the Jews" (John 3:1). He was evidently a member of the Sanhedrin, the governing religious council in Jerusalem (cf. John 7:50). "This man came to Jesus by night" (John 3:3), evidently for fear of what his fellow Pharisees would think if they knew about his sincere interest in Jesus. In stark contrast to most of the Pharisees who approached Jesus, Nicodemus was making a genuine inquiry, not merely putting Jesus to the test. Therefore Christ spoke to him candidly and straightforwardly but without the kind of severity that colored most of Jesus' dealings with Pharisees. (We'll examine Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus more closely in chapter 3.)
All four gospels also mention a wealthy and influential council member named Joseph of Arimathea, who became a disciple of Christ ("but secretly, for fear of the Jews" says John 19:38). Mark 15:43 and Luke 23:50 both expressly identify Joseph as a member of the Sanhedrin, and Luke says Joseph "had not consented to their decision and deed" when they conspired to murder Jesus. It was of course Joseph who secured Pilate's permission to remove Jesus' body from the cross, and he and Nicodemus hastily prepared the corpse for burial and deposited it in a sealed tomb (John 19:39). There is no record in the New Testament of any direct encounter between Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea during Christ's earthly ministry. Apparently Joseph kept his distance, not even approaching Jesus at night the way Nicodemus had done. This was not because he had any fear of Jesus, but he feared what the other Jewish leaders might say, do, or think of him if they knew he was secretly a disciple of Jesus.
As a rule, then, Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and leading priests were marked by acrimony, not tenderness. He rebuked them publicly and to their faces. He repeatedly said harsh things about them in His sermons and public discourses. He warned His followers to beware of their deadly influence. He consistently employed stronger language in His denunciations of the Pharisees than He ever used against the pagan Roman authorities or their occupying armies.
That fact absolutely infuriated the Pharisees. They gladly would have embraced any messiah who opposed the Roman occupation of Israel and affirmed their pharisaical traditions. Jesus, however, spoke not a word against Caesar while treating the entire religious aristocracy of Israel as if they were more dangerous tyrants than Caesar himself.
Indeed, they were. Their false teaching was far more destructive to Israel's well-being than the political oppression of Rome. In spiritual terms, the self-righteousness and religious traditionalism of the Pharisees represented a more clear and present danger to the vital health of the nation than the tightening political vise that had already been clamped on Israel by Caesar and his occupying armies. That is saying quite a lot, given the fact that in less than half a century Roman armies would completely lay waste to Jerusalem and drive Israel's population into a far-f lung exile (the Diaspora) from which the Jewish people have not fully emerged even today.
But as profound and far-reaching as the holocaust of AD 70 was for the Jewish nation, a far greater calamity was looming in the institutionalized self-righteousness of the Pharisees' brand of religion—especially their preference for human traditions over the Word of God. That led to a spiritual disaster of eternal and infinite proportions, because most Israelites in that generation rejected their true Messiah—and multitudes of their descendants have continued the relentless pursuit of religious tradition for almost two full millennia, many refusing to give any serious consideration to the claims of Christ as God's Messiah.
The Pharisees' legalistic system was in effect a steamroller paving the way for that tragedy. The apostle Paul (a converted Pharisee himself ) was describing pharisaical religion to a T in Romans 10:2–3, when he lamented the unbelief of Israel: "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God."
The Pharisees did indeed have a kind of zeal for God. On the surface, they certainly did not appear to pose as great a threat as the Roman armies did. In fact, the Pharisees were genuine experts when it came to knowing the words of Scripture. They were also fastidious in their observance of the law's tiniest external details. If they purchased seeds for their herb gardens, for example, they would meticulously count the grains in each packet and measure out a tithe (Matthew 23:23).
To the eye of a superficial observer, the religious culture the Pharisees had cultivated in first-century Israel might have appeared to represent a kind of golden age for Jewish law. It was certainly not the same variety of overtly false religion we read about so frequently in the Old Testament—those repeated epochs of backsliding and idolatry with golden calves, Asherah worship, and worse.
No one could accuse a Pharisee of any overtolerance for pagan beliefs, right? They were, after all, strongly opposed to every expression of idolatry and totally committed even to the incidental minutiae of Jewish law. Plus, for safety's sake they had added many surplus rituals of their own making, as extra shields against accidental defilement. If biblical law demanded ceremonial washings for priests offering sacrifices, why not add extra washings for everyone, and make them an essential part of common daily routines? That is precisely what they did.
Excerpted from The Jesus You Can't Ignore by John MacArthur Copyright © 2008 by John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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