Not the righteous, but sinners

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17, ESV)

The term “righteous” or “righteousness” is found over 500 times in the Bible, over 140 of those in the New Testament. Thirteen of those instances are from the words of Jesus. Every instance comes from the same Greek word, dikaios, meaning, “upright, keeping the commands of God.”

Interestingly, though, the word also means the opposite. In English we might liken it to the word sick. “I am sick (not feeling so well).” Or, “That jacket is sick (its great)!” As in English, so in Greek: context determines the manner in which the word is being used.

Knowing this helps us understand what Jesus meant when he used the word “righteous.” For example, look at these two statements of Jesus in Matthew 13:

Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them (v.17)

Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear (v.43).

Here, Jesus means the term in its ideal sense, “upright, keeping the commands of God” (Thayer). In fact, this is the sense in which Jesus almost always used it in Scripture.

But look at these parallel passages from Mark 2 and Matthew 9.

They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17).

But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13).

Here, Jesus contrasts “righteous” with “sinners,” but perhaps not in the usual way, as in “those who are already forgiven” with “those who have yet to be forgiven,” though these are perfectly acceptable ways to use the terms. But Jesus is making a different, less obvious comparison.

The context of this statement is this:

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? (Matthew 9:10-11).

Clearly, Jesus is answering the Pharisees. And in so doing, he is likely using the second, opposite meaning of the term righteous, defined by Thayer as, “those who seem to themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves in their virtues, whether real or imagined.

If you plug that definition in to Jesus’ statement, it makes perfect sense:

I came not to call the righteous [those who seem to themselves to be righteous] but sinners, [those who do not seem to themselves to be righteous] to repentance.

Or, it can be condensed even more:

I came not to call the self-righteous, but the unrighteous, to repentance.

This parallels other sayings of Jesus, particularly in dealing with Pharisees – like when he told them they were blind because they had sight (John 9:39-41), or when he compared their pretentious prayers to that of a penitent publican (Luke 18:9-14).

They thought themselves righteous; they were anything but. Jesus was never more severe as he as with the self-righteous.

The lesson they needed most – and perhaps professing Christians need reminded of today – is that the self-righteous never really are righteous unless they are unrighteous.

Can I bend your ear?

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 4:9, ESV)

Hearing is a natural phenomenon. We don’t even have to try. It just – happens.

Yet, the physical act of hearing might as well be a miracle. There are so many things that have to be in place, so many things have to go right for it to happen, that it is a wonder we can hear anything at all. Think of how it works, and all of the things that can go wrong. Continue reading “Can I bend your ear?”

Options Jesus didn’t leave us

C.S. Lewis was right when he said of Jesus:

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (Mere Christianity).

How did Lewis reach this conclusion? He read the gospels. The more we read the gospels the more impressed we are with what we find, particularly in the words of Jesus. The things Jesus says are so ingrained in the “idea of Jesus,” that we regularly miss the shocking nature of them. Continue reading “Options Jesus didn’t leave us”

The cart before the horse

There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15, ESV).

Jesus’ disciples were criticized because they did not follow traditions – traditions designed by elitists to help the ignorant mass from furthering angering their God. If only they could get enough of these oblivious people to obey God (John 7:49), they might succeed in ushering in the Messiah and overthrowing the Roman occupation. Continue reading “The cart before the horse”

Kingdom come

“till they have seen the kingdom of God come” (Mark 9:1).

John and Jesus taught that the kingdom was “at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). They obviously believed it was forthcoming.

Some followers were so convinced of it, they attempted to force Jesus to lead a coupe d’état to declare Israel’s independence from Rome (which, by the way, he rejected, cf. John 6:15). Nevertheless, Jesus continued preaching about the kingdom’s imminent arrival.

Did it ever come? Was it only metaphor? Is it yet future? Continue reading “Kingdom come”

History’s Mysteries, Revealed (2)

“The time is fulfilled…the kingdom is at hand” (Mark 1:15).

(the previous article in this series can be found here)

Just recently, this writer attended a funeral of an 82-year old woman. Among other qualities and talents, she was a quilt-maker. She made over 50 beautiful and personalized quilts for her loved ones during her life. Many were made entirely by hand. Many of them were on display near the casket.

Like some people, she had previously related to her family a few preferences for her funeral, like her favorite passage of Scripture. But she had a rather unique wish as well: she hoped it would snow on the day of her burial. As uncomfortable as this would be for her attendees, she hoped that they might all gather ’round the grave site, wrapped in the quilts she gave them. Continue reading “History’s Mysteries, Revealed (2)”

History’s mysteries, revealed (1)

“The time is fulfilled…the kingdom is at hand” (Mark 1:15).

In each of the gospels, there is a first recorded utterance in the public ministry of Jesus. John and Luke provide interesting complements: “What are you seeking?” (John 1:38), and, “Why were you looking for me?” (Luke 2:49).

Matthew and Mark also complement one another. They record the crux of the Messiah’s message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), and, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Continue reading “History’s mysteries, revealed (1)”

Becoming like children

As we read through the accounts of Jesus’ life, it stands out that he took time for those that most people would not spend time with. We find him having meals with tax collectors and prostitutes, people who were rejected by Jewish society for being considered traitors (working for Rome) or sinners. Yet he also spent time with the religious leaders, talking with them and having meals with them. But one group he seems to have always had time for was children.

“Now people were bringing little children to him for him to touch, but the disciples scolded those who brought them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’ After he took the children in his arms, he placed his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-16 NET). Continue reading “Becoming like children”

It’s all about Jesus

There was much that those with Jesus did not understand – at least at the time. One of those was an amazing incident that took place on top of a mountain.

“Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!’ Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus” (Mark 9:2-8 CEB). Continue reading “It’s all about Jesus”

Our influence

Do we realize the influence we have on those around us? Although we may think that no one pays attention to us, we influence more than we realize. Notice this parable of Jesus.

“The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how. The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29 CSV).

This is how it works in God’s kingdom. Seed is scattered. As the Parable of the Sower is in the same context (Mark 4:1-20), and it identified the seed as the word, the seed that is scattered would make sense to still be God’s word. We scatter seed by teaching people about Jesus. Continue reading “Our influence”