What Kind of Jesus Do You Want?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 16:1a (Holman) The Pharisees and Sadducees approached,. . .
After a successful, short-term mission trip outside Israel, Jesus returned home. The gladness the Gentiles gave Jesus suddenly came to a screeching halt.
At the border, He was met by two groups that despised one another, but who hated Jesus more. Dislike for Jesus makes for strange bedfellows. Herod and Pilate were at odds till opposing Jesus made them allies (LK 23:12). Christianity has never lacked adversaries. Many would like to see Christianity silenced.
Pharisees were legalists; Sadducees were liberals. We will examine the Pharisees first, and then look closely at the Sadducees. The Pharisees believed in God and the Bible, but said tradition held equal authority with the Bible. They disliked Jesus doing away with their traditions, the rules they added to Scripture.
Many still don’t want a Jesus who does away with their self-determined, personal interpretations of Scripture. Families often split over issues like drinking, dancing, smoking, R-rated movies, prime-time TV, etc. In these debatable areas, clear-cut edicts, black-and-white decisions, are difficult.
At issue here is not obvious sins which defy the plain teaching of Scripture, such as adultery, stealing, lying, hate, prejudice. The issue is our interpretations.
Even local churches and whole denominations split over manmade tradition. We need to ask, what are the essentials? Evangelicals have historically held to Bible authority, virgin birth, sinless life, blood atonement, bodily resurrection, literal return. These we deem essentials, in other things we give and enjoy liberty.
For legalists, this list is not enough. They turn mole hills into mountains, minors into majors. Does Jesus want this? The Pharisees cause us to ask, what kind of Jesus do we want? One who sets the rules, or One who okays our rules.
The Pharisees were closely knit to three other groups. Each helps us ask, what kind of Jesus do we want? The first group was the Zealots, radical freedom fighters, lawless guerilla fighters. Their death squads’ weapon of choice was a dagger hidden under their robes, and used for hit-and-run assassinations.
They ambushed and killed Roman soldiers, broke into military stores, stole horses, sabotaged government projects. Many Zealots were caught and executed.
They opposed Jesus because He wanted to change hearts, not the political status quo. He spoke of peace; they wanted a conquering warrior. They wanted Israel to dominate; He loved the whole world equally. They killed; He gave life.
The Zealots believed all would be well once government was fixed. Their counterparts today, though less militant, are people who think revival will come on Air Force One, who spend more time trying to change the government than trying to win people to Christ. They deem politics as more important than evangelism.
Christians do need to influence government, but churches must not become Political Action Committees. As a Pastor in St. Louis, I was struck one day by the offensive, repulsive political pictures and slogans we had on a bulletin board by the church’s main entrance. We changed the board, not due to compromised convictions, but because we felt unbelievers who visit our church should first of all hear the gospel. Make no mistake, social issues matter, especially those with moral implications, but we must also never forget, Jesus is our foremost message.
The Zealots help us ask ourselves, what kind of Jesus do we want? Do we want Him to be a card-carrying member of our preferred political party? Near Jericho, Joshua asked God’s special messenger, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The answer seemed clear cut–Israel is good, Jericho is bad–but the shocking answer was “Neither. I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army” (JS 5:14). Hold your spiritual convictions tightly; hold your political convictions less tightly. Jesus does not come to take sides, He comes to take over.
A second group closely connected to the Pharisees was the Scribes. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC, Israel lost its temple, sacrifices, freedom, and land. Desperate to find something on which to base their identity, they turned to the only thing left to them, the Law. Holy Writ became the focus of everything.
Scribes were the guardians of this precious treasure. They started training at about age 14 and remained students in training till age 40. Their job was to preserve the Law, transmit it accurately, teach it, and apply it. Being the Bible copyists par excellence, they were the most highly revered teachers in Israel.
They were proud of their privileged role. Their teachings always quoted past scribes. The historic, collective knowledge of their revered forebears was the current authority they sought to impose on Israel. The Scribes believed Jesus, who dared to speak with His own authority, was subverting their role and authority.
The Scribes, as kings of the spiritual hill, had trouble with Jesus teaching all people need God’s forgiveness. They felt it was needed only by the obviously unworthy. When Jesus said all, including them, needed forgiveness, they were faced with two alternatives. Declare war on Christ, or learn to say humbly with the Publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” They made the wrong choice.
The Scribes make us ask ourselves, what kind of Jesus do we want? Are we willing to make Him our Authority? Many refuse to believe they sin, commit acts displeasing to God. The hardest part of getting people saved can be getting them lost first. Being right with God begins with being willing to say, “I accept God’s verdict; I am a sinner; I cannot save myself; my only hope is Jesus’ death for me.”
A third group closely connected to the Pharisees was the crowd. Though Pharisees loathed and disdained the rabble, the common people loved Pharisees.
The masses also wanted to love Jesus, but their support was unreliable. They were fickle. In one week, they went from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify!”
The crowd was willing to say Jesus was a great prophet like Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Elijah. They thought they were complimenting Him, but were wrong.
No one compares to Jesus, who is God of very God. The rabble causes us to ask, what kind of Jesus do we want? The one insurmountable stumblingblock for many is the deity of Jesus. They cannot believe God became a human being.
So much for the Pharisees and their ilk. Now we examine the Sadducees and their comrades. The Sadducees were liberals. Weak in the area of Bible authority, they accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament. They believed that after death, there were no rewards, no punishment, no resurrection. The Sadducees felt we are rewarded or punished here for the good or bad we do.
They believed God did not interfere in human affairs. Religion was merely an ethical code. Prosperity or adversity resulted from one’s own wisdom or folly.
In an ironic twist, these anti-spiritual men controlled the High Priesthood and the lucrative Temple concessions of money changing and selling of sacrifices.
They disliked Jesus because He emphasized the spiritual and believed in a resurrection of the dead leading to final Judgment. They wanted to have power, to be the leaders. Jesus emphasized sacrifice and cared for the disenfranchised.
What kind of Jesus do we want? One who emphasizes the spiritual or One who overlooks our wrongdoing, who doesn’t judge our deeds or thought life? Do we want a “health and wealth” Jesus, or One who demands sacrifice and a cross?
The Herodians, closely kin to the Sadducees, supported the right of the Herod family to rule Israel. They had no qualms transferring to a heathen ruler the governing oversight of God’s chosen people. They were willing to live under any government that favored them, and left them alone.
The Herodians completely divorced the political from the spiritual. They remind us of people who vote without reference to God. Polar opposites of people like the Zealots, these people go too far toward the opposite extreme.
Every area of a believer’s life should be lived in light of the spiritual. Jesus emphasized things eternal. He expects us to do the same. This means we have to bring everything temporary, including political considerations, under God’s authority. A Christian should vote primarily not based on economic or military considerations, but on spiritual concerns. We must yield to God our wallet, our calendar, our social circle, and yea also our ballot. What kind of Jesus do we want? One who lets us weasel out of our responsibility to bring every part of life under His rule, or One who demands absolute allegiance in every phase of life?