In Jesus’ day people had a caricature of what it meant to be holy. They thought it meant not ever hanging out with anyone who might be considered a sinner.
In our day, people have a caricature of what it means to be accepting. They think it means never ever directly confronting sin.
There are whole lot of people today who think that if we are going to avoid being like the Pharisees and if we are going to have an open, accepting ministry like Jesus we must by definition minimize the seriousness of sin.
The thing is, whatever it means to have an open, accepting ministry, we know for sure it doesn’t mean that, because the fact of the matter is that Jesus took sin more seriously than the Pharisees.
You couldn’t take sin more seriously than Jesus did.
For starters, just take a look at the terms he used for it.
Jesus wasn’t bashful in the least about calling sin sin, or even call people sinners.
There were times when Jesus looked at a group of people and called them flat out evil. Luke 11:29, “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation.’” On one occasion he actually told a group of people they were worse than Sodom, which you have to admit was a pretty stunning thing to say considering the fact that God actually sent fire down from heaven to destroy Sodom, it was so wicked.
In Matthew 23, Jesus is very blunt. He starts by calling a specific group of people hypocrites, then blind guides, and ends by calling them children of hell, which no matter you parse it, couldn’t have been a compliment.
I always think it’s funny when people say they don’t want to talk about sin or identify it in people’s lives because they want to have a ministry like Jesus, because the fact is if you really want to have a ministry like Jesus, you absolutely have to be willing to do that.
It might help you get an idea of just how seriously Jesus took sin, by contrasting his attitude towards sin with the Pharisees.
I know at first, it might seem like the Pharisees took sin seriously, that is after all why they were called Pharisees…separatists.
It wasn’t like a person became a Pharisee for the fun of it, no, it was because of their intense concern for holiness. They made sure of that. To become a Pharisee you had to go through all sorts of tests. One particular school of Pharisees watched you for a month, testing you to see if you even knew how to protect your fruits and vegetables from unclean dew. They watched you to see if you ate the right foods, spent time with the right people, knew how to keep yourself clean.
And it wasn’t like when the Pharisees went around wagging their fingers at Jesus for not fasting enough, for doing things he shouldn’t on the Sabbath, for eating with sinners, they would have said it was because they were being mean or because they were being overly picky about miniscule things.
No, in their minds, they would have said it was because they took sin so seriously.
What Jesus shows them in the gospels however is that their real problem was that they didn’t take sin seriously enough.
They thought of sin as primarily something external.
That’s why they got upset when Jesus touched lepers, ate with tax collectors. That’s why they did things like complain to Jesus when they saw his disciples were eating a meal without having first washed their hands.
What they didn’t understand was that the problem of sin was much worse than that.
Just check out Mark 7.
Quoting Jesus, verses 14,15 “Hear me, all of you and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Verses 20 through 23, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
To Jesus sin wasn’t merely something outside of you. It was something that came from inside of you.
That’s why he can say the kinds of things he does in Matthew 5.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
It was like Jesus was going down a list of the Pharisees favorite sins to talk about and saying, 1, 2, 3 you boys never take what you say about sin far enough.
To Jesus, sin wasn’t just as something you did – an action. It went way beyond that. It goes all the way down to what is going on in your heart.
It’s absolute craziness to act as if Jesus didn’t take sin seriously. I mean think about the attitude he said we should have towards it.
Let me give you two of my favorites.
Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
I was reading a book on sin this week, chapter number one, ‘But I like my eyeballs.”
I don’t know about you, but I do too. I like my eyeballs. If I had to pluck one out, well I don’t know exactly how I’d go about doing that, but I’m pretty sure if I did have to do that, and I actually survived, I’d look back on the day I plucked out my own eyeball as one of my worst days, ever.
In fact, I’d kind of be like, can it get worse than that?
Can it really get much worse than actually plucking out your own eyeball? Or even to be more graphic, can it really get much worse than sawing off your own hand?
According to Jesus, it can.
In Jesus’ mind, sawing off your own hand and plucking out your own eyeball weren’t nearly as terrible as choosing to sin. It’s actually better to pluck out your eye and saw off your own hand than it is to sin.
Now, if that little image doesn’t grab you, just check out Matthew 18:6. “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
I’m not sure what you’d say, but on a bad day, given the choice between causing someone to sin, i.e. to lie, to dishonor their parents, and having a gigantic, heavy millstone hung around my neck and being drowned in the depths of the sea I might at least be a tiny bit tempted to choose causing someone to sin.
Given the choice between sin and the absolute worst, most horrifying kind of death, he took death – that’s how much he hated sin.
Jesus never minimized the seriousness of sin. Think about the way he described its consequences.
Nobody talked about hell more than Jesus did.
You wonder whether Jesus took sin seriously, this is the reason he died on a cross.
The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is not in the fact that the Pharisees took sin seriously and Jesus didn’t: Jesus called people sinners, his idea of sin was much more intense, he saw how awful it truly was, he talked about hell, he died on a cross.
The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is found rather in the way that they related to people they knew to have sinned - the way they treated sinners.
I want us to think more about just that next week...