We all know what it feels like when others think we don’t belong. We walk into the room and the conversation stops. People won’t look us in the eye. Maybe they try to pretend that they didn’t notice that we walked in.
In one way or another, we hear about people talking about us instead of to us.
It’s one thing if people respect us enough to speak to us directly, even when there is some issue or disagreement. It’s another when people make the decision that for whatever reason—justified or not—that you are no longer on the “approved list,” and you feel like a social leper, with people avoiding you like you have a contagious disease.
There may have been reasons for why you’re being criticized, and you know it, and maybe you even admit you did something wrong.
There are other times when it’s news to you and you had no idea that you’d done something wrong. Or, maybe you didn’t do anything wrong. You were just different, and, for some, there’s no room for different—just conformity.
To be excluded gives us a little taste of what hell might be like—to be isolated and alone with your suffering. No one wants to be there, and whether or not we realize it, we ourselves are tempted to put other people there.
When we are the object of this kind of social condemnation, it’s easy for us to wonder about our worth—maybe even our worth in God’s eyes. Maybe it causes a crisis of faith. When we suffer this way, we might begin to wonder if God loves us. If God doesn’t love us, what’s going to happen in my life? What’s going to happen when I die? Will there be nothing? We read about hell in the Bible, and we think, “Am I going there?”
You might be listening and you might think that what I’m saying is ridiculous, but be patient, there are others here—someone you’d never imagine—who think I’m talking directly to them.
In the text today, Jesus has been teaching around the countryside. In chapter 11, we read that Jesus had been invited for dinner at the home of a Pharisee. Jesus accepted the invitation, but as you read the story, we find that Jesus didn’t keep up with the expectations that others had for him.
Without telling the whole story, Jesus didn’t wash his hands before the meal. The pharisee wasn’t criticizing Jesus’ hygiene; he was shocked that Jesus didn’t keep a religious custom. I have no idea exactly, but perhaps it would have been the same as not praying before a meal.
The pharisee’s comment set Jesus off. He knew his every move was being watched. He knew he was being evaluated and judged every step of the way. He ends up calling the Pharisees unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it. Apparently, when people made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, people would paint or white wash a grave so people could see it and avoid it, so they wouldn’t walk over it and become ceremonially unclean.
When Jesus calls the Pharisees unmarked graves, he is saying that they make people spiritually defiled when they followed the Pharisees teaching. They are spiritual dead and people become spiritually spoiled when they follow them.
The experts in the law heard this and told Jesus that when you insult the Pharisees this way, you also insult them. Jesus replied,
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
That verse preaches. All this builds to . Jesus is teaching again. There are so many people around they are practically trampling on one another. I can imagine all these people clamoring to hear Jesus and he is thinking about the confrontation in the Pharisees house.
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
The pharisees, the teachers of the law—all of them—do not lead or hold power in order to improve the well-being of others. Instead, they simply like the influence and power that they wield and their teachings infect the people and grow, like yeast mixed with flour and water.
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.
Jesus is saying, let’s not give people power that isn’t theirs. When we follow Jesus’ teaching, let’s remember this....
Don’t feed the lie of shame and guilt.
Don’t feed the lie of shame and guilt.
In conversations this week, I’ve been reminded that in a relatively rural area like ours, it doesn’t take much for us to know a little bit about a lot of people around here. In many ways, that is a blessing. At it’s best, we can be community of shared values and support. In times of crisis, there is no better place to be. If you live in a city or a more populated place, you don’t find that. It’s easier to be anonymous, which creates it’s own problems, but in small towns, one of the dangers is that we are motivated by shame and guilt, not joyful living.
We hold our secrets tight, fearing that if they become known, we will be the topic of conversation. And, depending on what we did or said, we will be cast into a kind of hell—where people might isolate us or we isolate ourselves, as we sense the judgment of others. So, we live in fear that we are going to be found out.
I’m not saying that we’re perfect. I’m not saying that we should play the part of the victim. Be honest. We sin, too. Some times we have messed up. Sometimes we know very well that we’ve done wrong.
How we respond is the key. That’s what Jesus is getting at in this text and it has eternal implications. Who really has the authority of your life? More importantly, and this is easy to forget, who has authority over your soul?
Eventually, Jesus says,
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
Everything will become known. The disciples secrets, the crowd’s secrets. The secrets of the pharisees and teachers of the law. Your secrets. Who do you trust with those secrets?
Jesus has an interesting way of answering that question. He goes straight to the heart of it. He says,
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
It isn’t the Pharisees or the teachers of the law. It isn’t that group of friends, or that person at church.
Fear God alone.
Fear God alone.
(changed from Fear God, not death.)
Ultimately, it is God who judges. It is God who condemns. You, me, anyone else, we do our best to tell right from wrong. But, as it is so obvious in this world, people hold themselves and others to so many different standards.
Jesus reminds us that ultimately we will have to stand before God and give an answer for our lives and the choices we have made.
One small note, we hear this, and many people use it as a an excuse not to listen to anyone. “I answer only to God,” essentially means, “I’m not going to let anyone else tell me what to do.” That’s not right either.
What Jesus is saying is that when we apply God’s law to ourselves and to others, but then make the Law more important than God—we get sideways.
This might sound confusing, but it’s confused a lot of people. You might be thinking, God gave us the Law to follow and obey. Therefore, if God gave us the Law then if we don’t keep it, we deserve punishment, maybe eternal punishment.
There’s some truth to that—but the best lies have a little bit of truth them. The lie tells us the Law is the most important thing. God tells us that Jesus is the most important thing. God has the authority to send us all to hell, but he desires to see us live in relationship with him.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Jesus says we are not forgotten. If sparrows, worth only 2 cents are remembered, how much more are we worth? If God is so into the details that every hair on our head is numbered, how much more does he keep track of us? Remember that God...
God holds and provides for us.
God holds and provides for us.
Paul helps us understand how much we are held and provided for.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
There is no hell for those who belong to Jesus, so let’s stop putting people there ourselves. It doesn’t mean we can’t call out wrong—but we do so in a desire to bring people back, not to push people away. If we have to confront others for their actions, we should be doing it face to face, talking to them, instead of about them.
God judges and has the authority to decide who enters hell, but in a way, God simply makes official what we do to ourselves. If we continue in our actions and not only refuse to honor God’s law, but also refuse Jesus’ forgiveness, in a way, we open the door to eternal isolation from God, and walk in by ourselves.
In short, that’s what Jesus is saying in vs. 8-10. We might sin, say a word against Jesus, but if we acknowledge our sin, we are forgiven. However, if we die denying God, ignoring the Spirit’s work, we aren’t forgiven, because we were too foolish to ask for it.
In a very real way, salvation is so easy because Jesus has done the hard work. Jesus says, if you follow me, if you belong to me, do not be afraid. And that should be comforting to us.
That’s why vs. 11-12 fits so well. No one else has the power to condemn you. If you belong to Jesus, you are held securely.
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
Let that be your comfort. Sometimes life can feel like hell, but, in faith, nothing can separate us from our life in God.
And for those of us who feel entitled to be the Pharisees in this world, where the law—written and unwritten has become a god— one reminder, in two words. Jesus Christ.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Do not be afraid.