What Made Jesus Mad?

Problematic Morality

Keith McFarren

September 20, 2020

Matthew 7:1-5

 


 


 


     I must have been four or five years old.  I remember watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry on TV.  The singing cowboys.  That’s when I got my cowboy hat, my cowboy boots and my plastic guitar.  I wanted to be just like them.  To the best of my knowledge that’s when I first started to enjoy the sound of music.


     I remember my mom and dad having a record player.  I remember hearing big band music and some Hank Williams.  I remember watching TV – WKZO out of Kalamazoo.  The Midwest Barn Dance, I think it was called.  Country music at its finest.  I couldn’t wait for the 5th grade so I could play the alto saxophone.  It was part of my life for over five years.  But I got to the point in my career where it was going to have to be the saxophone or sports…and sports won out.  I sometimes wonder how far I could have gone with the saxophone.  What I could have become. 


     But the world of music really opened up for me in the 7th grade when I met all sorts of different kids at North Side.  A lot of them had older brothers and sisters who listened to the radio…and what I suddenly became aware of was that there were all sorts of AM radio stations out there that played rock and roll music and I found myself listening to rock and roll music on my transistor radio.  WLS and WCFL out of Chicago.   WOWO out of Fort Wayne.  And on a good night I could get Cousin Brucie on WABC out of New York City.  The Beach Boys.  The Beatles.  The Buckinghams.  The Cryin’ Shames.  The Association.  Tommy James and the Shondells, The Four Tops, The Temptations.  The music was good…and life was good.


     The music stayed with me until the 1970’s.  That’s when a new type of music began to appear.  Heavy Metal music they called it…with groups called: Metallica, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Megadeath, Slayer and Anthrax.  Heavy Metal music was defined as “a thick, massive sound, characterized by distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats and loudness.  The lyrics to the music were associated with anger and aggression” (Wikipedia, Heavy Metal Music).


 


     It was also during this time period that another new type of music appeared – the beginning of what we now call contemporary Christian music.  So suddenly we found ourselves in a cultural war…a war between good wholesome Christian music and Heavy Metal music…music that certain Christian circles were saying contained subliminal messages that might cause the listener to want to worship Satan.  But the only way these subliminal messages could be heard was if we played the music backwards on our record players.


     I’m sure that there were Heavy Metal musical artists who were dabbling in drugs and the occult and I don’t go along with that.  And from my standpoint, Heavy Metal music was terrible and some of the lyrics were raunchy.  Between the words of the music and the lifestyles of the artists, who children often want to emulate, parents of children probably should have been concerned about their child’s musical tastes.  But when Christians suddenly became concerned about subliminal messages that could only be heard if you played your record player backwards (however you did that) it was as though they were out to destroy the freedom of choice of music.  And it did nothing but create a chasm between modern culture and the church by placing the church up on a pedestal with it’s holier than thou attitude, looking down with an attitude of superiority and disgust, judging those who did not agree with its viewpoint. 


 


     Jesus tells a story in the 18th chapter of Luke.  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee said, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers, tax collectors, [and people that sing and listen to heavy metal music.]  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get to the church” (Luke 18:10-12).


     That was quite a comparison, wasn’t it?  Robbers, evil doers, adulterers, heavy metal people.  When we want to feel better about ourselves it’s always good to have a list of people that we think we’re better than so that we can look our noses down at them…and a list of all the things we think we do better than anyone else.  The fancy word for that is “self-aggrandizement.”  As long as we can keep the world around us focused on other people, no one will take a good look at us to see what we’re doing and who we really are.    


     Tim Keller, in his book Generous Justice, writes that “One of the problems with moralism – the idea that you can merit God’s salvation by your good works and moral efforts – is that it is profoundly hypocritical.  It cannot live up to its own standards” (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, New York, New York; Penguin, 2012, 82).


 


     The Pharisee in the story Jesus told didn’t really go to the temple to pray; he went there to tell God how good he was and how much better he was than everyone else.  The whole thing was all about him.  He made it a point to tell God how he fasted twice a week even though all that was required by Jewish law was fasting one day per year, on the Day of Atonement.  Unfortunately, God doesn’t give extra credit for good behavior.


     There was another guy at the temple praying that day.  A tax collector (or was it a Heavy Metal musician or Heavy Metal music lover?) stood away at a distance.  Humbled, he wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but beat his chest and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).


     Tax collectors were looked at as just that – sinners.  They were Jews who sold out their own people.  They were traitors who in their greed, were helping fund the occupying Roman forces in Palestine and at the same time setting their own rates for taxes and then taxed their own countrymen.  Because of the seriousness of their sin, the church decided that if a tax collector was going to sell out his Jewish brothers and sisters, he would no longer be one of “us.”  Instead, he would be treated as an outsider and would only be allowed to worship with the Gentiles, just inside the door of the temple.


 


     There is a word or a term that could be used to describe this holier than thou attitude that the Pharisee brought before God.  It’s called “gracism.”  It’s like religious racism.  “Gracism, like racism, excludes a certain group of people because one group believes that they are better than another.  In this case, the Pharisees versus the rest of the world…it’s not so much about the color of one’s skin as it is the color of one’s sin.


     Gracism stands up on its pedestal and proudly proclaims: “Look at me God, look at all I’ve done:


  • “I only listen to good, wholesome Christian music.”

  • “There’s not a week goes by that I don’t tithe to the church.”

  • “I secretly paid for someone’s meal at McDonald’s this week but I couldn’t stand it so I went up and asked them how they enjoyed the meal I so graciously bought them.”

  • “I deserve God’s grace because of who I am and all that I’ve done.”


 


    


     Imagine you are one of the guys who are already following Jesus and you come upon the tax collector’s booth and there stands Matthew, the jerk who sold his soul to the Roman government; the guy who causes you so much financial pain.  You wait for Jesus to unload on the guy and tell him that if he doesn’t change his ways he’s going to go to hell.  But instead, you hear Jesus say, “Follow me.”  “Follow me?”  You were waiting for Jesus to say, “Repent, you sinner.”  But, “Follow me?”  Never in a million years.


     Matthew the tax collector had been hard on these guys since day one.  Every time they brought their catch to shore, there stood Matthew ready to tax them on what they had caught…and now, now Jesus wants him to join the group…to be one of us.  That’s like having Metallica or Black Sabbath play Amazing Grace in their own heavy metal style for the opening hymn on Sunday morning!  Let’s face it, they may have been lowly fishermen but on the “gracism” list, on the list of “those who deserve to be with God,” they still looked at themselves as being a lot better than prostitutes and tax collectors and other sinners.


     Everyone has someone they can look down upon.  Even first century fishermen.  Normal people looked down on the fishermen because it wasn’t a prestigious job by any means plus they were always dirty and always smelled bad so it must have been a pretty good feeling for the fishermen to have someone below them on the gracism hierarchy pole.  It’s part of life – everyone wants to be around people they can look down upon because it makes us look and feel so much better. 


 


     After Matthew decided to follow Jesus and join Jesus’ group of disciples, he threw a big party at his house to celebrate and we’re told that “Many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples” (Matthew 9:10).  But in the eyes of the Pharisees, the ones who trusted in themselves and treated others with contempt, this was offensive and morally wrong because the sinners of the world were just that, sinners.  They were low class, social outcasts and they were to be treated as such, not as special guests spreading their pollution at a big fancy party.


     When Jesus heard the Pharisees grumbling about all this he said, “Here’s what I want you to do.” Because you are Pharisees and know so much about the bible, I’m sure you’ll remember the words God spoke through the Prophet Hosea.  Do you remember when he said, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Hosea 6:6).  “I know you know this scripture from memory but I want you to go and figure out what it actually means.”


     The goal of the kingdom of God is not to create a church where people think of themselves as being righteous and treat others with contempt.  The goal is not to put yourself up on a pedestal and look down on others who aren’t like you.


    


     Remember the tax collector that stood humbled before God, the one who admitted his wrong doings and admitted he was a sinner?  “I tell you this,” Jesus said.  “This man went back to his house justified, forgiven by God, but not the Pharisee.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbled himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).    


     There is nothing wrong with having high moral standards of behavior, but the temptation to look down on the moral failures of others is in itself a temptation to play God.  Those that want to play God and tell others what to do and how to live are the ones who need to take a long look in the mirror before they begin to criticize others.


     Only the faultless have the right to look for faults in others.  None of us has a right to criticize another person unless we are prepared to try to do the thing we are criticizing better.  “Armchair quarterbacks” they call them.  They sit around and find fault with the plays and the players.  “If only they would have done this or if only they would have done that.”  Why don’t you go out and be the coach?  You go out and be the player.


     Churches are full of people who criticize this and criticize that, yet those are the same people are never willing to step forward to try to make things better.  The world is full of people who claim the right to be critical but those same people are also the ones who seem to be exempt from taking action.


 


     “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  The Pharisee separated himself from everyone else and boasted of how good he was to God, while the tax collector was humbled before God and declared his sinfulness.  The Pharisee went home no better than he was when he came…but the tax collector went home justified (just as if I’d never done anything wrong).


     The problem with pride is that it is easy for us to recognize it in someone else but it’s difficult see it in ourselves.  How easy it is for us to judge others and say, “Thank you God for not making me like all those who are sinners and hypocrites and self-righteous.”  Yet how difficult it is for us to get down on our knees and humble ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”   


 


Sermon series “What Mad Jesus Mad? based on the book “What Made Jesus Mad? by Tim Harlow, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2019.


 


 


 


   


What Made Jesus Mad?

Problematic Morality

Keith McFarren

September 20, 2020

Matthew 7:1-5

 


 


 


     I must have been four or five years old.  I remember watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry on TV.  The singing cowboys.  That’s when I got my cowboy hat, my cowboy boots and my plastic guitar.  I wanted to be just like them.  To the best of my knowledge that’s when I first started to enjoy the sound of music.


     I remember my mom and dad having a record player.  I remember hearing big band music and some Hank Williams.  I remember watching TV – WKZO out of Kalamazoo.  The Midwest Barn Dance, I think it was called.  Country music at its finest.  I couldn’t wait for the 5th grade so I could play the alto saxophone.  It was part of my life for over five years.  But I got to the point in my career where it was going to have to be the saxophone or sports…and sports won out.  I sometimes wonder how far I could have gone with the saxophone.  What I could have become. 


     But the world of music really opened up for me in the 7th grade when I met all sorts of different kids at North Side.  A lot of them had older brothers and sisters who listened to the radio…and what I suddenly became aware of was that there were all sorts of AM radio stations out there that played rock and roll music and I found myself listening to rock and roll music on my transistor radio.  WLS and WCFL out of Chicago.   WOWO out of Fort Wayne.  And on a good night I could get Cousin Brucie on WABC out of New York City.  The Beach Boys.  The Beatles.  The Buckinghams.  The Cryin’ Shames.  The Association.  Tommy James and the Shondells, The Four Tops, The Temptations.  The music was good…and life was good.


     The music stayed with me until the 1970’s.  That’s when a new type of music began to appear.  Heavy Metal music they called it…with groups called: Metallica, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Megadeath, Slayer and Anthrax.  Heavy Metal music was defined as “a thick, massive sound, characterized by distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats and loudness.  The lyrics to the music were associated with anger and aggression” (Wikipedia, Heavy Metal Music).


 


     It was also during this time period that another new type of music appeared – the beginning of what we now call contemporary Christian music.  So suddenly we found ourselves in a cultural war…a war between good wholesome Christian music and Heavy Metal music…music that certain Christian circles were saying contained subliminal messages that might cause the listener to want to worship Satan.  But the only way these subliminal messages could be heard was if we played the music backwards on our record players.


     I’m sure that there were Heavy Metal musical artists who were dabbling in drugs and the occult and I don’t go along with that.  And from my standpoint, Heavy Metal music was terrible and some of the lyrics were raunchy.  Between the words of the music and the lifestyles of the artists, who children often want to emulate, parents of children probably should have been concerned about their child’s musical tastes.  But when Christians suddenly became concerned about subliminal messages that could only be heard if you played your record player backwards (however you did that) it was as though they were out to destroy the freedom of choice of music.  And it did nothing but create a chasm between modern culture and the church by placing the church up on a pedestal with it’s holier than thou attitude, looking down with an attitude of superiority and disgust, judging those who did not agree with its viewpoint. 


 


     Jesus tells a story in the 18th chapter of Luke.  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee said, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers, tax collectors, [and people that sing and listen to heavy metal music.]  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get to the church” (Luke 18:10-12).


     That was quite a comparison, wasn’t it?  Robbers, evil doers, adulterers, heavy metal people.  When we want to feel better about ourselves it’s always good to have a list of people that we think we’re better than so that we can look our noses down at them…and a list of all the things we think we do better than anyone else.  The fancy word for that is “self-aggrandizement.”  As long as we can keep the world around us focused on other people, no one will take a good look at us to see what we’re doing and who we really are.    


     Tim Keller, in his book Generous Justice, writes that “One of the problems with moralism – the idea that you can merit God’s salvation by your good works and moral efforts – is that it is profoundly hypocritical.  It cannot live up to its own standards” (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, New York, New York; Penguin, 2012, 82).


 


     The Pharisee in the story Jesus told didn’t really go to the temple to pray; he went there to tell God how good he was and how much better he was than everyone else.  The whole thing was all about him.  He made it a point to tell God how he fasted twice a week even though all that was required by Jewish law was fasting one day per year, on the Day of Atonement.  Unfortunately, God doesn’t give extra credit for good behavior.


     There was another guy at the temple praying that day.  A tax collector (or was it a Heavy Metal musician or Heavy Metal music lover?) stood away at a distance.  Humbled, he wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but beat his chest and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).


     Tax collectors were looked at as just that – sinners.  They were Jews who sold out their own people.  They were traitors who in their greed, were helping fund the occupying Roman forces in Palestine and at the same time setting their own rates for taxes and then taxed their own countrymen.  Because of the seriousness of their sin, the church decided that if a tax collector was going to sell out his Jewish brothers and sisters, he would no longer be one of “us.”  Instead, he would be treated as an outsider and would only be allowed to worship with the Gentiles, just inside the door of the temple.


 


     There is a word or a term that could be used to describe this holier than thou attitude that the Pharisee brought before God.  It’s called “gracism.”  It’s like religious racism.  “Gracism, like racism, excludes a certain group of people because one group believes that they are better than another.  In this case, the Pharisees versus the rest of the world…it’s not so much about the color of one’s skin as it is the color of one’s sin.


     Gracism stands up on its pedestal and proudly proclaims: “Look at me God, look at all I’ve done:


  • “I only listen to good, wholesome Christian music.”

  • “There’s not a week goes by that I don’t tithe to the church.”

  • “I secretly paid for someone’s meal at McDonald’s this week but I couldn’t stand it so I went up and asked them how they enjoyed the meal I so graciously bought them.”

  • “I deserve God’s grace because of who I am and all that I’ve done.”


 


    


     Imagine you are one of the guys who are already following Jesus and you come upon the tax collector’s booth and there stands Matthew, the jerk who sold his soul to the Roman government; the guy who causes you so much financial pain.  You wait for Jesus to unload on the guy and tell him that if he doesn’t change his ways he’s going to go to hell.  But instead, you hear Jesus say, “Follow me.”  “Follow me?”  You were waiting for Jesus to say, “Repent, you sinner.”  But, “Follow me?”  Never in a million years.


     Matthew the tax collector had been hard on these guys since day one.  Every time they brought their catch to shore, there stood Matthew ready to tax them on what they had caught…and now, now Jesus wants him to join the group…to be one of us.  That’s like having Metallica or Black Sabbath play Amazing Grace in their own heavy metal style for the opening hymn on Sunday morning!  Let’s face it, they may have been lowly fishermen but on the “gracism” list, on the list of “those who deserve to be with God,” they still looked at themselves as being a lot better than prostitutes and tax collectors and other sinners.


     Everyone has someone they can look down upon.  Even first century fishermen.  Normal people looked down on the fishermen because it wasn’t a prestigious job by any means plus they were always dirty and always smelled bad so it must have been a pretty good feeling for the fishermen to have someone below them on the gracism hierarchy pole.  It’s part of life – everyone wants to be around people they can look down upon because it makes us look and feel so much better. 


 


     After Matthew decided to follow Jesus and join Jesus’ group of disciples, he threw a big party at his house to celebrate and we’re told that “Many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples” (Matthew 9:10).  But in the eyes of the Pharisees, the ones who trusted in themselves and treated others with contempt, this was offensive and morally wrong because the sinners of the world were just that, sinners.  They were low class, social outcasts and they were to be treated as such, not as special guests spreading their pollution at a big fancy party.


     When Jesus heard the Pharisees grumbling about all this he said, “Here’s what I want you to do.” Because you are Pharisees and know so much about the bible, I’m sure you’ll remember the words God spoke through the Prophet Hosea.  Do you remember when he said, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Hosea 6:6).  “I know you know this scripture from memory but I want you to go and figure out what it actually means.”


     The goal of the kingdom of God is not to create a church where people think of themselves as being righteous and treat others with contempt.  The goal is not to put yourself up on a pedestal and look down on others who aren’t like you.


    


     Remember the tax collector that stood humbled before God, the one who admitted his wrong doings and admitted he was a sinner?  “I tell you this,” Jesus said.  “This man went back to his house justified, forgiven by God, but not the Pharisee.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbled himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).    


     There is nothing wrong with having high moral standards of behavior, but the temptation to look down on the moral failures of others is in itself a temptation to play God.  Those that want to play God and tell others what to do and how to live are the ones who need to take a long look in the mirror before they begin to criticize others.


     Only the faultless have the right to look for faults in others.  None of us has a right to criticize another person unless we are prepared to try to do the thing we are criticizing better.  “Armchair quarterbacks” they call them.  They sit around and find fault with the plays and the players.  “If only they would have done this or if only they would have done that.”  Why don’t you go out and be the coach?  You go out and be the player.


     Churches are full of people who criticize this and criticize that, yet those are the same people are never willing to step forward to try to make things better.  The world is full of people who claim the right to be critical but those same people are also the ones who seem to be exempt from taking action.


 


     “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  The Pharisee separated himself from everyone else and boasted of how good he was to God, while the tax collector was humbled before God and declared his sinfulness.  The Pharisee went home no better than he was when he came…but the tax collector went home justified (just as if I’d never done anything wrong).


     The problem with pride is that it is easy for us to recognize it in someone else but it’s difficult see it in ourselves.  How easy it is for us to judge others and say, “Thank you God for not making me like all those who are sinners and hypocrites and self-righteous.”  Yet how difficult it is for us to get down on our knees and humble ourselves and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”   


 


Sermon series “What Mad Jesus Mad? based on the book “What Made Jesus Mad? by Tim Harlow, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2019.