We read His-tory from the Old Testament on through the New Testament, and for so many of us, we don’t even think about that huge 400 year gap between the testaments. I mean really, there’s a huge space, a parenthesis if you will, between the Old and New testaments. Alexander the Great had come along, the Maccabean revolt, and so much more occurred in that space. When we open the New Testament, there are Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and many other groups that did not exist at all back in the Old Testament. They had sprung up in the “parenthesis,” complete with Messianic expectations that Jesus just didn’t quite meet. Hmm… the parenthesis.
Now in English grammar, a parenthesis is where you put thoughts or information that is not necessarily relevant to a complete understanding of the idea presented in the sentence or paragraph. In other words, if you didn’t have what’s in the parenthesis, you’d still be able to make sense of what’s being said. The parenthesis is not vital so to speak. But I want to suggest that in the dealings of God, it is those spaces in between, the parenthesis of life, which are vitally important to the way in which we think about God, as well as our becoming who God wants us to be. As strange as it may seem, I think the religious/political climate of Jesus’ day in many ways mirrors our own time. And if we aren’t careful, as the Church occupying the space between Christ’s first and second coming, we could end up like the first century Jews. We could wind up being religious people, going through the motions, who really have no idea of who God is at all. And it all stems from what goes on in the parenthesis. Let’s look at some of groups that came on the scene in the 400 year parenthesis in Israel’s history, and see if we can learn some things from them.
We are all familiar with the Pharisees. They were one of the most (if not the most) influential groups present at the time of Christ. They had developed what was called the Oral Interpretation of the Law of Moses which sought to elaborate on the various nuances of the law. (It would all be later compiled as the Mishna.) Remember when Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath? Well, the reason they got so upset about that was that in their eyes He had broken the Sabbath. Jesus had instructed a man to carry his bed on the day when no work was to be done. Carrying the bed was work. And the time Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath, using His spit to make mud? Making the mud was considered work. They had actually begun to view their interpretations of scripture as holy as scripture itself, and this caused them (the majority of them) to reject Jesus. They had missed the point! They kept all the rules. They even added some, but in doing so had become hypocrites who, for the sake of their own traditions, made it hard for people to come to God. And if we as the church don’t have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees of Jesus day, as we occupy this space in between the first and second coming of Jesus, we could become hypocrites who reject what God is doing merely for the sake of our own traditions.
Now while we give the Pharisees a really hard time, in my opinion, it was actually the Sadducees who were the real bad guys. (One interesting note is that unlike the Pharisees, you never find it recorded in the NT that any Sadducee ever became a believer.) They were more or less the aristocracy. They were in charge of the temple, the priesthood, and oh yeah- buddy buddy with Rome. See, they had to have at least a decent working relationship with the local “Roman Civic Society” in order to keep things kosher. Be cool with Rome, and things could continue on as is. They rejected the Pharisaical oral tradition, as well as the resurrection from the dead and angels. In the parenthesis, they had developed a love for power and position, and were willing to kill to preserve it. “‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation’.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’” (John 11:47b-50) They decided (along with the Pharisees) to kill Jesus and Lazarus too. Remember, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and he was living proof that directly contradicted their religious beliefs, not to mention that an “out of control Jesus threatened all that they had come to love so much. The presence of True “supernatural” reality could undermine the prestige, position and power they had come to love in the parenthesis. We as the church of Jesus, in this time, must be willing to relinquish the control we so desperately want to maintain, and allow God’s Spirit to move as He so desires, even if it means the loss of our “respectability” and position. Ah, the parenthesis can be so dangerous.
(This post has gotten rather lengthy. To be continued…)