When You Find Yourself In the Crosshairs of Religion

Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as recorded by Mark. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses thirteen through twenty-eight of the second chapter. When you come to this particular portion of scripture you will find Mark beginning to transition within the gospel account to now including those which began to oppose Jesus. In the previous New Testament gospel of Matthew we found the rise and emergence of the scribes, the Pharisees and the religious leaders in the ninth chapter of the book, while in this gospel account we find them mentioned as early as the first chapter. When you read this particular passage of scripture you will notice that it can in fact be broken down into three different segments and scenarios which took place and unfolded within the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ. In the first of the three sections we find the calling of Levi who was a Jewish man sitting at the receipt of custom. Essentially what Matthew was was a Jew by nature who was working for the romans to exact and collect taxes from his fellow brothers and sisters and from his people. As we come to this particular portion of scripture we find Jesus coming upon Levi while He sitting at the receipt of custom—undoubtedly collecting taxes from his fellow people. It’s worth noting and mentioning that within this passage of scripture we find the first of three passages where Jesus and His disciples begin to experience vehement opposition concerning their actions. In this first scenario Jesus faced criticism, rebuke and opposition from the Pharisees because while He sat down to meat with Levi in his house there were many publicans and sinners who came and sat down to meat with Him. In this first of three scenarios we find Jesus being publicly and openly criticized by the Pharisees for His deliberate choosing to sit down to meat with and entertain sinners. ENTERTAINING SINNERS IN THE HOUSE! THERES ROOM FOR SINNERS IN THE HOUSE! SINNERS ARW WELCOME! NO EXCLUSIONS HERE! In this first scenario we find Jesus experiencing opposition from the Pharisees because of His deliberate and intention entertaining and sitting down with both publicans and sinners while sitting in the house of Levi whom He has just called forth from sitting at the receipt of custom.

As you continue reading this particular passage of scripture you will find that while it began and opened up with criticism, rebuke and opposition toward and of Jesus by the Pharisees, it would continue with His own disciples. If there is one thing we must recognize and understand when reading the New Testament gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ it’s that the opposition and criticism of the scribes and Pharisees wasn’t simply directed toward Jesus. There were specific times within and throughout the life and ministry of Jesus during those three years when the disciples found themselves in the crosshairs of religion and in the crosshairs of the religious spirit. IN THE CROSSHAIRS OF RELIGION! WHEN THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT HAS YOU IN ITS CROSSHAIRS! There is not a doubt in my mind when I read this passage of scripture we not only find Jesus in the crosshairs and being the target of the religious spirit and religion, but we also find the disciples themselves being targets of the religious spirit and found to be within its crosshairs. There are within this passage of scripture two specific examples of the disciples being in the crosshairs of those who would seek to criticize and oppose them. The first example is found when the disciples of John came with the Pharisees unto Jesus and asked why they and their disciples fasted often, but the disciples of Jesus didn’t fast at all. Of course Jesus has words to say in response to their seeming rebuke of the disciples He selected and chose, and their not fasting while He was with them. The third and final account of the opposition and criticism of religion within this passage of scripture is found in the account of Jesus and His disciples walking through a field of corn and His disciples being hungry. Mark makes certain to note that they walked through this field on the sabbath day, and that when the disciples began plucking ears of corn on the sabbath day, they were somehow in violation of the sabbath rules and traditions. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and pay close attention to these three passages of scruffier, for it is the second time in as many books where we find the rise, the emergence, the opposition, and the criticism of the religious spirit—not only toward and against Jesus, but also toward and against His disciples. What’s more, is that we must make note of and understand that it’s one thing for such events and occurrences to be referenced, recorded and written about once, but for them to be written about by two separate authors, there is clearly something the Holy Spirit wishes and desires to speak unto us.

Before we delve into these three distinct and unique situations which arose within the life and ministry of Jesus Christ it is necessary to remind ourselves of their presence in the previous New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ which was written by the apostle Matthew. It’s interesting and worth noting that while Mark did not follow, nor did He walk with Jesus the Christ, and as such become a personal eyewitness to such events—when he was hearing about such events from those who were actually present on these occasions, he was made aware of their impact on the ministry of Jesus the Christ, as well as on His disciples. There is not a doubt in my mind that Mark felt it absolutely necessary to write about and include these three references concerning this opposition from the Pharisees, from the scribes, and even from the religious leaders of that day. When we read the four New Testament gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ we must recognize and understand that while Jesus was continually confronted with and by evil spirits which tormented and oppressed countless men, women and children, they were not the greatest source of opposition toward Jesus the Christ. When I began reading and studying the New Testament gospel of Matthew this year, I was completely and utterly struck with and by the fact that the greatest opposition which Jesus faced came not from that place you would naturally expect it, but rather from that place which I am convinced is more often than not more deadly and more dangerous. We tend to think that the most dangerous opposition comes from evil spirits, from demons, and from the spiritual forces of wickedness and darkness that is so pervasive in the world, and yet I would ask you the question of when the last time was you personally experienced and encountered evil spirits or demonic forces. When was the last time you as a disciple and follower of Jesus the Christ have personally experienced and encountered evil spirits and demonic forces within and throughout your life and/or within the ministry you were entrusted with by the Holy Spirit? The more I read the New Testament gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, the more I am completely and utterly convinced that the greatest opposition to Jesus Christ came not from evil spirits and from the demonic forces which were very much active and present during those days, but from the religious spirits which were present during those days. In fact, I would dare say that to miss on this particular point and reality would be to miss on the greatest opposition we as the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ face on a continual and daily basis.

I can’t help but remember reading the New Testament gospel of Matthew this year and being immediately confronted with the fact that the greatest opposition toward and against Jesus came not from demonic forces and evil spirits, but rather from the religious spirit which was animating the scribes, the elders of Israel, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the entire religious system that was present during that day. There is not a doubt in my mind that the single greatest threat Jesus faced during His life and ministry here on the earth was in fact from the religious spirit which was animating the scribes, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, the Sadducees and the like. We dare not, we cannot, we must not neglect, ignore and forget about this particular reality, for to do so would be to miss out on that which I believe the Holy Spirit of the living God would have us learn and understand. It’s absolutely necessary and imperative that we come face to face with the reality that the greatest opposition the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ face while walking with and following Him is not necessarily from evil spirits and from demonic forces, but rather from the religious spirit that will seek to accuse, condemn, criticize and oppose them. There is not a doubt in my mind that the the single greatest danger and threat we face while we make the decision to continue walking with and following Jesus the Christ is that of the religious spirit which can and will seek to accuse us—not only before the throne of God, but also before Jesus the Christ. As you read this particular section contained within the New Testament gospel written by Mark you will find that while the religious spirit didn’t seek to accuse the disciples before the throne of God in heaven, it nonetheless sought to accuse and condemn them before Jesus Christ who was the representation and embodiment of the Heavenly Father who was in heaven. What’s more, is that there wasn’t merely one example and account of this accusation and condemnation toward and against the disciples of Jesus, but there was in fact two distinct and two different examples and accounts of this accusation and condemnation toward and against the disciples of Jesus Christ. What’s more, is that I am convinced that if we are to truly recognize and understand this concept, it is not only necessary to journey back to the Old Testament poetic book of Job, but it is also necessary to journey to the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the New Testament gospel according to Matthew, as well as the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome. As you consider the text and language that is found in each of these passages of Scripture you will notice a distinct and powerful picture beginning to emerge concerning the opposition of the religious spirit with its criticism, judgment, and condemnation of those who walk with and follow Jesus the Christ. Consider if you will the words and language which is found in these particular passages of Scripture beginning with the Old Testament poetic book of Job:

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an u -right man, one that feared God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:6-12).

“Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feared God, and escheweth evil? And still he holders fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause. And Satan answered the Lord, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes. Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:1-10).

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation,and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabited of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (Revelation 12:7-12).

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or who wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patience continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, Ho our, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish withou law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do but nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Romans 2:1-16).

I recognize and fully understand that there might be some who would read the words contained within this writing and would wonder why I would choose to include each of these five passages when writing concerning the Pharisees, the scribes and their accusation, their condemnation and their judgment toward and against both Jesus and His disciples. The truth of the matter is that I am completely and utterly convinced that each of these passages brings us face to face with the reality of the ultimate source of judgment, accusation and condemnation toward and against the disciples and followers of Jesus the Christ. If you journey back to the Old Testament poetic book of Job, you will find one of—if not perhaps the first account of Satan himself accusing one of God’s own before His throne. When you read the Old Testament book of Job you will find Satan accusing Job before the throne of God in heaven—not once, but twice; and the second accusation was built and based upon the first accusation. Satan’s main accusation against Job was that he worshipped, he walked with, and he served God because of the hedge of protection and provision the Lord had placed and bestowed upon Job. The main argument and accusation Satan hurled and lobbied against Job in the Old Testament was that he only walked with and followed the Lord because of the provision and protection the Lord afforded him within his life. Satan declared unto the Lord that if the Lord stretched forth His hand and touched all that Job had—his wealth, his possessions, and even his family—he would curse God to His face. Satan argued that Job was only following and walking with the Lord for what he could offer and provide for him. When the Lord agreed to allow Satan to touch everything Job had save his physical body, Satan went out and did so, only to find and discover that Job would not curse God and would not sin against him with his mouth. What is so incredibly interesting about the account of Job is that there came a second accusation and a second judgment and word of condemnation toward and against him. Satan didn’t merely accuse Job before the throne of God once, but he would appear before the throne of God a second time with the sons of God, and on this second occasion, he accused Job once more—this time of continuing to serve and follow the Lord because although all his possessions and wealth had been touched, his physical health remained in tact. The Lord agreed to allow Satan to touch Job’s physical body, but he could not physically kill Job and put him to death. Satan went out according to the permission of the Lord and did exactly what the Lord had given him permission to do, for he went out and struck Job’s body with sores and boils from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. It’s worth noting that not only did Satan seek to accuse Job before the throne of God, but Satan also sought to destroy Job, as well as his faith and relationship with the living God. When we consider the life of Job, it is absolutely necessary that we come to terms with the fact that Satan didn’t merely seek to accuse Job before the throne of God, but Satan also sought to destroy Job—his wealth, his possessions, his family, and even his own physical health.

As you come to the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ which was written and recorded by Mark, it is absolutely necessary that we recognize that in this concise account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, he not only saw fit, but was also inspired by the Holy Spirit to write and include four specific examples of the opposition, criticism, accusation, condemnation and judgment of the religious system that was present during those days. What is so incredibly intriguing about the second chapter of the New Testament gospel concerning the life and ministry of Jesus Christ which was written and recorded by Mark is that the entire chapter is saturated and filled with references concerning this opposition of the religious spirit toward and against Jesus the Christ. There are four distinct references within this passage of Scripture that describe this opposition of the religious spirit as it worked behind the scenes to oppose Jesus Christ and the life and ministry He was entrusted with by His Father who was in heaven. Of the four distinct accounts of the opposition of the religious spirit found and contained within this passage, two of them deal specifically with Jesus Himself, as the religious spirit sought to accuse Jesus Christ of evil and wrongdoing—namely, of blasphemy when He declared unto the man sick of the palsy that his sins were forgiven him, and for entertaining sinners and publicans when He sat down to meat with Levi within his house. In verses one through twelve we find the account of the man who was sick of the palsy being lowered from the roof into the house before Jesus, and Jesus upon seeing the faith of the four who bore this man and place him before Him, declared unto the man that his sins were forgiven him. This of course set off a frenzy and outrage among the scribes who were present on this day, for they immediately accused Jesus of blasphemy. In fact, consider the words which Mark records the scribes actually spoke upon hearing Jesus profess this man’s sins were forgiven: “But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?” Upon hearing Jesus declare unto this man that his sins were forgiven, the scribes reasoned within their hearts why Jesus would speak forth blasphemies, and who could forgive sins but God and Him alone. If you continue reading this passage, you will find in verses thirteen through seventeen Jesus calling Levi to leave the receipt of the custom and to follow Him. Mark goes on to record how Levi immediately rose up from that place and followed Jesus. When Jesus sat down to meat at Levi’s house, there were a number of publicans and sinners who sat down to meat with Jesus and His disciples, for there were many of them who followed Jesus. Outraged with and by the fact that Jesus would choose to entertain sinners and publicans, the Pharisees asked this question of His disciples: “How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?”

Thus far within the first seventeen verses we have found the religious spirit accusing Jesus of blasphemy when He declared unto the man who was sick of the palsy that his sins were forgiven him, and condemning Jesus for sitting down to meat with and entertaining sinners and publicans. I have to admit that I absolutely love that Mark wastes absolutely no time introducing us to the opposition of the religious spirit during the days of Jesus the Christ, for it’s almost as if Mark wants us to understand early on that more often than not the greatest opposition we face within our lives comes not from evil spirits and from demonic forces, but from the religious spirit who seeks to accuse and condemn us before the living God. In verses one through seventeen we find the religious spirit accusing Jesus of blasphemy, while also condemning Him for eating with sinners, and as you continue reading this passage you will find that the religious spirit moves from accusing and condemning Jesus the Christ to accusing and condemning His disciples. In essence—what began as accusation and condemnation toward and against the disciples of Jesus would continue on and progress to include even His disciples. NOT EVEN THE DISCIPLES ARE EXEMPT! I have to admit that I find it incredibly interesting and challenging that thus far both Mark and the apostle Matthew have written and recorded the accusation and condemnation of the religious spirit toward and against the disciples of Jesus in addition to Jesus Himself, for it was Jesus Himself who emphatically declared that the servant is not above his master, and the disciple is not above his lord. Jesus declared that if the world hated Him, it would also hate his disciples and followers as well. With that being said, I am completely and utterly convinced that if the religious spirit accused and concerned Jesus the Christ it would also accuse, attack and condemn the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ—those who walked with and followed Him. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this reality and principle, for to miss and lose sight on this would be to miss out on the incredible reality that the religious spirit can and will seek to accuse us before the throne of God, as well as before others. What’s more, is that the religious spirit cast and will also accuse and condemn us within our own hearts and minds. Oh, I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus the Christ spoke when speaking unto Nicodemus who came to him by night to hear and listen to Him speak. Beginning with the sixteenth verse of the third chapter you will find the following words spoken by Jesus the Christ unto Nicodemus who came to Him by night to hear and listen to Him speak:

“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. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world though Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, 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 hate the the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:16-21).

As I am sitting here this morning I can’t help but be reminded of the words which are found in the eighth chapter of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Roman saints and Christians, as well as the words which the apostle Paul wrote in his second epistle unto the saints and believers which were in Corinth. I would like to bring and call your attention to the words which are found in each of these passages to help you understand the difference between the religious spirit and the Holy Spirit of God, as well as the difference between the voice of accusation and the voice of grace. Beginning with the first verse of the eighth chapter of the New Testament epistle written unto the Roman saints we find the following words:

“There is therefore now on condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:1-3).

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? HE that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justified his. Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:33-39).

I leave you with the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were present at Corinth in the fifth chapter of the second epistle which was written and sent unto them. Beginning with the sixteenth verse of the fifth chapter we find the following words:

“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have not known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, He is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s