"After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him." John 7:1
Would Jesus be welcome in your church? I ask this question because Jesus was so hated by the religious leaders of the Jews in Judea that He chose not to walk there. They sought to kill Him. Instead, He walked in Galilee, to the north, and taught the truth of God's Word there.
Why was Jesus hated in Judea, the center of Israel's worship? He tells us the answer in His earlier dialog with Nicodemus. After saying the well-known words of John 3:16 -- "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life -- Jesus said "that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (John 3:19-20). Jesus was hated in Judea to the point of wanting Him dead because His teaching of the truth revealed the sinfulness and hypocrisy of the religious system of the Jews during His day (cf. John 5:16,18).
Instead of calling on all to repent of their sinful ways and offer sacrifices in faith that God would provide a perfect sacrifice for sin and grant them pardon and forgiveness, the religious leaders had twisted the Scriptures into a religion of righteousness by outward works and rituals. They had turned temple worship into a profitable business through the sale of animals for sacrifice and the exchange of money for temple taxes. The religious leaders sought honor and prestige as the religious elite and the leaders of God's people instead of being God's humble servants and teaching the truth.
What did Jesus do? He cleansed the temple and warned of the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He challenged their religious system of works and pointed out the emptiness of their outward show of piety (cf. John 2:13ff.; Matt. 5:20).
Jesus' teaching echoed the prophecy of Isaiah to His people in Isaiah 1:10-18: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
What about today? Would Jesus be welcome in our churches? What would happen when He reveals the utter sinfulness of church members (even the most righteous) and calls upon them to repent and look to Him in faith for mercy? How would he be received when He rebukes and condemns all that the Bible calls sin, including the many perversions and lifestyles championed as acceptable in our day? What would church leaders say when He points out the emptiness of their rituals and the hollowness of their worship services? Our churches claim to love Him and follow His Word, but do we consider that His Word condemns us all and offers only one way of salvation: repentance and faith in the shed blood of Jesus?
Could it be that the real Jesus of the Bible is hated and silenced in our churches, too, causing Him to walk elsewhere and take the true teaching of His Word to others who will hear it?
Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He sought to gather the people to Himself as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they "would not!" (Matt. 23:37). Does Jesus weep over our churches because, when He reveals our utter sinfulness and call us to look to Him and His cross in faith for pardon and forgiveness, we "would not"?
Certainly, a "Christian" church without the Christ of the Bible is neither Christian nor church. How important it is that we not keep the Jesus of the Bible out of our churches and our lives but welcome Him in and hear His Word, repenting of our sinful ways and looking to Him and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for pardon and forgiveness, and then seeking His help to follow Him and walk in His ways!
Dear Lord Jesus, come into our hearts and our churches, reveal our sins and shortcomings, but then comfort us with Your mercy and forgiveness, purchased with Your shed blood, that we may trust in You and then walk in Your ways. Amen.
[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible. Devotion is by Randy Moll. He may be contacted by email at [email protected]. More of Moll's devotional writings are freely available at https://mercifulsaviorlutheran.net. Opinions expressed are those of the author.]