This could be by far one of the most horrendous sins of mankind…
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. (Matthew 23:13)
…. because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. (John 9:22)
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; (John 12:42)
In the times of Jesus, the synagogues were not just a place of gathering for religious like-minded people to talk and discuss about their beliefs. The synagogues had substantial influences and hold over and against members’ life and social standing.
To understand more about the necessity of being included and the fear of being officially excluded from these synagogues, all we needed is to examine the position of these synagogue leaders in society.
In short, brief and quick summary, the functionality of these synagogues leaders were like our modern day politicians and governors. They had certain executive powers over people especially those who were members. None the less, memberships were supposed to be privileged as they do have a policy of ‘taking care of their own’. Thus some of the Jews were fed-up when Jesus talked about Gentiles receiving the blessing of God – Luke 4:26.
Just as complicated as how politics can be in our modern times, we need not get confused about who is who among the synagogues leaders –chief priests, elders of the people and high priest (Matthew 26:3), Sadducees and Pharisees (Matt 16:1-12), teachers of the law (Mark 2:16), Scribes (Mark 12:38) and Herodians (Mark 3:6). Sometimes there can be double-agents or triple-agents among themselves, if the price and benefits is right.
As a standard practice, these different groups and identity usually had their own hidden agendas but thanks to Jesus they pretended to be friends sometimes. At some point they all agreed as one united body to get rid of Jesus. It was a bad move, of course.
Just a quick note – the people needed them for leadership and direction and they needed the people for control and support. Thus when the people were threaten with excommunications if they confess Jesus, it was a matter of life and death to be a Christian.
For those who see Jesus as the Messiah and the source and giver of eternal life, they knew to be with Jesus was worth all the death threats and persecution. For those who tasted the reality of the truth and blessing of the heavenly Father through Jesus, they wouldn’t care less who the heck those synagogue leaders were anymore –
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (John 9:35-41)
Many were fed-up with the excessive demands coming from the synagogues leaders and being treated like some kind of economic subject. Discrimination and social stigmas even among their own members were not un-common. Thus the man who was born blind but was healed by Jesus, being rejected by the synagogue he did not hesitate to move on in life without the synagogue.
As according to the counsel of God any willful attempt to prevent others from believing in Jesus Christ deserved to be labeled ‘woe’. These leaders who were in position to guide the nation became ‘blinded’ by their own willful rejection of the truth and true enough – ‘if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit’ (Matthew 15:14). From the times of Jesus till the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, these same leaders and their structure of leadership had no practical, workable and peaceful resolution for the nation when in real conflict with the Romans.
For the same reason Paul confessed himself the chief of sinners –
Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: 1 Timothy 1:15
Paul knew such atrocious sin was worst then shooting himself in the foot.
When Paul addressed himself as ‘chief’ among the sinners, Paul knew exactly how grave he sinned against God and against the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul was not trying to impress the believers by any show of self-degradation through hypercritical manner. In the very same context of 1 Timothy 1 Paul explicitly and precisely made the public confession through his letter to Timothy with regards to his past actions of enforcing believers to reject Christ and preventing those who wanted to believe.
Although Paul acted in sincerity and zeal for his race as according to the traditions of the elders, he was finally awakened by the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul knew for whatever reason he may testify to his past sin, the only way out is sincere repentance. Paul backed-up his repentance with proof of his ministry to the believers. Jesus made the right choice and Paul responded positively in full commitment to his calling –
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:13-17)
So Paul responded well to Jesus. Paul knew he must repent and walk in obedience to Christ every day and every moment of his life. Paul had turned his zeal into love for God. Remember the words of Jesus – ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’. (John 15:13)
From the times of Jesus those who responded positively to the call of repentance advocated by Jesus and John the Baptist; they grew ‘in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man’ (Luke 2:52) – just like their master. Thus Paul had consistently taught the believers – ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 11:1)
We have proof from the testimonies of the Early Christians, how they believed in Jesus and fervently prayed and hold fast to the practices and examples of Christ and the Apostles. As if it was not enough to avoid any atrocious sins, but we must consistently believe and keep on believing and act upon what we believe in Jesus Christ.
Repentance is an active practice.
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