How Jesus Disappoints Self Righteousness
The fame of Jesus from Nazareth that had spread throughout Judea during His ministry was followed by a great deal of mystery. He claimed to be God and He stated that the only way to salvation was through faith in Him. Yet, He was nothing like the God that people were tailored to expect. In fact, He was almost an insult to the expectations that religious leaders had concerning the Messiah that was prophesied to come. Yet, what we learn from the religious disappointment of Christ tells us so much more about why Jesus came to man and how that changes our lives.
The idea of a Messiah was not a foreign concept to the people in Jesus’ time. In fact, it was a concept that was desperately prayed for by the Jews. For, they had endured 400 years of some of the most brutal dictators known to history. However, the expectations around the Messiah was that he would come for the Jew that had followed the Law of Moses the best, and destroy those who hadn’t (namely the Gentiles). Hence, there were religious folks all throughout Israel who thought that they had mastered what this law abiding righteousness looked like. Sadducees were known as the elite politically conservatives who only believed in the Law of Moses. Pharisees were known as more liberal but more relevant to the middle class Jews who accepted all of the Old Testament, not just the Law. There were also Escenes who lived in the dessert and believed that when the Messiah came he would destroy everyone but them because they were the true upholders of the Law. All of these groups had their own ideas for what the Messiah was supposed to be and none of them were pleased with what He turned out to be.
One of the most overlooked realities of Jesus’ character in the Gospels is that there is very little evidence to support that Jesus focused on being a self righteous person. And that was a problem for the religious Jews that thought they had figured out what the Messiah was about. Though Jesus never stepped over the law, He also never lived in concordance with how other’s thought He should practice the Law. Notice that the Gospels rarely share what Jesus wore, how long His hair was, what He drank or what He ate in order to show us what self-righteous living should looked like. In fact, there is more evidence to support that Jesus would have been offensive to self-righteousness. Jesus said offensive things to people, He could be volatile, He hung out with politically corrupt people and prostitutes and even defended a woman who was “caught in the act of adultery.” He was a self-righteous person’s nightmare.
Yet, what we learn about the heart of God through Christ’s lifestyle is profound. The reality is that Christ came to redeem the heart of mankind, not to reward a standard of living that is impossible and enslaving to achieve. The ministry of Christ was centered not on how you should live, but on rescuing mankind from the poverty of himself/herself. If you found yourself enslaved to disease, evil spirits, lust, greed or anything else, Jesus was and is the source of liberation. The Gospels make loud the message of Christ’s good news. There are no outcasts in Jesus’ kingdom. His arms are open to the broken man and woman who seek to find relief in His power.
The stunning beauty of Christ’s ministry is that He continually meets us where we are in order to restore our broken heart. Let me say that again in a different way. Christ never asks that we, through our righteousness, meet Him. Do you seriously think you could hold your works before Christ and be proud of them? The answer is a glaring “NO.” Instead of righteous expectations He offers us a restored heart. That is why the prostitute could find pure beauty in His presence. He is why beggars could find a wealth of satisfaction in His companionship. He is why every mention of disease, destruction, and hopeless stories found unspeakable peace, joy and healing in His midst.
Yet, this was exactly why Jesus was disappointing to the religious elite of His day. They wanted a Messiah who would reward them for how good they had lived their lives. Instead, His message to them was “I never knew you.”
The power of Christ’s ministry is evidenced in heart of man. Righteousness alone is a fruitless journey. Therefore, the way that we know Christ’s work is evidenced in our lives is by examining the heart. Today, I love people better than I did 10 years ago. That is the work of Christ. Today, I grieve when other’s are hurt and not just when I’m hurt. That is the work of Christ. Today, I cry when I see a homeless man rummaging through the dumpster outside of my office, desperate to find a meal. That is the work of Christ. I am tenderhearted where I used to be hardened, I am kind where I used to be rude, I am angered at injustices at which I used to be indifferent. That is the work of Christ.
Therefore, let Jesus meet you where you are and know that there are no expectations to find Him. “He stands at the door” of your heart and knocks (Revelation 3:20), and He invites you into the liberation of God’s Kingdom. In Him let your heart be changed. Allow His work in your heart to lead your actions. And, as He changes your heart may you find the joy of resting in His accomplished work in your life.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)