A few weeks back I was forcing my way through the gospel of Matthew, hitting the one stumbling block after the other. There are so many things I just don’t understand. Referring to Bruce Metzger’s “The New Testament — It’s background, Growth and Content” has been helpful, but I think what is needed even more on my part, is to just spend time with this gospel. Trying to grasp who Jesus really was and is. Enough said about that. This time I had one of Jesus’ harsh criticisms in mind. One in which he condemns the chosen people of God, Israel, out from their own prophets. In Matthew 15 Jesus is rebuking the pharisees and the experts in the law, and quotes from Isaiah:
This people honors me with their lips
but their heart is far from me,
and they worship me in vain,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
This wasn’t only true at the time of Jesus, for it was said already at the time of Isaiah. Isaiah said it to the people of God, Israel. In fact this is just one out of many examples in which the prophets of the the Old Testament condemn the Israel they know at the time in which they write. We have been reading through Malachi in the family this Christmas – a small book where the prophet is urging Israel (which at the time was coming back from captivity) to stop fornicating with other gods, and to start giving honor to their one true God and to trust him. Malachi writes:
“From the days of your ancestors you have ignored my commandments and have not kept them! Return to me, and I will return to you…Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord who rules over all, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all.”
Israel failed on this, because they didn’t have the new heart that Ezekiel was prophesying about. But now a new Israel assembled and taken from all nations and countries has risen with new hearts:
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries; then I will bring you to your land. I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations.
Whom is spoken of here of course is the new Israel — the one that the author of Hebrews recognizes as the people of which it is written in Jeremiah 31 (see Hebrews 8,8-12).
A natural question then arises for each of the members of this new people to answer for themselves before God:
Do we fornicate with other gods?
Do I bring the tithe (my everything!) back into Gods temple and by that taking God on his word, testing whether he is to be trusted or not? Or do I, like the Jews to which Jesus spoke in Matthew 15, honor and fear men instead of God? Jesus angrily attacks the pharisees and experts in the law when they inquire of him about his lack of respect for their traditions (ritual cleansing of hands before eating). Jesus shows them how the fault is with them and not him; how they disobey the will of God — His decrees –which was entrusted to them in form of the Scriptures. He reveals to them how they are putting Gods decrees to the side and making way for their own regulations instead — regulations set up for their own prospering and good. It is the indisputable will of God that we honor our parents. Still the pharisees made the people give their money to the temple coffin instead of to their old parents. Jesus rebuked them for this by citing from Isaiah what I earlier quoted. I should ask myself then, if I in the same manner fill my own stomach, or perhaps in the same way meet the requirements of the church I belong to, before I nurse my own fellowship with the one living and true God — the one whom I claim to know? For
…this is eternal life – that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
Perhaps there is a need for new prophets to rise today and boldly speak shaking truths to the people of God. Truths for which the world will hate them. Truths leading the wholehearted to repentance.