motorways, egg-shells, and crossing the t’s & dotting the i’s

An elderly man was once driving down the M74 and turned on his car radio for the BBC Scotland news headlines on the hour.

After the news came a brief sports report and weather update and finally the traffic news…..”police report that a car is travelling in the wrong direction on the M74 motorway”

“That’s funny” ,he said to himself, “one car; there seem to be dozens of them driving the wrong way toward me”

That  little story perhaps illustrates a principle that’s not altogether uncommon. Many people, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, believe that they are absolutely correct. Those other cars on the motorway are the ones that are wrong. It couldn’t possibly be me. And in the process, we lose our focus and our sense of why we do what we do.

An old story tells of a man who fell ill. It just so happens that the place where he fell was exactly between two villages. This presented a problem. The authorities tending to the situation decided that the village to which he was closest would take care of him. But one village maintained that the distance should be measured from the man’s navel; the other village argued that it should be calculated from the man’s mouth. As the two communities argued the case, the poor fellow died.

The same kind of thing happens as some people attempt to relate to God. Like the man driving the wrong way on the motorway, people seeking to honour God can actually be travelling the wrong way. Like the authorities of the two communities arguing about who was closest to the sick man, that people seeking to honour God  can be majoring in the minors while souls are dying.

The religious authorities of Christ’s time were somewhat like that.
They insisted that the law be followed – but as they saw it. So they developed exacting requirements and rules and rituals, and they demanded that everybody live by those requirements. Anybody who didn’t, they said, was not honouring God.

For example, the hand washing law became something like this: Before they ate, 1½ egg-shells of water had to be poured over the hands. But this couldn’t happen in just any manner. It had to be done just so. The hands were held with the finger-tips upwards. The 1½ egg-shells of water was then poured over them until it ran down the wrists. Each palm was then cleansed with the fist of the other. Then, the hands were held with the fingertips pointing downwards. Water was poured on them from the wrists downwards so that ran off at the fingertips. Now, mind you, this was not a matter of hygiene. It was a matter of ritual. It had to be done even if a person’s hands were spotless. To them it was needed in order to please God. To fail to do it exactly this way was to sin.

So when the Pharisees and Scribes saw Jesus’ disciples not wash their hands before they sat down to eat, they went berserk. They even accused Jesus. Their accusation was, “You are not teaching your disciples to honour God like our ancestors did.” The implication was, “So You must not be from God either.”

Let’s put that in a modern context: The Pharisees and Scribes were driving the wrong way on the motorway – and they thought that Jesus and the disciples were wrong. They were worried about crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s while people around them perished.

In short, they spent their time majoring in the minors and forcing other people to do the same. And the real tragedy is that they did this all in the name of serving the Living God. But it was a complete perversion of God’s law.
Worship of God is not about rules and regulations; It is not exclusively about liturgies and hymns. It is not about how well we memorize Scripture verses.

Honouring God is about meeting him on his terms. Worship is not about coming together to do something for God, but rather to receive from God. To receive his forgiveness; to exchange our guilty, sinful nature with the perfect, holy righteousness that Jesus won for us on the Cross.

Jesus has set us free from the burdens of the law. He has done it all and has left no thing undone for us to receive the Father’s full forgiveness.

He has crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s for us. May God grant us the perfect peace that comes with the forgiveness and freedom that Jesus has brought us.

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Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

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