In his book Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman tells the following story. “A man named John who, dressed in blue jeans, walked into a bank to finalize a business transaction. The teller told him that the officer he needed to see wasn’t in, and he would have to come back the next day. John said that would be fine and asked the teller to validate his parking ticket. The teller then informed him that according to bank policy, she couldn’t validate his parking ticket because he had not technically completed a financial transaction. John asked for an exception, since he had come to the bank intending to do business but wasn’t able to because the appropriate officer wasn’t in. The teller didn’t budge. She said, ‘I’m sorry; that’s our policy. Rules are rules.’ So John decided to make a business transaction. He decided to close his account. John’s last name was Akers. He was the chairman of IBM, and the account he closed had a balance of one-and-a-half million dollars. This qualified as a financial transaction, and the teller was able to validate the parking ticket.” p. 79
According to the policy, the teller was right, but there is more to life than policies – there are people. Throughout His entire ministry Jesus had been challenged and ridiculed by the Pharisees and scribes. They had opposed just about everything He had said and done. They had become experts in following laws and policies and as a result found Jesus message of freedom and joy in the wonder of God’s grace much too radical for their religion. They would have very much agreed with the bank teller, “rules are rules,” and people have to fit into those policies if they are going to get along.
Jesus knew that His time on earth was coming to an end and He would soon be hanging from a cross when He addressed the crowd and his disciples about the misguided legalism of the Pharisees. “The scribes and the Pharisees, sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” Matthew 23:2-4 (also see John 7:19)
For the Pharisees, everything was about doing and living up to their regulations and laws. The Pharisees ordered their world around rules, regulations and checklists. They were so meticulous in their desire to keep rules that when Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and later the blind man, they were furious with Him for working on the Sabbath. (John 5:15-18; 7:19-24)
It becomes easy to drift into the world of Pharisees where policy and regulations take precedent over compassion and mercy. If we are not careful it becomes easy to start carrying heavy burdens that God never intended for us to carry. We have all seen too many Christians try to carry those burdens in their attempt to prove to God their piety and sincerity. But, once they start to carry those burdens there are always more and more to carry until eventually they are crushed under the weight of their load. The result is discouragement and guilt. These Christians live under a continuous dread that they can never be good enough, do enough and act well enough to make a difference with God.
The Pharisees purposely placed the burdens of works, absolute obedience and trying harder on the shoulders of their fellow Jews. But, in Matthew Jesus is quick to point out that they themselves couldn’t carry the burdens. Nothing turns people off more than a hypocrite. Yet, Jesus uses this term over and over to define the Pharisees. These religious leaders, if they would only listen to the words of their own Scriptures, would have known their system of religious ritual and regulations was not the true way of God. They could have lifted the heavy burdens from the shoulders of well-intended people by presenting the grace of God, but rules trumped mercy and compassion.
The big problem with a rules based faith, besides undermining the grace of God, is that it leads to hypocrisy. People cannot bear carrying those burdens forever because they tire out under the pressure and weight of trying to be good enough. They become the first to know that their relationship with God is superficial and they are only putting on a mask to cover the guilt and pain of failing to live up to the expectations they carry. If you’ve found yourself sapped of spiritual strength and joy because of those burdens, then there is good news.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 This is a good text to have taped to the mirror and recite every morning when we get up.
The Pharisees said let us define your faith and tell you how to live. They flaunted their heritage, education, status and relationship with the Sanhedrin as evidence of their spiritual superiority and right to tell others what to do.
But in contrast Jesus simply says come and trust me. I’ve done the heavy work and carried your burdens to the cross. Just come by faith and you will receive grace. I love how Paul states our relationship with Jesus in Hebrews. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16)
John reminds us over and over throughout his gospel that when we believe in Jesus name we enter into salvation. (1:12, 13; 3:16-18; 5:24; 6:26, 35, 40, 47) In Galatians we are told, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1)
In fact Paul is so adamant about not being yoked (carrying heavy burdens) to the law method of salvation that he says we are severed from God if we go down that road. “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (v. 4) He then goes on to contrast the law method with grace in verse five. “For through the Spirit, by faith we wait for the hope of righteousness.”
So here is the contrast. We can carry the heavy burdens that others place on our shoulders of trying to earn our way into the Kingdom of God through absolute obedience to laws or we can accept grace and let Jesus carry the heavy load for us. We can be sticklers over the letter of the law like our bank teller friend and the Pharisees or we come to the throne of grace with confidence in our time of need knowing we shall receive mercy and grace.
* Don’t forget to check out http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for updates on persecution of Christians.