Missing the Point
Matt. 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ 19 How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; 22 and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.
Jesus is quite angry with the Pharisees and the scribes who seem to be missing the point. They are hypocrites who have misunderstood that which is holy. The holy one, Jesus, was standing right in front of them and yet they were blind to true holiness. Instead they were “blind guides” who led people astray.
They had developed a convoluted system whereby they determined that which was to be venerated as holy. The sanctuary wasn’t holy, but the gold was! The altar wasn’t holy, but the gift on the altar was holy. The intimation of Jesus was that they misunderstood the sanctity of the house of God, and of God’s altar. They had replaced the things of God with the things of the world — including gold and their gifts. They had shifted the entire focus and had become self-centered. It was all about what they had to offer which made them holy and, according to Jesus, this made them stupid and blind. The sanctified one stood before them and their selfishness made them blind to his truth.
Woe to us if we become blind guides, leading people into any type of holiness which is not based on Christ. Jesus came and lived in human flesh to make us holy. The restoration of humankind in the image of God was to restore the reflection of God’s holiness in us. Christ sanctified human flesh every day of his life here on earth. The call to holiness then is to participate with God in fellowship with the Holy Trinity — and this fellowship is made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As we partake of divine fellowship we are transformed and become more like the one with whom we are fellowshipping. This holy transformation is the point and this is only possible through participating in Christ.
Missing the point, the Pharisees were swearing by the gold in the sanctuary and the gift on the altar. These were all items made and/or brought by human hands. There was no divine indwelling or intervention in these objects.
What is our gift, or our gold which we believe makes us holy? Could it be a literal gift? Do we believe that our tithes and offerings will make us holy? No amount of money that we can give to the church or any type of parachurch organization will ever make us holy in the eyes of the Lord. Our offerings and gifts do not make us holy or righteous in the eyes of God. Turning our gaze toward the Holy One and allowing fellowship to transform us into his image is the only way in which we are made holy.
Entering the sanctuary for worship on a Sunday is not about seeking out an experience that I can enjoy, but about worshiping the one who indwells the space. Looking into the cosmos and the star-studded sky leaves us speechless and in awe for our Creator who is seated on the throne. Focusing on the things which we can personally accomplish diminishes the glory which should be given to God. When we fail to see the Messiah present we become blind guides, leading people into divergent spaces and conversations.
Let’s not miss the point today. There’s a lot of conversation which may lead us to swear by a political party or a particular person. If we do, we will miss the point. Jesus is here graciously calling us to look to the one who indwells the sanctuary and remains seated on the throne of heaven.
Lord, please help me not to get so distracted that I miss the point. Amen.