Offended by Jesus? (a meditation on Matthew 11:6)

There’s a line in the Gospels that I’ve wrestled with for a long time. It is in Matthew 11:6. It reads – “And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.” (HCSB)

This has not made sense to me until now.

Here it is in context –
Mt 11:2-6 (HCSB)
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples 3 and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” 4 Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. 6 And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.”

Here is the rendition I put together for the Condensed Gospel, using HCSB, TLB, NRSV and NIV –

John’s disciples brought him reports about everything that Jesus was doing when John was in prison. John sent two of them to Jesus to ask him “Are you the one we have been waiting for, or should we keep looking?” Jesus was healing many people of physical and mental illness at this time. He answered their question “Report back to John everything that you have seen and heard – the blind are able to see, the lame can now walk, skin diseases are cleared up, the deaf can now hear, the dead are raised back to life, and the good news is preached to the poor. Also tell him this – anyone who is not outraged by who I am is happy.”

And yet this still isn’t enough.

I now know about a Messianic Jewish translation of the Bible that is called the Tree of Life. Here is that same section in that version –

2 Now when John heard in prison about the works of the Messiah, he sent word through his disciples 3 and said to Yeshua, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” 4 Yeshua replied, “Go report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind see and the lame walk, those with tzara’at are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6 Blessed is the one who is not led to stumble because of Me.”

For further study, the TLV cross references with the verses in Isaiah that Jesus is referring to. They are these – 35:5-6; 26:19; 29:18-19; 61:1. They prove that Jesus (Yeshua) is fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah, which for John would be enough to know that this means that Jesus is the One that they had been awaiting – the Messiah.

As an aside, I think it is important to note that Jesus never came out and said that he was the Messiah (which is the charge leveled against him by the Sanhedrin – a charge he was innocent of). He simply pointed people towards the prophecies – the signs of what to look for and then pointed to what he was doing. Do they match? If so, there is your answer.

But verse 6 in Matthew 11 is the focus right now – “Blessed is the one who is not led to stumble because of Me.”

Jesus often talks about how important it is that religious leaders teach their students how to follow in the correct path. He often railed against the Pharisees who made up extra rules for people to follow and in so doing caused them to ignore or even violate the commandments of God. He often said that to cause anyone to be led astray is a huge offense.

It is important to understand that God’s commandments are not really laws, but a way of life. The word “Halacha” which is translated as “Jewish Law” means something so much deeper. It really means “Walk”. It is a way of living that makes you holy. It is a path towards and with God.

What Jesus is saying here is related to the idea of “You will know a tree by its fruit”. Look at those who follow him and see what they do. They are doing good deeds and living correctly. This is proof that his teaching is valid. Those who follow his teachings are blessed, because they have not been made to falter in their walk. He teaches correctly, and his followers are blessed because of it. They are not harmed by him, like so many other people’s followers are, but blessed and strengthened.

Advertisements

Jesus speaks with Nicodemus

Nicodemus was a Jewish leader and member of the Pharisees. He came to Jesus secretly at night and said “Teacher, we know that God has sent you as a teacher, because only those who God is with can do the signs you have performed.”

Jesus told him, “Truly I say to you, unless you have been reborn, you can never enter into the kingdom of God.”

“How can anyone be born again?” Nicodemus exclaimed. “How can an old person enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time?”

“This is the truth – Unless you are born by the way of water and of the Holy Spirit, you will never enter the kingdom of God. Whoever is born by the way of the flesh is just flesh, but if you are born by the way of the Spirit, you are so much more. Don’t be amazed when I tell you that you must be born a second time. You can hear the wind blow but you don’t know where it came from or where it will go. The same is true of everyone who is born by the way of the Spirit.”

“How is this possible?” asked Nicodemus.

“You, a respected teacher of the Law of Moses, and you don’t understand this? Truly, I’m telling you what God reveals to me, but you don’t accept it. If you don’t believe me when I tell you about the earthly things that happen, then how will you believe me when I tell you about heavenly things? The only one who has been raised up into heaven is the same one who came down from heaven, and that is the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses raised up an image of a serpent to heal people in the wilderness, the Son of Man must be raised up, so that everyone who believes in him will be saved from death.

God loves the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son here to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved because of him. Anyone who believes in him is saved, but those who don’t believe are lost, because they don’t believe in the only Son of God.

Those who are lost have made themselves that way, because the Light has come into the world and they loved the darkness more because they did evil things. Everyone who does evil things hates to have them exposed to the Light. But everyone who lives truthfully comes to the Light so that God’s glory may be revealed.”

JN 3:1-21

Pick up your bedroll

Then, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a Jewish festival. There is a pool named Bethesda near the Sheep Gate. There are five colonnades there that shelter many people who are sick. People who are blind, lame, and paralyzed wait there for the rare times when an angel stirs up the waters. The first person who gets into the water after the angel had stirred it up is healed from whatever sickness he had.

One of the men there had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him he knew that he had been waiting there a long time to be healed. He asked him “Do you want to get well?”

The man replied “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up. Someone always gets in ahead of me while I am trying to get there.” Jesus told him “Get up, pick up your sleeping mat, and walk.”

Since that day was the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders said to the man “It’s illegal for you to carry your mat on the Sabbath!” He replied, “The man who healed me told me ‘Pick up your sleeping mat and walk.’”

The leaders pressed further, asking “Who is it that told you to pick up your sleeping mat and walk?” The man didn’t know who it was because Jesus had slipped away into the crowd.

Jesus found the man in the Temple complex later and told him “Now that you are well, don’t sin anymore or something worse might happen to you.”

The man then went and reported to the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him.

JN 5:1-15

A Sabbath controversy

The Pharisees were watching Jesus closely when he ate in the home of one of their leaders one Sabbath. There was a man there whose body was swollen with fluid because he had edema. Jesus challenged the Pharisees and the experts in the Law by saying “Is it permissible according to the Law of Moses to heal on the Sabbath or not?” They did not answer him. Jesus brought the man to him, healed him, and then sent him on his way. He turned to them and said “Who among you, if your son or ox fell into a well, would not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” They had no answer to this.

LK 14:1-6

Healing in the Sabbath

Let us look at all the various examples of Jesus healing people on the Sabbath that are throughout the Gospels. This is one of the things he did that upset the Jewish leaders enough to want to have him killed. They accused him of being in violation of the Law of Moses. What “crime” was committed?

Matthew 12:9-14
9 Moving on from there, He entered their synagogue. 10 There He saw a man who had a paralyzed hand. And in order to accuse Him they asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 But He said to them, “What man among you, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t take hold of it and lift it out? 12 A man is worth far more than a sheep, so it is lawful to do what is good on the Sabbath. 13 Then He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and it was restored, as good as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Luke 12:10-17
10 As He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, 11 a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for over 18 years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, He called out to her, “Woman, you are free of your disability.” 13 Then He laid His hands on her, and instantly she was restored and began to glorify God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded by telling the crowd, “There are six days when work should be done; therefore come on those days and be healed and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “Hypocrites! Doesn’t each one of you untie his ox or donkey from the feeding trough on the Sabbath and lead it to water? 16 Satan has bound this woman, a daughter of Abraham, for 18 years—shouldn’t she be untied from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” 17 When He had said these things, all His adversaries were humiliated, but the whole crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things He was doing.

Luke 14:1-6
One Sabbath, when He went to eat at the house of one of the leading Pharisees, they were watching Him closely. 2 There in front of Him was a man whose body was swollen with fluid. 3 In response, Jesus asked the law experts and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they kept silent. He took the man, healed him, and sent him away. 5 And to them, He said, “Which of you whose son or ox falls into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” 6 To this they could find no answer.

John 5:1-15
After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. 3 Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed [—waiting for the moving of the water, 4 because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had]. 5 One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.” 8 “Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9 Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk. Now that day was the Sabbath, 10 so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Sabbath! It’s illegal for you to pick up your mat.” 11 He replied, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” 12 “Who is this man who told you, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’?” they asked. 13 But the man who was cured did not know who it was, because Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 After this, Jesus found him in the temple complex and said to him, “See, you are well. Do not sin anymore, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.” 15 The man went and reported to the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

The Luke 14:1-6, Luke 12:10-17, and Matthew 12:9-14 verses all sound similar, with Jesus pointing out that the accusers will rescue or release an animal on the Sabbath. One would hope that if they have compassion on an animal, they’d have a similar amount of compassion for a human being. He’s trying to appeal to their reason and logic, rather than blindly following a rule.

In the Matthew 12:9-14 verses, the Pharisees are trying to set him up to see if he is going to break the Law. In the Luke 14:1-6 verses, the one most like it in wording (and very likely the same story except for the details of what is wrong with the person), it looks like Jesus is trying to set the Pharisees up.

Here is a list of all the things that you can’t do on the Sabbath according to the Law of Moses. Many activities are derived from work that was required to complete the Temple.

“Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing wool, beating wool, dyeing wool, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying, untying, sewing stitches, tearing, trapping, slaughtering, flaying, tanning, scraping hide, marking hides, cutting hide to shape, writing two or more letters, erasing two or more letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a fire, kindling a fire, putting the finishing touch on an object, and finally, transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain.”

This is a pretty extensive list. But where is “healing” forbidden? Where is it listed as “work” that you can’t do on the Sabbath? Perhaps “Putting the finishing touch on an object” – because Jesus, by healing someone, was making them complete. What really got Jesus in trouble was that he was pointing out that their rigid adherence to the letter of the Law meant that they couldn’t grasp the spirit of the Law. They followed the Law more than they followed God. He was a threat to their authority, and they were afraid that other people would start to deviate. They were afraid that their tightly woven system was starting to unravel.

In the John 5:1-15 verses, the “crime” is carrying. The man that Jesus healed is carrying his bedroll home. The Pharisees did not know that he had just been healed – all they knew is that he was carrying something, which is forbidden. Even today in Orthodox communities it is forbidden to carry anything at all on the Sabbath – not a purse, not a book, not a pen – nothing. Interestingly, the Pharisees were not amazed that he had been healed. They didn’t want to meet this miracle worker to see if he might be the Messiah. They wanted to cite him for working on the Sabbath.

I am sad that the man told them who had healed him when he found out. What an ungrateful way to show thanks for being healed of a disease that had afflicted him for 38 years – by betraying him to the authorities! I can only hope that he didn’t realize that they were plotting his death.

One very striking example of “working” on the Sabbath and its punishment is found in Numbers 15:32-36. I include this as a historical precedent to show what they did to Sabbath-breakers.

32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron, and the entire community. 34 They placed him in custody because it had not been decided what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD told Moses, “The man is to be put to death. The entire community is to stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the entire community brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

They weren’t kidding. Break a law, and we will kill you. In this case, the authorities told the whole community to do it – and they did. Stone by stone, they didn’t build the Temple. They killed a member of their community.

As a student of the Torah, Jesus knew this story and all these rules in how to be observant of the Law. The most amazing part is that Jesus knew the risk, and did it anyway. He was killed for healing people, and proved in his resurrection that even that couldn’t stop him. Jesus teaches us that it is better to follow God and live – even if it means you will be sentenced to death, than to follow the laws of men and live – but only half-way. A life without God is not a life.

(All translations are HCSB)

The impurity of death

What was Jesus talking about when he said to the Pharisees, scribes, and other religious authorities these words about them?

Luke 11:44 (HCSB)
“Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves; the people who walk over them don’t know it.”

Why would it matter if someone walked over an unmarked grave?

These verses from Matthew 23:27-28 (HCSB) give more insight.
27“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. 28 In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Jesus has already said in several different ways in Matthew 23:1-26 and Luke 11:37-52 that the religious authorities don’t practice what they preach. They tell people to follow the Law of Moses yet they don’t do it themselves. They get in the way of people who are about to enter the kingdom of heaven because they don’t understand the real reason for the rules and they give a bad example in their lives. The “kingdom of heaven” is not about when you die, but a state of awakened consciousness and connection with God here and now. It is about actively participating with God in making the world a better place.

Let us dig deeper on the “unmarked grave” idea. There is a Jewish concept about being defiled by death. Having contact with a dead body will result in you being unable to participate in normal life for seven days. It takes a lot of work to get you ritually pure again. You are essentially a leper – you have to live outside of the camp (or city). You don’t get to live with your family or hang out with your friends.

The rule comes from Numbers 19:11-12 (HCSB) –
11 “The person who touches any human corpse will be unclean for seven days.12 He is to purify himself with the water on the third day and the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. 13 Anyone who touches a body of a person who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person will be cut off from Israel. He remains unclean because the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, and his uncleanness is still on him.

If this wasn’t difficult enough, the cure itself isn’t easy. This isn’t just any water (see verse 12) that is being talked about. The “water for impurity” – rather, the water used to remove impurity – isn’t easy to make. It requires a long and involved process. Here are the instructions for making that.

Numbers 19:1-10 (HCSB)
The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, 2 “This is the legal statute that the LORD has commanded: Instruct the Israelites to bring you an unblemished red cow that has no defect and has never been yoked. 3 Give it to Eleazar the priest, and he will have it brought outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4 Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. 5 The cow must be burned in his sight. Its hide, flesh, and blood, are to be burned along with its dung. 6 The priest is to take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson yarn, and throw them onto the fire where the cow is burning. 7 Then the priest must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water; after that he may enter the camp, but he will remain ceremonially unclean until evening. 8 The one who burned the cow must also wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he will remain unclean until evening. 9 “A man who is clean is to gather up the cow’s ashes and deposit them outside the camp in a ceremonially clean place. The ashes must be kept by the Israelite community for preparing the water to remove impurity; it is a sin offering.10 Then the one who gathers up the cow’s ashes must wash his clothes, and he will remain unclean until evening. This is a permanent statute for the Israelites and for the foreigner who resides among them.

So walking over an unmarked grave and not knowing it would be terrible because you would accidentally become defiled. Whether you know it or not you are still defiled. If the grave is marked you have a chance to avoid it – but if it is unmarked you don’t have a chance. The same is true of the religious authorities that Jesus is talking about. They are defiling people with their examples. So people who look up to them are being dragged down into hell. They don’t realize they are being mislead.

This is why I paraphrased the verse from Luke 11:44 like this in the Condensed Gospel: “Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves. People walk over you not even knowing that they have become defiled.”

While this rendering gives a little more insight into the verse, I felt a further understanding of the Jewish death taboos was helpful, so that is why I have included it here.

Religious hypocrites discredited.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples “The Jewish leaders and the Pharisees have the authority of Moses. Therefore, follow their rules and do what they say to do. But make sure not to follow their example because they don’t practice what they preach.”

MT 23:1-3

“It is terrible to be them, because they load people with heavy burdens that are hard to carry when they give them all these rules, yet they themselves can’t be bothered to lift those same burdens with even a finger.”

MT 23:4, LK 11:46

“They evict widows from their homes and say long prayers just to show off. God will punish them more than others because of this.”

MT 23:14, LK 20:47, MK 12:40

“They do everything to show off how pious they are so they will be noticed by others. They wear long robes and make their tefillin and tzitzit bigger than necessary. They love it when they have the front seat in the synagogue and the seat of honor at a banquet. They are pleased when they are recognized and greeted in the marketplace and people call them Rabbi.”

MT 23:5-7, LK 11:43, LK 20:45-46, MK 12:38-39

“But as for you, don’t be called Rabbi or Teacher, because you have one Teacher, and that is God, and you are all equal like brothers. Don’t call anyone on earth your father because you have one Father, and that is God. And do not be called Master, because you have only one Master, and that is the Messiah. To be the greatest, be a servant. Whoever raises himself up will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised up.”

MT 23:8-12

“Beware, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You make it impossible for people to enter the kingdom of heaven, because you have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves don’t go in, and you don’t allow those who are entering to go in either.”

MT 23:13, LK 11:52

“Beware, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel far and wide to convert one person, and then when he is converted, you make him twice as damned as you are.”

MT 23:15

“Beware, you blind guides, who say it means nothing if you take an oath ‘by the Temple’, but then say if you swear by the gold of the Temple, it is binding. You are blind fools! What is greater, the gold, or the Temple that makes the gold holy? You also say that it means nothing if you take an oath ‘by the altar,’ but then say that if you take an oath by the gifts on the altar it is binding! You fools and blind people! What is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? Therefore, the person who takes an oath by the altar takes an oath by it and everything on it, and when you take an oath by the Temple you are taking an oath by it and by God who dwells in it, and the person who makes an oath by heaven makes it by the throne of God and by the One who sits on it.”

MT 23:16-22

“Beware, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You make sure to ritually clean the outside of the cup and dish, but you are full of greed, evil, and self-indulgence inside! You are blind fools! Didn’t the One who made the outside make the inside as well? First clean the inside of the cup and dish so the outside will also become clean. Donate to charity from your heart first and then everything will be clean for you.”

MT 23:25-26, LK 11:39-41

“Beware, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You make sure to tithe a tenth of your mint, dill, cumin, rue, and every other kind of herb, and yet you neglect the more important matters of the Law such as justice, mercy, and love for God. You should have taken care of these without neglecting the rest. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet you swallow a camel!”

MT 23:23-24, LK :42

“Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves. People walk over you not even knowing that they have become defiled.”

LK 11:44

“Woe to you! You are like whitewashed mausoleums, which appear beautiful on the outside but are full of impurity on the inside. You appear on the outside like righteous men, yet on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and sin.”

MT 23:27-28

“Beware, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous. You say ‘If we had lived in the time of our fathers, we wouldn’t have shed the prophet’s blood along with them.’ You therefore testify against yourselves that you are the sons of those who killed the prophets! Fill up on the measure of your fathers’ sins. You are witnesses that you approve of what your fathers did because they killed the prophets and now you build monuments to them.”

MT 23:29-32, LK 11:47-48

“You are a nest of snakes! How can you escape from the fires of hell? This is why the wisdom of God said ‘I will send them prophets, sages, scribes, and apostles. Some of them will be killed, persecuted and crucified, and some of them you will beat in your synagogues and chase from town to town. This will mean that this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that was shed since the beginning of the world – from the blood of righteous Abel all the way to Zechariah, son of Berechiah, who you murdered in the Temple between the altar and the sanctuary. Mark my words, this generation will be held responsible!”

MT 23:33-36, LK 11:49-51

The scribes, Pharisees, and experts in the Law all felt insulted and furious. From that moment on they began to challenge Jesus about matters of Jewish Law, trying to trap him into saying something wrong so they could bring charges against him.

LK 11:53-54