Perhaps they wonder about us, suspecting there’s a catch. A secret, something we’re hiding. How else could it have happened?
Christians are 2.3 billion strong. In sheer numbers, Christianity is ahead of the four other major world religions—Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. In fact, there are fewer than 15 million Jewish people worldwide despite having a 2,000 year head start on Christians. Not to mention a political advantage.
Did I just say “political?”
Yes, politics mattered even in the first century A.D.—and the hurt was on Christians. Here’s why. Jesus is born into a world where Caesar has declared himself God. You worship Caesar or else. Not so for Jewish people---they have a special deal exempting them from emperor worship. That fact alone gives the Pharisees a big boost in power—essentially, they decide who is and isn’t a Jew.
But the Pharisees are already important. They’ve studied Scripture, and Jews want to know their faith. Jewish life centers around worship, which means the local synagogue is important. Moreover, the Pharisees have the power to put you out of the synagogue.
Stop and imagine how you’d feel if church doors were closed to you. There'd be no worship, no communion, no church dinners, no Christian friends.
It’s a big deal---the Pharisees are powerful.
Some of the Pharisees are holy men like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Gamaliel. But many are not. Jesus calls them “blind guides,” serpents, vipers, hypocrites. (Matthew 23:16, 33, 13)
And the Pharisees fight back.
The name “sinner” seems harmless today—we’re all sinners. But a first century Jew would have never associated with one so immoral as to be labeled a “sinner.” So when the Pharisees call Jesus a “sinner,” they’re warning Jews to beware. Taking part in anything to do with Jesus could get you ousted from the faith. And Jesus says this: “They will put you out of the synagogues…” (John 16:2)
So Jesus knew he’d started a dangerous war, forcing those around him to choose. Consider this blind man’s predicament:
One day, probably sitting by the road begging, a blind man finds himself being discussed. Men stand around him, and the next thing you know, the blind man feels gentle hands placing mud in his eyes. Jesus then tells the man to go and wash his eyes. The man does so and quickly returns, able to see.
Those who’d known the healed man take him to the Pharisees, and the Pharisees want to know what Jesus did to him. By now, Jesus is already at war with them.
“He put clay on my eyes,” the man says, “and I washed, and I see.”
The Pharisees then fight amongst themselves, some calling Jesus a sinner for healing on the Sabbath while others insist that a sinner can’t do miracles.
The hardhearted of the Pharisees send for his parents to prove the man was never blind.
“He’s our son,” the parents say, indicating that he was born blind, but they want no part in the dispute. They don’t want to get kicked out of the synagogue.
So the religious leaders turn again to the healed man. “Give God the praise; we know [Jesus] is a sinner.”
But the healed man won’t agree, and the Pharisees again ask what Jesus did.
“I told you,” the man answers, “and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?”
Utt-oh. The roadside beggar has just taken on very powerful men. And he’s not done. “Why this is a marvel! He opened my eyes…if this man wasn’t from God he could do nothing.”
Enraged, the Pharisees say, “You were born in utter sin!”
By “utter sin” they mean he was born blind. See the problem? The man is no longer blind. Unwittingly, the Pharisees have just admitted to the miracle. Even so, they throw him out of the synagogue. (John 9:1-34)
What those Pharisees didn’t understand is the same thing unbelievers can’t comprehend today—a Living Light has come into the world. Once you know Christ you’ll always stand with him.
That’s the secret to the 2.3 billion Christians worldwide: Jesus.
Go and share him. May the blind see.
Copyright © 2019 R.A. Mathews. The Rev. Mathews is an attorney, faith columnist, and the author of “Reaching to God.” She may be reached at letters@RAMathews.com