A New Restoration: Becoming the Yeast of These (Part 2)
And evidently you don’t want to get Jesus riled either. Because when the Messiah’s hot under the holy collar he steams with righteous indignation, and the Pharisee fur really flies. In the final days of his life on earth, Jesus clearly had had enough with religiosity. His target: the theological elite (Pharisees) and legal eagles (Sadducees) of his day.
Jesus starts with a suggestion: obey what they say; just don’t do what they do (Matthew 23:3). Why? Well, Jesus was woefully underwhelmed by their religion. A lot of history had passed beneath the bridge since God stamped a covenant with Abraham. He personally delivered Commandments, designed a Tabernacle and opened a Temple. God also liberated his people from Egypt, conquered a Promised Land, reluctantly crowned kings and protected Jews captive to foreign conquerors.
For twenty centuries God ordained prophets to speak for Him and priests to satisfy Him. And now it was time for Jesus to inspect the house and see if everything was up to code. The façade looked fantastic. A temple exquisitely designed, impressively manicured and finely furnished. The priests and rabbis were second to none, cut from impressive human pedigree and highly educated. Everything looked perfect at first glance, but Jesus knew appearances could be deceiving. So he probed deeper and hit play dirt. The game was up, for Jesus uncovered foundations crumbling beneath heavy human traditions. He discovered deteriorated plumbing, rusted by personal agenda and pet doctrines. And then there was of clear evidence of theological termites, a voracious pest who chewed holes in pure religion and reduced the Law to empty rules.
Jesus inspection didn’t last long. He delivered his irate report then issued a complete building condemnation (Matthew 24:38). In the process, he vilified the renters (religious elite) and called them every name in the good book. They were blind guides (v. 16), hypocrites (v. 23), whitewashed tombs (v. 27) and even snakes (v. 33). No, Jesus held nothing back and, for many readers, he does seem overly harsh. I mean, seriously? Did he have to call them names? Did he have to be so mean? I thought Jesus was all about love.
Evidently not when he’s inspecting for fruit. Jesus had already withered a fruitless fig tree on the spot (Matthew 21:18-19). Now he was evaluating the religion of the Jews. From man’s perspective, the house looked great. Two thumbs up! But God is rarely impressed by appearances. Jesus saw past the ivory facades, golden overlays and silver shellacking to the heart of biblical Judaism. Jesus studied the DNA of their Faith and found it tragically porous, polluted and poisoned.
The DNA? God’s Original Plan. The Divine Design. The way God wanted it to be. The DNA infused into Creation from day one. The DNA that covenanted with Abraham and chiseled commandments into stone for Moses. The Original Plan was a deep, naked and unashamed relationship between man and His Maker. Unfortunately, ever since Eve took a bite, man had been hiding. God slapped leather to cover man’s butt for thousands of years while bloody sacrifices baptized sin, but not the soul. No covenant or commandment, tabernacle or temple could fully satisfy God’s deepest longing: to be reunited with his greatest creation. It would take an act of God to build a bridge to everywhere. God wanted to be back in the house and with man. He hungered to hang in the living room not a back closet.
You see, by the first-century the Jews had replaced God’s Original Plan (DNA) with a box called a temple and assorted traditions, rituals and rites. The religious elite should have known better, for they were well schooled in God’s DNA, but in reality completely ignorant. They were so blind they couldn’t even recognize the Messiah right under their phylacteries. For these educated fools it was all about facility, offerings, convenience, appearances and keeping the pomp in any circumstance. Every good Jew knew a Pharisee, and most didn’t like them much. Jesus called it right. They were self-righteous hypocritical know-it-alls.
And they had built their own little religious empire.
Sounds like a lot of churches and preachers today, doesn’t it? And that only causes me to further pause. What would Jesus say about today’s Church and clergy now that another two thousand years have passed? If he inspected the foundations and tested the DNA of today’s Church how strong and pure would we be? Would Jesus criticize and condemn us with the same laundry list of crimes? I’ll let you chew on that camel because I’ve got one more gnat to swat, if I may.
Church growth has been a buzzword in congregational leadership for decades. Every preacher wants his church to grow. Every denomination wants its group to grow. Noses and nickels make the church go ‘round. For some, growth is a sign of human success or Divine blessing. For others it reveals God is working or, at least, a program is working. Still for others, church growth means there’s hope for tomorrow. More numbers produces bigger offerings and better opportunities. Like I said, nickels and noses.
I get all the reasons. But none of them are biblical. God wants His Church to grow so that it can change the culture. Let me repeat: God wants His Church to grow so that it can change the culture. It’s not about counting people, it’s about making people count, inside and outside the Church. It’s about growing a Kingdom not a castle. That’s why Jesus described the Kingdom (read: Church) as a seed that matures into a massive tree house for birds, or as yeast that is worked throughout the bread (Matthew 13:32-34).
Jesus said a tiny seed sprouts into a towering tree that birds flock to enjoy. But who are the birds? Be careful. One thing is sure: the birds in the trees aren’t Christians (for in a later teaching Jesus describes believers as “the branches” [John 15:1-8]). The birds are unbelievers. The birds are our neighbors, our community, even our nation. The job of the Church isn’t to flock anyway (though that’s what we tend to do every Sunday); our job is to grow and go. We are a massive Body (a tree) that invites birds to fly our way and rest upon us. The tree isn’t a building nor are the branches programs. The branches are you and I. It’s our role and responsibility to support, service, supply and shade the “birds” (unbelievers) who perch upon us.
To cement his point, Jesus furthers the illustration using yeast, a compound that grows a ball of bread (Matthew 13:33). The kingdom of heaven leavens the loaf, he taught. In this case, and using the same logic, the bread is the world. The Church is the yeast. Our role is to dissolve into the world and change it. Yeast is “worked all through the dough.” Can our mission be any clearer? We are to go and grow.
How do you know if your church operates like yeast? Easy. You look for how much your influence changes your community (dough) without ever being noticed. The efficacy of leaven is you don’t see it working; you only see it worked. It’s at the heart of St. Francis of Assisi’s admonition to “preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Exactly. But most churches prefer to be the bread. We want to feed our culture the good news. We like to bake sermons, lessons and programs. We want to be the next best thing to sliced religion. I’ve got news for you. We aren’t the Bread of Life, that job has been taken (John 6:35, 48). We’re the leaven. We go and grow. Jesus feeds.
If your church suddenly disappeared from your community, would anyone know or even care? Have you noticed there hasn’t been a Jewish sacrifice for sin in nearly 2000 years? The temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and the Jews scattered throughout the world. God left the building long ago. He’s not one to be confined by walls. I fear that God has left many church buildings as well. In fact, I wonder if God would say to us what Jesus shared with the rich young ruler desirous of eternal life: “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (John 18:22).”
You want to operate like yeast? Pursue anonymity. Go stealth. Dissolve and disappear into your community. Since the fourth century the Church has enjoyed building castles not the Kingdom and, frankly, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. For sixteen hundred years we’ve operated more like bread than yeast, more like the tree than branches and, far too often, like the rich ruler who left Jesus spiritually poor. It worked within cultures that Christianized (hence: Christendom), but it ain’t working anymore. The birds no longer flock. The bread is flat. The building is desolate.
It’s time for a New Restoration. It’s time to recapture our Original DNA.
So what would a “yeast of these” Church look like?
I can’t wait to tell you.