You want legalism? Rely on your works?

ImageJesus’ Sermon on the Mount, also known as the Beatitudes have been the lectionary lessons for the last few weeks and has raised some interesting discussions. Among them is that guy who lets everyone know that he “lives by the sermon on the mount…” Yea, not so sure that was what Jesus was really intending. That same guy never got angry with anyone and called them a fool, never looked anyone with lust, never stole? Yea, really? Kinda doubtin’ it.

To drive home the point though, because what we are talking about is somehow being saved by grace, vs by your works and “living by the sermon on the mount”, would be your works, if you never do anything bad, you have nothing to be forgiven for kind of thinking.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time had added on something like an additional 200 commandments and 300 laws, over and above what God told Moses in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and they continued to do so, well after Jesus was gone. To the Jew the Law is the ultimate, everything according to the most minute detail. We know we cannot live perfectly under the Law, as Christians we know we need grace. The Law does not save, it only means you didn’t break it. By not breaking the Law does not put God under obligation to save you, only through the grace, sacrifice and redemption of Jesus have we been saved. To illustrate how abstruse the whole procedure became, I have quoted, at length, a passage out of James Michener’s book The Source (which is a really great book, fictionalized account of generations starting at the beginning and going up to the present in Israel).




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In the middle years of the fourth century there was in the Roman city of Tiberias, called Tverya by the Jews, a lively community of thirteen synagogues, a large library and an assembly of elderly rabbis who met in continuous session to discuss the Torah and its later commentaries, seeking thus to uncover the laws which would govern all subsequent Judaism. For hours and even months they debated each phrase until its meaning was made clear, and it was to this body of men that Rabbi Asher directed himself in the spring of 329. He had no need to hurry, for the assembly had been in session, off and on, for a hundred years and would continue for another century and a half, if not in Tverya then in Babylonia across the desert.

…an extensive courtyard in which stood two pomegranate trees and a large grape arbor, beneath which huddled a circle of old men who did not bother to look up at his approach. At their feet, literally, crouched groups of students, following their words affectionately, while at a table under one of the pomegranate trees sat two scribes making notes of how the argument progressed. When decisions were reached, these scribes would compress into a few pithy lines the debate of months, and that would be the law. This day they wrote little as four rabbis engaged in energetic debate on a minor point. FIRST RABBI: We are concerned with one question alone. Protecting Shabbat. I say that the man may not wear it. SECOND RABBI: Speak out. On what authority do you make this claim? THIRD RABBI: Then listen. Rabbi Meir had it from Rabbi Akiba that if a woman goes out of her house on Shabbat with a bottle of perfume so that she may smell nice, she is guilty of vanity and has broken Shabbat. This case is the same. FOURTH RABBI: More to the point. The law of the sages prevents a man on Shabbat from carrying in his pocket a nail from a gallows. Why? He carries it only for good luck and it is forbidden. SECOND RABBI: What nonsense. The man we are talking about does not seek good luck. FIRST RABBI: Listen to t…

FOURTH RABBI: Nor shall she go into the street wearing a hair net. The same case, surely. SECOND RABBI: But remember this. A woman may go abroad on Shabbat sucking a peppercorn to keep her breath sweet. FIRST RABBI: Only if she placed it in her mouth before Shabbat began. THIRD RABBI: Also, the sages always held that if she happened to drop the peppercorn from her mouth during Shabbat, she could not put it back until Shabbat had ended. SECOND RABBI: TO all of that I agree. But our man is not going to drop it from his mouth. And he placed it there before nightfall on Friday. FIRST RABBI: On those requirements we agree. It must be in his mouth before Shabbat begins. THIRD RABBI: The real question. Has he any right to have it there at all on Shabbat? No, because it is an act of vanity. Lik…

SECOND RABBI: Agreed. If it is merely an ornamentation, the man must not have it [a gold tooth] in his mouth on Shabbat. FOURTH RABBI: And I insist that it is merely an ornament. SECOND RABBI: Hold now! He wears his false tooth in order to eat better. FOURTH RABBI: But he could eat just as easily if he didn’t have it. A false tooth for a man is no more, no less, than a gold headdress for a woman. SECOND RABBI: That cannot be the case. The headdress is ornamentation. The tooth is a necessity. THIRD RABBI: False. A gold tooth is just as attractive to a man as a gold … SECOND RABBI: Who said a gold tooth? I said a tooth. A false tooth added to the mouth for the purpose of chewing better. THIRD RABBI: Is there a difference between a false tooth and a gold false tooth? FIRST RABBI: Indeed! The gold tooth i…

FOURTH RABBI: Error! Error! THIRD RABBI: Is not a false tooth placed in the mouth the same as a woman’s curls added to her forehead? And do not the sages say that she may not wear such curls unless they are sewed on permanently? FOURTH RABBI: Why permanently? THIRD RABBI: Lest she inadvertently add them to her head on Shabbat. FIRST RABBI: Sewing she can be trusted not to do because three acts are involved. Needle, thread and sewing. She knows that each is forbidden. But pinning a curl to the head is not a usual act and this she may forget, so it is forbidden. THIRD RABBI: And a false tooth is not added to the mouth permanently, but must be put in each day, and is therefore exactly like the false curl of the woman, which may not be worn.”

Still want to be a legalist, still want to live according to a bunch of laws? And if that doesn’t convince you check out the Code of Federal Regulations and imagine that as part of your personal life.

I don’t know about you, but I just wanted to go crawl into a corner after reading this. How can you really live your life this way and when Jesus told His listeners that in order to be righteous, you had to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, he knew that couldn’t be done, He knew that even the Pharisees couldn’t do it. That is why God gave us grace, that is why He gave His Son Jesus to be the propitiation of our sin. Otherwise we would all be doomed to condemnation. Hey, not my rules, the reality is the Bible, I’ve seen a lot of other “realities”, but they never seem to have the authority to back up what their “reality” is.

So you can get caught up in your works, that just aren’t going to save you. Or you can trust the leading of the Holy Spirit, feel the salvation of Christ. As always you, your family, are welcome to worship at First St Johns, be a part of the family of Christ here at First St Johns, 140 W King St, downtown York, Pa. 10:30 am, plenty of parking in rear. God bless you all. Image

And please check out our Lent/Easter worship schedule at

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