pharisees

When I was young, I liked to envision what my future would be. My DNA would pull heavily from the tall, thin people in my extended family. God would lead me into the college and career where I would be deliriously happy, and I would change the world for good. I would always be near my mom and dad and brother, and we would be the picture perfect family. The friends I had then would stay my friends forever. I also had all sorts of plans and expectations for the husband and children God would give me. I knew what kind of house we would live in and what kind of vacations we would take. I had planned out my children’s education and careers, and we would all live happily ever after.

I do have a great life with wonderful people around me, but my life doesn’t look much like anything that I planned. I could spend my time trying to force my present to match the expectations of my past. I could spend my time pouting because what I wanted back then doesn’t match what I have now. OR I can trust that the God who has gently led me through these decades still knows exactly what he is doing, and be thankful for and find joy in the blessings I have now that I couldn’t even imagine back then.

John 7 gives a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the crowds and the Pharisees during Jesus’ ministry. They were the best educated of their time. They knew the history of God’s love for his people, and they knew the scriptures. They’ve been praying for a messiah, a Christ, for hundreds of years. Their zeal for God’s law was admirable. They were utterly committed to what they knew of God. But a good start does not guarantee a happy ending. When Jesus showed up, he did miracles that amazed them. He taught with understanding and authority they couldn’t explain or ignore. He made the crowds curious and the Pharisees furious.

The problem was that the Pharisees didn’t really want a messiah; they wanted their own power and expectations to be protected. They wouldn’t tolerate what they didn’t approve. They wanted to protect what they had and insisted that God stay in the box they fashioned for him. They had decided what this Christ would be and do, and this Jesus didn’t match what they had planned. So, rather than consider the truth of his teaching or the power of his miracles, they focused on proving that they were still right and this Jesus had to be wrong…and they missed sweet fellowship with God Incarnate. God didn’t obey them, so they trusted themselves instead.

How did the Pharisees who probably began their lives with a desire to serve God end up executing him? How do we begin seeking God’s presence and end up ignoring his calling and manipulating our own will? Forcing the vision of our past on our present won’t change God, but it might separate us from him.

Anyone who thinks the Bible is an irrelevant, boring, outdated book clearly has not read it. My study of the gospel of John has shown me that Jesus’ time on earth had the same tedium, hassles, disappointments, and threats from enemies and bullies that we still deal with every day. He responded with love and grace for all who would receive it from him. But the Pharisees saved their love only for themselves. In their zeal to enforce their religion and power on all those around them, the Pharisees lost the opportunity to see God.

What will you do when your circumstances don’t match your expectations? When God insists on being God, rather than a genie who grants your every wish? We could learn a lot from the Pharisees. A relationship with Jesus the Christ is still changing minds and hearts, 2000 years later. Pharisees no longer make the rules or have the power. May we learn from their example and remember that God does not obey us; we obey him, even when our circumstances don’t match our plans.

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