Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Children of hell and sons of heaven, part 1

I was reading Matthew the other day and I read Matthew 23 with a new eye. A verse jumped out at me. Don't you love when that happens? Then the verse that jumps out stays in my mind and heart for a long time, rolling around like a holy marble.

Here is the verse:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:13-15).

Then the next day I received something in the mail that was really good. I was humbled by it and touched by it, and I began thinking about the global church body.

Since then, I've been pondering three things- pastors, elders, and leaders of the faith that shut the door of heaven in people's faces (Matthew 23:13); second, children of hell that emerge from a false system Matthew 23:15), and third, what it means to be a child of God in the global body. (1 Corinthians 12:12). Children of hell vs. sons of God.

So the contrast of the children of hell and the sons of God will be the main point in two blog essays, one today and one tomorrow. Today, leaders who shut the door of heaven in peoples' faces and the children of hell they make after themselves.

When the scribes and Pharisees arrested Jesus, Jesus endured six trials. Usually, as today, a person endures one. There were procedures for the trial, and as we saw with Paul, opportunity for appeal. Depending on the charge, a person could be arrested and tried in front of the High Priest and Sanhedrin, or arrested and tried in front of the Romans. Jesus was charged with blasphemy, so He went before the High Priest & Sanhedrin. He was also charged with sedition, so He went before the Romans (Pilate).

But because the charges against Him were illegitimate, Jesus went before the Jews three times and the Romans three times and then had one final appeal before both groups simultaneously.

The first time, they dragged Jesus away to stand in front of Annas. However, Annas wasn't the High Priest at the time. Annas had been pressured to step aside due to becoming too powerful. Annas was sort of like the Godfather, taking a cut of all the Temple money exchange action and the sales of the beasts for worship. (more here). He didn't have the position, but he had the power. So Jesus was dragged to Annas first.

"Not only were the moneychangers robbing the people, but history records that excessive prices were being charged by those who were selling animals used in Temple sacrifice. For example, according to Leviticus 12:6-8, after an Israelite woman had given birth, she was to bring a sacrifice to the temple, preferably a sheep. But if she was poor, she could take two doves or two pigeons for the sacrifice, since birds were much less expensive, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering. The Jewish Mishna states that because of greed, the market for birds rose so much that not even the poorer woman of the community could afford them."

The price for two birds had risen to one gold zuz. (I don't know the exchange rate, but that sounds like a lot...). The Mishna gives this account in Kritut 1:7:

“If a woman had given birth five times during her life . . . after she brings a single sacrifice, she will be able to eat sanctified foods once again. But she is still under oath to bring four more. It eventually came to pass that the cost of two birds rose dramatically to one gold zuz. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel declared: "I pledge that before I go to bed this very night, the price of birds will fall!" He headed straight to the courtyard and instructed the people to obey the following regulation: "After giving birth five times, a woman . . . needs to bring just one sacrificial offering to cover all five births . . . That very day, the price of birds plummeted to one quarter of a silver zuz.” (source)

It was a struggle to keep the prices low. The greedy priests would take advantage of the travelers who brought an animal for sacrifice by fallaciously declaring it unfit, or with blemish, and order them to buy another animal at the temple grounds for an exorbitant price. If the Jews who brought money had Gentile coins, it meant the coin had a pagan image on it and were told they had to exchange the money for clean Jewish money. Of course, the exchange rates were sky-high.

"Even many of the high priests during the first century seemed to have given up their love of God for the love of money. Most notably the High Priest whom Jesus was brought before, Annas, along with his five sons who succeeded him to that position. The Temple sacrifice during their reigns can best be summed up by the words “The Marketplace of the family of Annas.” (Or in other translations, "The Bazaars of Annas").

"The historian Josephus sheds some light on the actions of one member of this family, Annas the younger, the man who had James (the writer of he book of James in the Bible) stoned to death. Josephus states:
“The high priest, Annas, (after he had been relieved from his office) to some degree, was respected and feared by the citizens, but in a bad way; for he loved to hoard money. He became good friends with Albinus, and of the newly installed high priest. He did so by offering them bribes; he also had wicked servants, who associated with the most vilest sort of characters, and went to the thrashing-floors, and took the tithes that belonged to the priests by force, and beat anyone who would not give these tithes to them. So the other high priests that followed him as well as his servants acted likewise, without anyone being able to stop them; so that some of the priests, those who were old and were being supported with those tithes, died for lack of food.” A matter of fact, Jewish history records that these High priests who walked the temple courts during the first century, were despised by the majority of the people for their brutality and hunger for money." (source)

Remember, Jesus cleansed the temple twice, once at the start of His ministry and once at the end. He called His holy ground a den of thieves, and this struck directly at the power and money structure Annas had so carefully accumulated. The hatred Annas had for Jesus was vicious. And we see the reaction of the Savior to the thievery and greed of Annas in Matthew 23 because He pronounced woes upon them all.

The actual High Priest at the time of Jesus's trial was son-in-law Caiaphas. But the first trial was in the wee hours of the morning, at Annas's house. Since Annas wasn't even High Priest he had no authority to bring charges. The house was an illegitimate place for a trial. There were no witnesses nor was the time of day remotely legitimate. The whole thing was a sham. These people were a sham, and the Jews knew it.

Annas, Caiaphas and their ilk for generations had shut the door of heaven in people's faces by behaving in these and other grossly selfish and carnal ways. They sought the best seats at the banquet table (Matthew 23:6). They hogged the most prominent seats in the synagogue. They colluded in murder plots against Jesus. (Mark 3:6). Not even life was sacred to them, and least of all the Sinless One's life who came to bring them life!

In that way, they shut the door of heaven against the people.

Can you imagine the people, laboring under the onerous Laws, struggling to come up with a gold zuz to pay for two pigeons? Knowing they were going to get ripped off as they crossed the temple grounds to go and try to find some peaceful place to worship? Imagine what you feel like after only suspecting once like you got ripped off. You get angry and if you're not careful you get bitter. These people knew it and they knew there was nothing they could do about it. It would happen again and again, year after year. So some just gave up, like the widow and her two cents.
"Jesus has cleansed the temple. He has said it is a cave of robbers. It is a false religious system and these people are devouring widows’ houses. Then in the sequence, He’s done with that speech, He’s exhausted, it’s been a long wearying day of interactions and teaching. He sits down in the Court of the Women, opposite the Treasury and it says, “He looked up,” which meant that He was looking down, that’s an exegetical key there, you can’t look up unless you were looking down...” So He looks up and He sees people coming by and putting their money in the system, just dumping their money in the receptacles that they had set up in that corrupt thing and He sees a widow come by and she puts two coins in, the only two she had, to go home and die. And He turns to His disciples and says, ‘This temple is coming down, not one stone upon another.’” And the point is this, any system that devours widows and takes their last two cents is corrupt, is coming down.... The desolation is still going on today, folks. And I think that last little moment when He saw that system eating the very last two pennies of that widow, He said, “That’s it.” So I say to you, “Woe to you prosperity preachers who take the widow’s money to buy your ten-thousand-dollar a night hotel room and your hundred-thousand dollar a month jet. Jesus feels about your system just like He felt about that. (source)
Others didn't give up like the widow did, but instead joined the corrupt system. They became sons of hell, figuring, "they're doing it, why not me? I want some action, too..." For example, we know the tax collectors took more than their share. Zacchaeus by grace of God was saved after an encounter with Jesus, and declared he would give back to all his ill-gotten gain four-fold. (Luke 19:1-10).

However, we see the ultimate example of the legacy of the greedy Pharisees making sons of hell twice as bad as they are, in the crowd that called for Jesus's death. (Luke 23:18-21).

This bunch of people who had received grace, food, healing, and teaching, who followed Jesus and clamored for Him every day, crowds pressing close, now called for His death at the first opportunity. Children of hell indeed.

I began with the verse and I'll end with it:

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:13-15)."

What are our Pharisees making? Hell for themselves and children of hell to follow them. They fly on private jets and quit their church to go on book tours and drink champagne and rip off the wounded and sick. They boast that they'll throw brethren under the bus if they don't conform to the pastor's vision. They make promises that won't come true and ascribe to the Holy Spirit the things the devil is doing.

These emergent, prosperity preaching, seeker hispter pastors are making people into children of hell. The children of hell are despondent, in despair, looking for hope in an open door to heaven, but all they are getting is ripped off as the Pharisees make merchandise of them and exploit them with false words and then they shut the door of heaven in their face.

No wonder Jesus condemned them with woes!

Tomorrow, the beauty of the global body, unbesmirched and glowing by the glory of Jesus!

5 comments:

  1. Elizabeth, I haven't read your whole article yet but I had to stop and say --I just love the descriptive words you use-"holy marble"-lol never heard of that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sounds just like the Roman Catholic Church

    ReplyDelete
  3. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
    In as much as it has been allowed by individuals, the money and it's involvement with "ministries" has produced a type of platform where the truth is established in varying degrees. IMHO, every organization that has taken on a tax exempt status and become incorporated has unwittingly placed themselves under the authority of mammon.
    The day is waning fast. The church now has the ability to dispense the truth as it is written. That is the thing enemy is going to choke off. These organizations will have to conform as means for them to "maintain" their "tax exempt" status.
    Thank you for presenting the truth, I am sure it does not come without a price. There are many "church's" that do not dare to speak against the catholic "church", one of the biggest sellers of hell on the planet.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article, Elizabeth! Can't wait until the next one. I'm sure it's the Good News that the true Church(the Body of Christ) is doing just fine. The reason: God opened their hearts and eyes to the Truth, they had ears to hear.
    In John 8:42-47, it is interesting that Jesus did not try to convert the Pharisees but told them who they were and why they did not believe. It seems that from the beginning, in Gen.3:16, the two camps of human beings were set. God is sovreign and in control and in that we can rest. The elect hear and believe. We just don't know who they are, so it is the means of preaching that God uses to open their ears. The John passage is very interesting, indeed.

    Pam

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks Pam! Yes, exactly- it is going to be about the beauty of the global church, undefiled and lovely :)

      Delete