We tend to imbibe the values and assumptions of the society we live in. From our family background to our network of relationships, we tend to accept the norms of the environment we know.
Few people really stop and radically reconsider what their assumptions and predispositions are.
This is illustrated by our nationality. As someone who has lived many years away from his land of birth, I am very well aware of the contrast between the attitudes and outlook of the country I live in, and those of my homeland.
It is living abroad that has made me realise just how ingrained perceptions are – that we all have preconceptions of the world according to the culture of our native land.
That makes it hard at times to really understand people from another country.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the Jewish people in biblical times had a real problem with the outlook Jesus Christ introduced.
- to expose the failure to live by the Old Testament teaching, and
- to introduce a completely new perspective and practice.
The Jews had been expecting a Messiah for some time and 2000 years on from Jesus Christ many are still waiting – they do not recognise the claim of Jesus of Nazareth to be that Messiah ie Christ [anointed one].
Interestingly in chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel we find John the Baptist sending to Jesus to ask if he is the expected one, ie the Messiah.
Jesus replies by saying, look at the evidence. Blind people are receiving their sight; there are lame people who can now walk; there are lepers cleansed of leprosy; the deaf can hear, and the dead are raised to life; and the poor are hearing the good news about God.
Jesus was here making a critical point about his new way: the spiritually blind will now see because of Jesus intervention; the spiritually lame will walk – ie be able to live the life they are called to; the spiritually deaf will hear – it’s not a matter of just hearing Jesus words with your mind, but heeding them in your heart; the spiritual lepers ie sinners will be cleansed; the spiritually dead will now be raised to new life – born again.
Jesus then said, Blessed is whosoever shall not be offended in me …
With those words, Jesus recognised the challenge to preconceptions that his preaching and his actions made to the Jewish mindset.
But he was equally clear that his challenge had to be made, and that it had to be recognised as valid. He goes on to say – in effect – that John is the last of the Old Testament prophets.
Then Jesus points out just how perverse human beings are: they indict John the Baptist for not consorting with sinners, yet then condemn Jesus for doing just that – associating with sinners !
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
The knowledge of the Jewish Law, the sending of so many prophets over many centuries just had not worked. The Jews still did not repent. Even the heathen Gentiles – the non Jews – would have responded to God.
Well, it’s all over for the Jewish religion and nation, says Jesus.
Henceforward, God has ordained a new dispensation, a new way, a new Covenant, a new modus operandi.
From now on, God is going to deal with his chosen people individually, not via the hypocritical and arrogant caste of priests from the Old dispensation.
Henceforward, the Son will reveal the Father to his people – a people whom the Father has chosen for the Son.
They won’t now necessarily be of the Jewish race or nation. They will be an entirely new nation – a spiritual nation in which all the people will be priests [nb chapter 2 of Peter’s first epistle].
This new nation will be a people who know their need of God; who know that they are sinners, and who know they must repent from sin and throw themselves on God’s mercy. They know their need of a personal Saviour.
This people will belong to their Saviour, Jesus. They will be yoked to him. They will live their lives in complete harness with him – going where he leads, doing what he wants, irreversibly harnessed to him.
They will be a people who are tired of the self effort and self justification sin obliges. All the striving and trying to hide the truth about themselves will be let go.
Henceforward, they will live in humble obedience to God, knowing their need, and knowing too the love and acceptance of the Saviour.
In harness with Jesus, they find rest for their souls. Eternal rest.
Life ceases to be a continual struggle for self assertion and self aggrandisement; a life of worry and care lived by this world’s sinful standards.
No, a people at rest in God, accepted by God.
Henceforward, says Jesus, these are the people of God.