I love it when a message uproots stinking thinking. Isn’t that what it is supposed to do?
Jesus is challenged by the teachers of the law and Pharisees in Matthew 23 because they feel offended by what he has to say. But this does not leave Jesus voiceless, every time he is able to stand firm. Jesus talks about them as ones that:
… tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Matthew 23:4
The law told people how to behave. Originally, it was just the ten commandments that Moses brought down from the mountain on the tablets of stone. These laws were to help the people to be free from a slave mindset and know how to live in a way that honoured GOD and each other.
The teachers of the law and Pharisees that Jesus was speaking to were obsessed about doing everything right and fulfilling the ten commandments plus the hundreds of extra laws that had been added since. The teachers of the law and Pharisees knew about these laws in great detail and strived to complete them to gain recognition from GOD. If they somehow managed to complete the law they would be clean from sin and be righteous … in fact, they wouldn’t need GOD at all.
But Jesus said that the law and doing the right thing will never save you He was, as ever, right! All it does is show you where you are going wrong. It points the finger of blame but never lends a hand to unburden you. It tells you all about your failings and shortfalls but never shows mercy. Jesus used this illustration of the law to show everyone what these men had become. They had become the illustration of what they worshipped – they were busy telling the normal Jew that they had messed up or were not good enough but would not help. They would pile on the burdens and leave the person trying to be good enough for GOD, straining under the weight.
If these clever and trained teachers and Pharisees could not fulfil the law, who could? It shows us that we cannot do this alone. There is no way to get out from under the burden of the law… except through the one that really did fulfil the law that GOD gave. Jesus!
Grace is the gift given by Jesus. It the thing that doesn’t load us up with our failures but instead brings freedom. Grace is the favour and riches of GOD given freely and completely by Jesus’ sacrifice. Grace is not earned or deserved. Grace doesn’t demand and weigh us down – it lifts us.
Why were the teachers of the law and Pharisees offended by this generosity? Well, all their effort and works to fulfil the law that Moses bought down the mountain plus all the other laws would be rendered useless. They would be the same as everyone else around them and they were no longer more righteous than the normal person. Common and lower people could receive favour from GOD for not fulfilling the law with this gift of grace.
But what about this gift of grace then? If it brings freedom without effort or work, then being a Christian is easy! It means we can do what we like and there is not really any consequence – we can just go ahead and keep on sinning …. Right? The thing is, if we treat this gift with such flippancy we haven’t understood it at all. Grace is given freely but it has been given at a great cost to GOD. Jesus died so that we could be given grace. The love of GOD is all over this precious gift to us. If you think that taking grace frees you from works you would be wrong.
Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:3-10
We are freed from works to save us, but we are called to do good works. What are good works? Well, to walk in the calling that GOD has prepared in advance for us. What happens if you don’t know the bigger picture of what you should be doing … it doesn’t matter, the good works that GOD has called you to are to love Him with all your heart, mind and soul and to love others. I wrote a post about that here. Basically, we obey the commandments because we love GOD and not because we need to earn the love of GOD back to us. His love for us came a long time before we ever decided to love Him.
Grace lifts you because it brings freedom from the burden of law and shows you the love GOD has for you … and that unconditional love causes us to respond with the longing to be obedient and love Him back.