Lent: Seven Woes of Jesus ~ Woe 1 – Hypocrites, Exclusion and the Kingdom

7 WoesOn Sunday we looked at the first “woe” of Jesus and opening up the series and the practice of Lent. I shared how Lent isn’t fun but necessary. Necessary because the truth is we as Christians need to challenge ourselves to live and look more like Jesus. Stanley Hauerwas writes this:

It is surely the case that many of us are kept from entering the kingdom by the lives we lead as Christians. Our problem is very simple – we simply do not know how to live as a people who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord.

And I believe that is true. Lent then is a time of re-centering on how to live like Jesus, appreciating his sacrifice, taking a hard look at our lives, and asking for challenge and conviction.

Lent also matters because it prepares us for Easter. We spend so much time preparing for Christmas but the true Christian holiday is Easter and I think we need to invest time and energy into that as well.

And lastly, Lent matters because it can save our faith. If you practice Lent then at least yearly you will go through a season that is slower, inward focused, repentance focused, and one that is a bit darker. And this matters because somehow we’ve bought into the illusion that the Christian faith is all light, rainbows, and sunshine. So when our lives turn dark, as can happen, we think we’ve lost of our faith. Lent reminds us that going through a dark time is actually part of faith.

So with that we kicked off our series beginning to look at the seven woes of Jesus found in Matthew 23. We focused in verse 13, and the first woe.

The first thing we realized was that the Pharisees weren’t bad people, they were people deeply desiring for God to move. And in many ways we slant the Pharisees in Christian circles so that they are different than us, but they really are very similar to us. And this is why then when Jesus condemns them we need to hear these words and apply them to ourselves. We need to make sure we are following Jesus, and not just our ideas about Jesus.

So Jesus says, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”

And in this Jesus starts to bring up the offensive reality of the gospel. That the gospel, or entering the Kingdom of heaven, isn’t offensive because of who it rejects but who it includes. The Pharisees were busy sharing who was in and who was out.  The difficulty is that the people they were rejecting were the people God was including. So Jesus comes to them and confronts them and says – you exclude people from God’s Kingdom (shutting the door), and then refuse to enter yourself. You not only bar other people from going in, but refuse to enter yourself.

Jesus throughout his ministry welcomed people into the Kingdom the Pharisees didn’t believe deserved to be there.  And the truth is that the people Jesus welcomed into the kingdom – tax collectors, prostitues, and sinners – didn’t deserve to be in the kingdom. And neither did the Pharisees. It was an act of grace and mercy.

So Jesus confronts the Pharisees for rejecting the people that God is including. But this isn’t about them, it’s about us. So we came to this  main point because we do the same thing the Pharisees do. The main point is this: God’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.

The question though is are we acting like the Pharisees? Are we barring people from entering? Are we excluding people God’s spirit is including? Would Jesus say to us, “Woe to you for shutting the door, on people I’m inviting in”? It’s a really important question, one that we landed and ended on.

I invited people to really reflect on that question. Are there people in our lives whom we are rejecting that God is including? Are you standing in the way of what God is doing? Do we have enemies that we believe don’t deserve God’s kingdom, or to be part of what God is doing – as they are?

So to make this personal and practical we ended with this challenge: to pray for our enemies daily. The truth is it’s hard to reject people we are daily praying for, and that is what will ensure we don’t stand in the way of God’s movement. So the challenge for all of us was simple: pray for our enemies and get out of the way for God to move. Because the Kingdom is bigger than we think, and God is inviting people in.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaGod’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.

Teaching Points:

  • Lent isn’t fun, but is necessary.
  • Going through a dark time doesn’t mean we’ve lost our faith, it’s actually part of our faith.
  • The gospel isn’t offensive because of who it excludes, the gospel is offensive because of who it includes.
  • Jesus welcomed in people the Pharisees didn’t believe deserved to be there.
  • The Pharisees in the name of God are denying the movement of God.
  • The kingdom is big enough for everyone.
  • The gospel is for everyone wherever they are at or it’s not the gospel.
  • No one deserves the kingdom, but we are all invited to it.
  • God’s Kingdom and grace is bigger than all of us.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? Why or why not? Is there something you could give up this year for Lent? How have you seen in the past people getting in the way of what God was doing? How have you in the past excluded people God was including? Who are the people you need to pray for and work to include in God’s kingdom?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Talk to your kids about the reality that God’s kingdom is for everyone, even the people we struggle with and really dislike. Start to teach them to pray for those who are their enemies. Start to lead them to live like Jesus through prayer.

Challenge for the Week: Pray for our enemies daily.

Jesus Didn’t Really Mean Don’t Judge Right…

1409594_29311718This Sunday we are looking at probably the most important teaching of Jesus for our day and age. I say this because two of the 3 tops things Christians in North America are known for is being judgmental, and hypocritical. The irony, and also the deep sadness is that Jesus is really clear: do not judge. (Matthew 7:1)

Soren Kierkegaard once said something like, the Bible is clear, most Christians just don’t want to follow it. And I think of that often in terms of this teaching of Jesus. It couldn’t be clearer but it also couldn’t be less practiced.

So on Sunday I want to help us begin to practice this by peeling back some of the layers and seeing how when we judge we separate ourselves from others and God. I want to discover how Jesus’ teaching is so freeing, brilliant, and amazing that we should want to live this way.

I know sometimes it’s hard to imagine a world without judging and condemning because it is so normal to us. But we need to imagine a world without it, we need to practice a world without – because that’s God’s kind of world. That’s God’s kingdom, a community and a place where people don’t judge but go graciously to one another. A place where people deal with their own stuff, rather than trying to deal with someone else’s. A place where people who have experienced grace, share grace.

So I think this Sunday matters because I think we need to learn how to live without judgment. I think we desperately need to learn how to live without condemning others. I think we need to learn to live like Jesus – or at least I do. Because judging comes so naturally to me, it’s so easy to have a running dialogue of judging thoughts go through my head. But here Jesus is clear, don’t judge. And my honest belief is that if Jesus taught it, we should do it. And not only that, he will provide a way for us to do it. And that’s what we want to discover, a way to live without judgment.

So that’s where we are going, but before we get there why not do this little thought experiment for the rest of the weekend. Why not just try to notice how often you judge. And as you do think about how your relationships and this world might be changed if we just got rid of that. I think it’s worth trying to do. What about you?