The milquetoast Jesus, i.e. the timid and feeble Jesus in the minds of many in the church today, is a figment of their imagination. He is a Jesus they have conjured up out of the depths of their sin because they don’t want to hear or know the hard teachings He brought. Better in their estimation is to have a loving, kind, and gentle Jesus, because that person makes them feel better. The problem is that this Jesus they’ve created to console themselves and purportedly worship is not the Son of God, and certainly not God Himself.
This is not a new phenomenon. The Hebrew people long had problems relating to Yahweh in the way they needed to in order to honor Him for who He was. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were simply an extension of those who made God in their image, and thus got the relationship completely wrong.
Jesus constantly clashed with the Pharisees because of this. In the Old Testament we read how God’s people constantly disobeyed Him and His laws. Over the 400 years of God’s silence from Malachi to Jesus, during what we call the Intertestamental, or 2nd Temple, Period, the Jews determined to correct that situation. The Pharisees arose as a sect that made the Law of Moses preeminent. The Law became everything to them. All their actions revolved around the 613 Mosaic laws articulated in Leviticus plus the Ten Commandments. Their hearts may have been in the right place when the Pharisees first came on the scene, but they didn’t stay that way. It was for this reason that Jesus dealt harshly with them.
The Pharisees observed Jesus and had huge issues with Him. He didn’t wash His hands according to tradition. The Sabbath to Him was seemingly not a day of rest in observance of the day in the way they defined; rather it was a day that God brought many of His blessings onto people with whom Jesus interacted. Regardless, according to the Pharisees, this simply wasn’t right. These and other “transgressions” in the eyes of the Pharisees made them question who Jesus really was and why He thought He could teach the ways of Yahweh. Didn’t He know that by breaking the many laws He did that He was in league with the devil?
After one such interchange, Jesus spoke the words of Isaiah to them in Matthew 15:8-9:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
In the context of the passage in Isaiah 29, Yahweh had spoken to the priests and prophets. He said that they were asleep to the things of the Lord (Isaiah 29:10), and that any wisdom or discernment they had would perish (Isaiah 29:15). The Lord criticized His people because they turned everything upside down by trying to appropriate the position of God – their Maker – when they should have been listening to Him and been obedient to His commands.
Jesus spoke this truth to the Pharisees. Their legalism had consumed them, causing their entire theology to be flipped around. For them it was what they said and did in observance to the Law that made them holy. But Jesus said those things defiled them (Matthew 15:11).
How dare Jesus say that! Such words offended them!
Then, Jesus laid it down as to what the Pharisees really were. They were blind guides who led their followers into a deep pit (Matthew 15:14)! In other words, the Pharisees were headed straight to hell, and all those who listened to and followed them were destined to join them there.
The point Jesus made was that it’s from the heart of man where truth faith arises. People can follow laws and traditions, they can speak pretty words, but unless their hearts have been broken for God, and they’ve laid down the dos and don’ts of their religious ideals, they will never draw near to Him. The words such people speak ultimately betray them. What they say eventually reveals the true nature of who they are deep inside. Their lips speak of the sinful nature inherent within them.
And there is only one way out of this pit – only one way to escape the fires of hell. That is through a heartfelt love for the Lord, where we lay down our agendas, i.e. the ways of man, for the things of God. Jesus is that way. The Pharisees didn’t get it. Neither do many in today’s church.
Where is your heart? Are you holding onto this world and all its enticements? Or, have you given up your hold on this life by surrendering all of yourself to Jesus? The hard truth of truly being His is that, just like Paul said in Philippians 1:21:,
“To live is Christ; to die is gain.”