Tradition. If we grow up being told that things need to be done a certain way, we don’t usually know any differently until we begin to question things and look for answers from different sources. The authorities will probably label this as rebellion, and perhaps it is. We would more likely say that we are figuring things out for ourselves. It’s a fine line.
When Jesus travelled around the countryside teaching His disciples, He was certainly labelled a rebel. After all, the Scribes and the Pharisees were experts in the law. They were the most religious people around, but somehow Jesus didn’t quite see eye to eye with them. He didn’t fit the expectations for an upstanding citizen much less the Messiah. But there was something about Jesus that made the people follow Him by the thousands to listen to what He had to say. Twelve of those people, His disciples, considered Him their rabbi, their teacher, and wanted to learn from Him. What we now know as the Sermon on the Mount was really the disciples sitting down with Jesus to learn from Him. It starts in Matthew 5.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus assures His disciples that He did not come to do away with the law that was handed down to them by Moses. God is still the same now as He was then; His principles haven’t changed. Yes, there were a few things that changed when Jesus came. We don’t have to make sacrifices to pay for our sins anymore. We don’t have the same food restrictions anymore. (Mark 7:15, February 3, 2012) But the way God feels about people hasn’t changed; He still is more interested in our hearts than anything else.
Jesus tells His disciples that He isn’t doing away with the law, but He needs more from them than external adherence to the letter of the law (Matthew 5:20) as the Pharisees exemplify. The Pharisees have added to the law that Moses gave the people, and they have made things harder than they need to be, but they still don’t address the most important issue, and that is the internal factor. In the following verses (Matthew 5:21-48) Jesus gives them examples of how controlling their thoughts and intentions is just as important as controlling their actions. He starts each example with words similar to “You have heard that it was said…”, and followed with “But I say to you…”. What He was talking to them about was the traditional way of living that had been enforced by the Pharisees, but which was a misrepresentation of God’s desires for us. We may not have actual Pharisees running things nowadays, but there are still people who perpetuate distortions to God’s Word because that is all they have ever known. There is a way to avoid this though. Check out God’s Word for yourself. Read it. Study it. Pray. Yes, sometimes it helps to have someone else’s point of view to help you understand what you’re reading, but don’t let them be your only source of information. Go directly to God for the answers.
In my last post I discussed how sometimes Christians can be judgemental, but Christians are judged a lot too. One judgement that is often made is that we must be mindless to believe in a God we cannot see. Yet there are people who have suffered persecution, even given their lives rather than deny their belief in God. Why would the disciples have kept the faith when their lives were at risk? Why would people today? They would have to be pretty certain that what they believe is true to be willing to give up their lives for it.
One of the verses that I mentioned in my last post was I Peter 3:15-16. Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have. Be ready to explain why you believe as you do. In order to do that you have to know for yourself, and the fact that your parents or your friends believe that way won’t hold up as a reason for long.
In Acts 17:10, Luke is in the process of recounting the travels and activities of Paul and Silas among others. They had been in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9) but had to leave because the Jews there didn’t want to consider anything different than what they already believed, so they were not willing to hear that Jesus was the Messiah that they had been waiting for. They opposed Paul and Silas and accused them of stirring up trouble and opposing Caesar. These were pretty serious charges, so after paying their fine, the believers sent Paul and Silas to the town of Berea. As usual Paul went to the synagogue to share the good news that Jesus was the Messiah. The Bereans heard the message, but instead of opposing it, they listened with open minds to hear what Paul had to say. They also took the next step. They didn’t just take what Paul said at face value; they searched the Scriptures and studied them every day to see if what Paul was saying was true. (Acts 17:11) Many translations describe the Bereans as being noble or fair-minded. Essentially, they were more willing to learn, by listening to Paul and then checking the facts for themselves.
Are you unsure what to believe? Don’t believe anything just because someone else tells you to. Think for yourselves. Do your research. The Bible can withstand your scrutiny. Do a little bit of studying. One example of a person who did this is Josh McDowell. He was a skeptic that set out to prove Christianity was a joke. He couldn’t do it because there was far too much evidence to prove that Jesus is who He says He is. You can read Josh’s account of his own journey in the third section of Skeptics Who Demanded a Verdict, available as a PDF here. Other resources he has available may help you in your own search for the truth.
Today is International Blasphemy Rights Day. Blasphemy is the act of speaking irreverently about God or sacred things. In centuries past, it was a very serious crime, and it still is today in some countries. International Blasphemy Rights Day was introduced in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry based in Amherst, New York. As far as I can determine, it exists and is international only because they said so. The reason they give for establishing this day is to support free speech and the right to criticize or satirize religion. One would think from the name of their organization, that the purpose for criticism would be to determine the truth, but on the front page of their website today, Ronald Lindsay, the president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry says that if you aren’t sure how to commemorate the day, “just state that there is no god”. That doesn’t sound like inquiry to me. What if there really is a god?
In Acts 17:10-11 Paul and Silas left Thessalonica and went to Berea to preach the good news about Jesus Christ. Whereas many of the Thessalonians had incited trouble and riotous behaviour among the crowds, the Bereans were commended for being open-minded. In some versions, open-minded is translated as receptive, fair-minded, noble-minded or of noble character. They eagerly received the message, but that does not mean that they were naïve or simple-minded. They were open to learning and to admitting that there might be something that they didn’t already know. They didn’t just accept it at face value though. They searched the scriptures to see if what Paul and Silas were saying really was true. At that time, the scriptures consisted of what we now know as the Old Testament; the New Testament didn’t exist yet. Paul and Silas taught from the Old Testament to show the people that the scriptures pointed to Jesus. Since the Jews had been waiting for a Messiah, their two choices were to believe that the Messiah could be Jesus, or to believe that it couldn’t be. The Bereans believed that it could be, but they studied the scriptures to confirm if it was true.
God has nothing against inquiring minds. He is not afraid of our questions. By all means seek the truth. In order to do that, however, you need to be open to the possibility that you do not already fully understand all the answers. If you were open to that, I would suggest that you pray for God to reveal Himself to you as you continue on your quest. God promises that you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart. (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13)