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Thoughts From Joachim Jeremias

Dear Friends,

Today's "thought" is superb, insightful, scriptural, and helpful. It accurately shows THE major difference between the gracious message of Jesus (in light of society's moral corruption) and the teaching of more self-righteous groups (in light of society's moral corruption). There are few who have said it so well in so few words. But it will require you to put on your thinking caps. It will require you to follow the contrast he must use to point out the many differences between the Essenes (a holiness movement that separated from the world to go off and live in the Judean wilderness) and the Followers of Jesus (who were encouraged not to go off into the wilderness, or be of the world, yet at the same time remain in the midst of it - John 17:14-16).

It comes to you from a man named Joachim Jeremias, and is found in his book, "New Testament Theology" - though it could more accurately be called, "The Theology of Jesus." I urge you to take the time to read it, especially in light of our contemporary cultural situation. History often repeats itself, and people often make the same mistakes over and over again. This selection could help us avoid making the mistake which many well-meaning religious groups have made in the past -- taking a path that has similarities to the teachings of Jesus, but in the end is light years away from where Jesus wants His followers to be. Enjoy.

"The Essenes of Qumran demanded the renunciation of all property and shared their goods in common [separating themselves from “the world” and going off to live in the wilderness]; Jesus, likewise, expected the rich young man to give up his possessions (Mark 10:17-31) and, at least according to John, the inmost group of disciples shared their possessions (John 12:6; 13-29). The Essenes forbade their followers to swear oaths; Jesus, too, prohibited the misuse of the divine name by two light-hearted swearing (Matt. 5:33-37; 23:16-22). Must we then conclude from similarities of this kind that Jesus intended to form a “remnant” group like that of the Essenes?

This would truly be to misunderstand the message of Jesus completely. The contrast between Jesus, and all attempts at forming a ‘remnant’ group, emerges at one quite definite point – separation from outsiders. On entry the Essenes took it upon themselves, ‘to love all that he (God) has chosen, and hate all that he has rejected.’

The Essenes regarded themselves as the priestly people of the end time, and therefore applied to themselves the precept that only physically unblemished priests could carry out their office in the temple (Lev. 21:18-20). ‘No madman, or lunatic, or simpleton, or fool, no blind man, or maimed, or lame, or deaf man, and no minor, shall enter into the community, for the angels of holiness are with them’ (and the presence of deformed or mentally deficient men would be offensive to the angel). The Essenes are concerned for the holiness of God. This holy God hates sinners, and just as his holiness will not permit a physical blemished man to do priestly service, so too the holiness of the heavenly hosts will not allow a physically blemished man to belong to the assembly of the community.

This is the point at which the way of Jesus diverges from that of the Essenes.

The founder of the Essenes movement was convinced that salvation depended on his message, an intensified interpretation of the Torah [the OT Law]. But his message with the all-embracing earnestness of its call to repentance, and its jubilation at salvation that has been given, culminated in the separation of the penitent from the great horde [of humanity] which the Essenes believed to be hopelessly given over to corruption.

It does not take long to show how sharply Jesus rejected all attempts to realize the community of the remnant by means of human striving or separation. He called those who were rejected by the ‘remnant’ groups. His command to his disciples to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to their table (Luke 14:13), and the way in which in the parable he makes the householder summon the poor, the cripples, the blind, and lame into his house (v. 21), amount to a direct declaration of war on the Essenes ‘remnant’ group.

The difference becomes visible when we observe that John the Baptist accepts the guilty after they have declared their readiness to lead a new life, whereas Jesus offers salvation to sinners before they repent, as is particularly clear from Luke 19:1-10. What distinguishes him from these groups, and even from John the Baptist, is his message of the boundlessness and unconditional character of grace. The God whom Jesus preaches is the Father of those who are small and lost, a God whose purpose it is to have dealings with sinners who rejoices when a sinner finds his way home (Luke 15:7; 10). Because God is so boundlessly gracious, and because God loves sinners, Jesus does not gather the holy remnant, but the all-embracing community of salvation of God’s new people. Jesus has opened the doors wide, he has called all without exception, as a hen calls all her chickens under her wings (Matt. 23:37, Luke 13:34). ‘All (all inclusive) have been invited (to the feast)’, and Jesus is not to blame if only a few reach the goal (Matt. 20:14).

Certainly, even Jesus is aware there will be a division between sinners and the elect. Five virgins are wise, five are foolish. Table-fellowship with Jesus does not in itself guarantee salvation (Luke 13:26). So, it is understandable that he should be asked why he does not remove the sinners from the number of his followers. Jesus replies to this question with the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30): the time has not yet come… When the moment arrives, God himself will bring about the separation. It is not a thing that men can do. Only God can see into men’s hearts.

In conclusion, the decisive element may be summarized briefly: the chief characteristic of the new people of God gather together by Jesus is their awareness of the boundlessness of God’s grace."

There is probably no harder admonition of Jesus in the NT than the admonition to "be in the world but not of it." To remain engaged, in order to reach the lost, when our heart (at times) would like to cloister ourselves away in the wilderness and separate ourselves from it all - just like the Essenes Jeremias mentions. Yet the grace of Jesus, and the call of His gospel, will not let us. For our task in this age (especially if it is getting closer to Christ's return) is to reach all that we can with the message of God's redeeming love, and the transforming power of His grace. We are not to isolate ourselves and hunker-down and wait for the judgment of "sinners." We are to love "sinners" (and even our enemies) with the love of Jesus, and invite them to the banquet table God has laid out for them to come and partake of.

In His Grace, Pastor Jeff


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