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Jesus & Justice | The Eclipse of Justice
January 23, 2022
Matthew 23: 1-4, 23-24
1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
In Matthew 23, Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who teach and talk about justice and righteousness but their actions lay heavy burdens on people. Instead of freeing people with their teaching, they weigh them down. Jesus comes to expose the Pharisees and any other religious leader and teacher who preaches one thing but practices another. As we long for justice in our world and decry the hypocrisy in our world, this passage reminds us that Jesus despises hypocrisy far more than we do, and he has come to offer true righteousness and justice.
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
We pray, O God, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that our lives may reflect the first sermon of Jesus, our crucified and risen Christ, who brings good news to the poor and lets the oppressed go free. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 63:1-8
1O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
5My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
1. What's The Problem? Read Micah 6:8: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
- Why has the Pharisees’ hypocrisy brought about Jesus’ indignation?
- In Matthew 23:23: Why does Jesus focus on the tithing of mint, dill and cumin as an example of their hypocrisy?
- In light of Micah 6:8, how should the Pharisees be teaching and doing?
- In this passage Jesus reserves his sharpest criticism for the ‘saints’ and not the ‘sinners’. What does this say about the church in our time?
2. How Did This Happen? Read Matthew 22:34-40: 34But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Over the centuries, God’s justice has been eclipsed by man’s own understanding of justice. The Church for centuries focused on both preaching the gospel and addressing social issues, but over the last two centuries, it has drifted toward focusing on one at the exclusion of the other. In other words, because of misguided theology and a misunderstanding of the Bible, Christians have tended to focus on only evangelism and therefore focusing on the hope of the life to come at the exclusion of pressing social issues. On the other hand, others have focused only on social issues while forgoing or forgetting the spiritual realities that Jesus calls us.
- What surprises you most about what Jason called the “Great Legacy” of Christianity’s social concern? (This is the historical fact that it was Christians who started who started orphanages, houses for the poor, hospitals, etc.)
- How does a passage like Matthew 22:34-40 help us avoid the exclusion of either commands to love God and love our neighbors?
- Jesus mentioned the ‘Great Reversal’ which was the 19th century theological invention that Christians should only seek to save souls before leaving earth. Their belief was that the world had to get worse and worse and then be destroyed before God’s reign would come. How did this shape the church’s view of justice? Do you see remnants of this today?
3. What Do We Do About It?
- If the two greatest sins in the Bible are idolatry and injustice (see Matt. 23:37-40) what does it say about how we are to love God and love our neighbor?
- How did Jesus model for us both love of God and love of neighbor?
- In what ways does Jesus' mission to ease our burdens and bear our sins equip us and give us hope as we take up the call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?
Rejoicing in the good gifts of our Creator, and filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, let us go out to love and serve the world as the body of Christ.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1: All throughout the Scriptures, from the prophets to Jesus to the apostles, they all speak with a united voice that no one is more hateful to God than religious hypocrites. James says: “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God, to visit widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” It shouldn’t be a surprise that Jesus is so angry at the religious leaders who are happy to lay burdens on people without themselves lifting a finger. In Jesus’ day and in ours, God’s justice had been eclipsed by another notion of justice, a counterfeit justice.
Question 2: Here it might be helpful to remind your group that Jason discussed the Great Legacy when Christians held both love of God and love of neighbor together and thus built hospitals, orphanages, etc. The Great Betrayal, which was the effort of 19th century pastors and theologians to try and create heaven on earth, focused on social issues at the exclusion of spiritual issues. The Great Reversal, which resulted in response to the church’s prior focus on social issues, focused completely on spiritual issues and neglected the social. The point here is that the call for Christians has always been to love God and our neighbor and it is easy for us today, especially given the complicated legacy we inherit, to focus on one at the exclusion of the other. But the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles call us to do both.
Question 3: Given the complicated history of the church, the current contentious climate around justice, and our own fears and missteps, it is easy to lose hope in the call to be a people who seek after God’s justice. And yet this is precisely where and when we need to see Jesus not only as our example but as the one who calls us and sustains us in our mission to love God and love our neighbor. Even in our failures, Jesus redeems our worst mistakes and calls us again to follow him by his grace and mercy. After all, his burden is light, and his yoke is easy. Only in him can we find rest for our souls.