Wednesday, October 5, 2022by Reverend Dan on October 5, 2022
There’s an old saying that’s often misinterpreted: “hiding behind the cross.” If you ever hear this, it’s not a compliment. It doesn’t mean you’re resting in the shadow of His wings, or that the cross of Calvary is your protector. Instead, it means you’re claiming the forgiveness that comes with the blood of Christ, but you’re doing it to justify or rationalize continuing in a sin. “I’m a Christian, God will forgive me.” (These people are what I call “vampire” Christians – they want the blood of Christ without the discipleship it calls us to.) Sometimes people “hide behind the cross” by focusing on the letter of the law while missing, or flat-out ignoring, the spirit (intent) of the law. They might dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s”, but they overlook the very reason why the law exists.
In a few weeks I’m beginning a two-part sermon series on “Pharisees.” I don’t know if they invented “hiding behind the cross” but they sure perfected it by using the letter of the law to try to claim authority over the spirit of the law. I’ll be talking about who the original Pharisees were, where they came from, and most importantly, how Christian Pharisees have infested the church in the last 100 years. And it’s all to set the stage for a 7-part series in November and December on the “I AM” statements of Christ found in John’s Gospel. (If you can’t join us, you’ll be able to hear all of them at 11:00 AM on Sundays or any time after that on our Facebook page – Union Ridge Church.)
OK, commercial’s over. Back to “hiding behind the cross” and the letter vs. the spirit of the law. The battle over the law is actually very simple to understand. Let’s say on your child’s 1st birthday you have helium-filled balloons for the party because you know the child loves playing with balloons. And that year, they happen to be red because that was the only color the store had with “Happy Birthday” written on them. So, every year after that, you have red helium-filled balloons. Well, along comes Jr’s 6th birthday, and you have a problem. Every store in town is out of red balloons. You look and look but there are none to be found. So, you purchase purple balloons. The people who follow the letter of the law would say, “You’ve broken the law. They must be red.” But if you’re a spirit of the law person, you know it’s the balloon that’s important, not the color. And therein lies the battle.
The Pharisees believed it was so important to maintain the letter of God’s law that they thought they’d improve on them, often negating the intent of the law in the process. They added 613 “mini-laws” – and those laws covered everything from purity in their diet to what they could wear to what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. And they were sticklers for those laws. For example, once when Jesus’s disciples were hungry, they begin picking grain to eat. The problem was it happened to be the Sabbath. The Pharisees confront Jesus about it, saying, “Look, your disciples are breaking the Sabbath law.” (They weren’t worried about “keeping the Sabbath holy”, they were focusing on their “mini” law that you couldn’t harvest on the Sabbath – which they weren’t doing, they were just hungry.) So, they decide to take it up a notch and ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal a man on the Sabbath?” They were baiting Him to break their law because they know there’s a man in the temple with a withered hand and Jesus can’t pass up a good opportunity to heal someone and make them whole. And sure enough, Jesus marches into the temple and heals the man’s hand, right there in front of God and everybody. Scandalous!!! Then He told the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” What that means is that the Sabbath was intended to help people; let them rest and not burden them. But the Pharisees added so many little addendums that following the Sabbath their way became a burden. They took it to the extreme of not allowing the disciples to eat, and worse, to not let Jesus to do what He came to do: heal our brokenness.
That’s what happens when the letter of the law gets in the way of the spirit of the law.
I invite you to join us starting Sunday, October 23 for a more in-depth look at the Pharisees and the letter vs. the spirit of the law. But one warning: wear your steel-toed shoes; this may get a little uncomfortable.