Part II: Jesus and the Fence Approach

Last Sunday evening I began a series of three or four lessons on FENCES: FAITH OR CONTROL? First, I want to tell you that I hope to make each lesson complete in itself. However, if you wish to couple all the lessons together, there are several ways to do that even if you have to miss a lesson. You can download the lesson from the West-Ark website. Most of the time, we are able to post the Sunday night lesson the following day. If you do not have a computer, the material is available to you from the office in a hard copy form or you may acquire an audio tape of the lesson.

Second, I want to begin with a brief review of the first lesson.

  1. First, let me begin by saying that today there are four primary expressions of Judaism (and many divisions under those collectively).
    1. There is the Orthodox expression that primarily focus on the law or Torah.
    2. There is the Reformed expression that primarily focuses on the ethical calls of the Jewish prophets.
    3. There is the Conservative expression.
    4. The is Reconstructionist Judaism.
    5. The material last week focused primarily upon the Orthodox expression and its focus on the law; in the Christian religious circles would be they would be called a fundamentalists approach.
      1. The approach of the orthodox Jew of today is basically the approach followed by the Pharisees before Christianity came into existence.
      2. This approach basically follows what is understood to be the literal and ancient meaning of the Law or the Torah.

  2. The basic focus of last week's lesson was on the Pharisees' approach to keeping faithful people from accidentally violating an unchangeable law from the unchangeable God.
    1. That approach was basically to build a fence around the Law.
      1. The approach was basically this:
        1. Identify the meaning of the specific law.
        2. Protect against the violation of that law through building a fence of rabbinical rulings.
        3. Further protect against the violation of that law through building a fence of accepted customs.
      2. We used the fourth commandment in the ten commands to Israel as an example: keep the Sabbath day holy by not working.
        1. We read from the Mishnah to note their 39 divisions of work.

  3. One of the recorded confrontations Jesus had with the Pharisees concerned Sabbath work violations.
    1. Consider the confrontation recorded in Matthew 12:1-8.
      1. Jesus and his disciples took a Sabbath walk along the edges of some ripened grain fields.
      2. The Pharisees were following them, observing their actions.
      3. The hungry disciples striped some raw grain heads by the path and ate the raw grain.
      4. The Pharisees immediately declared that the disciples had violated the law not to work on the Sabbath.
        1. According to the Pharisees, what the disciples did was cross one of the fences.
        2. According to the Pharisees, what they did violated one of the 39 classifications of work--they were either reaping or harvesting.
    2. Jesus rejected their accusation and declared his disciples innocent. He did this in four fascinating ways.
      1. First, he used the well known example of an act of David before he became king.
        1. David was still recognized as a man of God, as the most godly king Israel ever had, as ruling the golden kingdom of Israel.
        2. For Jesus to cite David was to cite someone the Pharisees accepted as a godly Jew.
        3. The incident Jesus cited is found in 1 Samuel 21 when David fled from King Saul because it was certain that King Saul intended to kill him.
          1. As he fled (too quickly to make preparation), he stopped at the village of Nob and asked Abimelech, the priest for some food, some bread.
          2. The priest said, "I do not have any ordinary bread to give you--all I have is the bread of presence (or the consecrated bread)."
          3. Listen to these instructions concerning the bread of presence in Leviticus 24:5-9:
            Then you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it; two-tenths ofan ephah shall be in each cake. And you shall set them in two rows, six to a row, on the pure gold table before the Lord. You shall put pure frankincense on each row that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, even an offering by fire to the Lord. Every Sabbath day he shall set it in order before the Lord continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel. It shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the Lord's offerings by fire, his portion forever."
            1. First, these loaves of bread were to be on that table constantly (Exodus 25:30).
            2. Second, only the priests were to eat the replaced loaves.
            3. David took and ate the bread.
            4. God never condemned David for his act.
        4. What was Jesus point? "Your fence is too small. God obviously considers matters you do not consider."
      2. Jesus' second illustration focused on the fact that the priests worked when they offered sacrifices on the Sabbath.
        1. There is not question that they work--killing and preparing animals for sacrifice is hard work!
        2. Yet, even though they violate the fourth of the ten commandments, they are innocent.
        3. Jesus' point: God's definitions and your definitions are not the same definitions. It is not as simple as deciding what physical act is done; the reason for the act is also important.
      3. Jesus' third illustration is striking: "You condemn the innocent because you are ignorant of God's priorities."
        1. God gave His greatest priority through the prophet Hosea in Hosea 6:6 in the declaration, "I desire compassion (mercy), and not a sacrifice."
        2. Showing mercy was expressing godliness more than offering a sacrifice.
        3. Or, giving kindness to people who do not deserve it is more important than worshipping God.
        4. This is not a rejection of worship, but a declaration that worship of God has meaning when mercy is extended to people.
      4. Jesus' fourth illustration is powerful!
        1. "What God is doing the me is more important that observing the Sabbath."
        2. "I rule the Sabbath--the Sabbath takes its meaning from me!"

  4. Now allow me to try to visually illustrate the problem.
    1. I need to begin this visual illustration with some definitions:
      1. "L" equals a "law from God."
      2. "M" equals the "fence of meaning."
      3. "R" equals the "fence of rabbinical rulings."
      4. "C" equals the "fence of custom."
    2. This approach to defining obedience to God begins with recognizing a law from God.
    3. Once God's Law has been determined, it must be protected (if necessary) by determining its meaning.
    4. Then another layer of protection must be added by building another fence wherein the rabbis made rulings on exceptional situations.
    5. Then another layer of protection must be added by building another fence around the Law that recognizes long-standing, approved custom.
    6. Now look at the problem:
      1. Sin is a violation of are rebellion against God's law.
      2. As fences are built, sin grows to include a fenced in area.
      3. Finally, sin is a violation of humanly determined meaning, of the rabbinical decisions, and of the customs--yet all these came from humans, not from God.

  5. I hope the application of the problem to us is obvious.
    1. Substitute "commandment" for "Law."
      1. Then build the fence of meaning or application around the commandment.
      2. Then build the fence of approved positions on issues in the brotherhood, or by a group of elders, or by a group of preachers.
      3. Then build the fence of approved ways of doing things (or custom).
      4. Then expand the meaning of sin to include our meanings, our approved positions, and our way of doing things, and we reproduce the same problem.
    2. Most of us understand the problem--and even agree that this problem should not exist among Christians.
      1. Agreeing on the concept is not the difficulty.
      2. The difficulty occurs then the application of the concept is directed toward something we feel strongly and emotionally about.
      3. I tried hard to think of a current illustration that would not stir up emotions or pigeon hole me.
        1. Usually, when we stir up emotions we stop thinking.
        2. When we stop thinking, we declare, "I know what you are trying to do--and I know where this is going!"
        3. When that happens, we start reacting and confronting.
    3. Since this illustration is about something I do, maybe you can think instead of reacting.
      1. The illustration is about our use of an invitation song.
      2. I have been preaching for over 50 years, and I do not remember closing a sermon in a church building one time without singing an invitation song.
      3. Did the first century church sing invitation songs? No.
      4. Did the invitation songs we sing exist in the first century church? No.
      5. Does the New Testament command us to use an invitation song? No.
      6. Is it wrong to sing an invitation song? No.
      7. Is it wrong not to sing an invitation song? No.
      8. Then why do we sing invitation songs? We want to be evangelistic.
      9. So invitation songs have become one of our fences built around Jesus Christ's desire to be Savior of the world.
      10. Would you have something to say if you worshipped with a congregation while on a trip that did not sing an invitation song?
      11. Would their singing an invitation song influence your conclusion about them being faithful or unfaithful to God?

This is not a campaign to stop singing invitation songs. It is a cry to all of us, me included. Brothers and sisters, we need to respect each other's conscience and stop condemning the innocent.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 3 July 2005

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell