The greatest irony regarding Jesus Christ is the fact that, having clearly begun His work upsetting and exposing misdirected beliefs, burdensome institutions and pretentious leadership, He has been reprogrammed by those very same discredited structures and promoted as the source and defender for establishing old or recycled rules already abolished. Thus, we see many of His followers and teachers today promoting the exact things Jesus sought vainly to exorcise from the lives of those He dearly loved and died for – the Jews and the Gentiles Whom He called through the Apostles.
The New Testament records the many instances in which believers went back to unbelief, idolatry, carnality, drunkenness, greed and divisiveness as if they never received the grace and goodness of God. Somehow, this explains why so many believers in so-called Christian societies do not represent the ideal picture of disciplined and surrendered servants of the Lord. After 2,012 years or so after His birth in Bethlehem — even within externally-Christianized communities, pure, godly and rules-free life in Christ has not taken on a significant foothold.
For one, we have Amish or Mennonite members who visibly display pure and godly living in a communal setting but do not somehow exemplify the genuine freedom that Christ Himself taught and lived in His life. We do not refer to the spiritual freedom that every believer experiences when he or she acknowledges the saving work of Christ but to the holistic freedom one must appropriate as an obligation for following Christ completely, in word, in spirit and in step. To be honest, these godly people and so many others obviously live exemplary godly lives and yet are steeped in so many arbitrary or invented rules which constrict their potential for becoming the true light of Christ to the world – resplendent, transparent and triumphant over every corner and every facet of the world.
We see Jesus today, generally, as merely the founder and leader of an organized community, church or institution Who left a well-defined regimen of life only His ministers may have the ability to interpret, explain or administer. Just like Mao Zedong of old who led the Communist Party of China through a Central Committee or a Politburo charged with establishing rules of conduct for the citizens, Christ is seen as ruling through a religious structure and a manual of rules. And much like the followers of Mao who put up huge portraits of the leader during massive assemblies in China in the 1970’s, many Christians today congregate in buildings where Christ’s crucified image, stained-glass portrait or simple crucifix is displayed as a physical reminder of His deeds and teachings. Millions, in fact, value such art or physical windows to invisible realities almost as much, if not more than the very realities they were meant to signify. And as millions used Mao’s portrait as an icon to represent his teachings, millions use the many images of Christianity as the symbols, if not, idols, to represent Christ and His teachngs. This example of idolatrous relapse clearly proves that what Jesus and His Apostles had taught against (not as a rule to be followed but as a way of living life free of burdensome or useless ceremonies and rituals) has remained.
Be honest: If you were truly free or desire for others to be so free, why still use such “aids to worship”? The heart alone is sufficient for true worship, why not set it free indeed? Is the church rule or tradition more important than our freedom purchased by the blood of Jesus? Or is freedom so arbitrary as long as we keep people coming to the assembly? Are we truly “free indeed” as Christ promised? Or have we sacrificed our freedom to a new religion established by those who pretend to speak for Christ? Do you feel totally free in your religion or life, in general?
Still, there are so many other cases where believers today remain enslaved by the old ways of religious rigidity. Jesus Christ came to set us free – totally free, if we must be reminded. How did He live as a free individual in spite of living in a society which was subject to so many rules – over 600 of them, apart from those added by the religious leaders? Let us consider how He did it so we can also learn how it is to be genuinely free:
Jesus broke the literal rule of King Herod even before He was born. Herod, at Jesus’ birth, became fearful, clueless and panicked, thus, killing innocent babies to prevent the prophesied King of Israel from seizing his shaky throne. When a ruler loses confidence and behaves wickedly, his days are numbered. When Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, later became king, he acted as immorally as his father, killing on a whim John the Baptist.
The Jewish kingdom is long gone. This is, after all, the primary goal of Christ: to destroy the world’s rulership. He came to establish a rule that would never cease and would render other kingdoms of no legitimacy. Pity then Herod and his son whom God chose to become the host-rulers of the coming King of Glory at His birth and at His proclamation. The moment we think our throne is secured, someone else will come to take it away from us. And God is our worst nemesis. Dictators understand this too late.
What other rule do we know in this world that would be of greater consequence than the first? Do not forget: Christ broke the rule of Satan over puny humans and all kingdoms. During His temptation in the wilderness, Satan tested Jesus thrice.
First, Satan tested Jesus’ will to break the first rule that has all humans under control — lust or hunger of the flesh, whether for food or not. Turn this stone to bread! Feed yourself, hungry human – a basic human rule which Satan was rubbing on to Jesus. His reply? “Humans live by something greater than physical food.” He broke the rule by replacing it with a better rule with a much higher spiritual purpose. While most of us would succumb to the pangs of desire and hunger, Jesus teaches us that by doing so at such a moment, we break the rule which Satan knew mattered more: the lust for power over material realities. Jesus broke the rule that we, as weak-willed humans, all feel we should always follow: Feed our lusts and our human desires that lead us to sin.
Second, Satan tested Christ’s will to break the second rule that enslaves us all – lust of the eyes. Jump down from the pinnacle, Jesus, for God’s angels will save you! The eyes signify more than vision; they symbolize awareness or understanding. Satan knew that angels would come to God’s children in time of need. But did he really expect Jesus to jump and prove that God would (yes, He could; but would He?) indeed save Christ? Aside from being a seemingly childish prank or play, the temptation was actually an attempt to play with the logical processes of the human mind (which we know resembles the divine mind) which Jesus had assumed in His nature as God Incarnate. Satan thought he had Jesus cornered in His demoted status as a human being. Having failed to make Jesus submit to the human frailty of physical satisfaction through food (after fasting for 40 days), he thought he could work on His human tendency to be oh-so-wise and oh-so-powerful.
A person who knows (in this case, Jesus truly and absolutely knew angels will save Him) he can accomplish something, will not hesitate to satisfy the lust of the eyes for an evil or a less-than-divine purpose. The classic example is that of the Tower of Babel: Yes, they could build a tower to Heaven; and their lust of the eyes, aided by their technological knowhow, led them to fall.
The human rule is to seek greater knowledge or wisdom, no matter what. To be in control of this world and of death itself through science, medicine and esoteric knowledge. This lust or desire for mastering the forces of Nature, Satan sought to entice Jesus to submit to. Jesus broke that human tendency, that innate weakness to overcome the difficulties of life by going through shortcuts and finding ways that remove God from the equation. Christ rebuked Satan, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Whether we ask Jesus or the Father, demanding a sign or a miracle is putting God to a test; that is, forcing Him to prove He is capable; whereas the reverse should be the case: Do we have faith enough to believe God could? If so, believe and it will be done. Satan wanted Jesus to perform a miracle not to please God but to please himself. Humans also desire to see or perform signs to feed their pride.
God does ask us at times to prove His power; but it is always under the condition that we put our trust in Him first. A true believer would not dare bring Jesus to a pinnacle and ask Him to jump for he knows the angels will save Him. Why? Because they already did when He jumped from Heaven to Earth and was born in Bethlehem. When Herod tried to kill Him, who warned Joseph to flee to Egypt? An angel. When Jesus died on the cross and was buried, who stood guard over His body until God raised Him? An angel, who also proclaimed His resurrection. When He ascended to Heaven, who accompanied Him? The angels. Which is higher, a pinnacle or the distance from Heaven and Hades?
Jesus broke the human rule that enslaves us because either we think God cannot or will not do things we know He can and will do by our lack faith or we want Him to show us His power to benefit us and not God. Satan rules us by making us think the way he thinks. Our eyes and our minds are wicked continually, until we attain the mind of Christ.
Third, Satan tempted Jesus to kneel before him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world. Whereas Jesus broke the rule of King Herod as an infant, making Him a true conqueror and rule-breaker, He broke the rule of Satan over the kingdoms of the world, making Him King of Kings! The pretender that Satan is wanted Jesus to submit to his power and remain lord over all the kingdoms. Simple logic: If Jesus knelt before Satan, then Satan would be a lord over Jesus and all the worldly kingdoms would follow Jesus’ calling and, ultimately, that of Satan.
That may sound a rather naïve way of looking at the narrative. But, under the circumstances, with one bat left to hit home or strike out, Satan went ballistic and made the final and foolhardy swing at Jesus. After all, God had cursed the world and put it under the rule of corrupt and malevolent spirits. Human sin shifted the allegiance of humans to Satan in the beginning. Those few who returned to God (Abel, Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, et al.) represent the exceptions to the reign of wickedness in this world.
Jesus broke Satan’s rule by declaring that all must worship and serve God alone, including Satan and the Son of God. Christ was a faithful Son and Servant; why would He worship Satan? Satan wants to usurp God’s throne and glory. Christ broke that rule of Satan which he so successfully plants in the hearts and minds of people, causing them to rebel against God perpetually.
Christ’s arrival on the scene heralded the coming change and the coming kingdom. And rules were falling down all around.
What other rules did Jesus break? What else but the rule of legalistic or formalistic religion and of religious leaders, the rule of the temple and the priesthood. We lump both of these as one for they always go in tandem. Moses started it all, with a big help from God, of course. The law failed to fulfill God’s purposes, as we know. That was basically the Pharisees’ issue with Jesus, “You keep breaking Moses’ Law, the Sabbath, the law against blasphemy, the purification laws, etc.!” Jesus was up against a monolith stuck in centuries of social, political and theological authoritarian pride. God’s righteous reign was in shambles, unseen in the corrupt religion that ruled Israel.
At every step of the way, Jesus overturned norms, violated scruples, disrupted sensibilities, tweaked perceptions and removed blindness. You wonder how He caught the attention of the masses as well as of the authorities? Was it the miracles? Well, those, too. He was breaking the rules of Nature, too! More importantly, He was removing the thick cover that kept human lives enslaved by false and pretentious religion. A state religion that once had the stamp and protection of the glory of God, which dwelt in the temple, had become an abominable place indwelt by wicked spirits. Jesus rebuked their false sense of security by discrediting their livelihood built on desecrating the purity of worship to God. He showed their great hypocrisy by condemning their false piety before the masses. He exposed their deep depravity by lambasting their carnal deeds, greed and ignorance. Jesus, at the very moment of His death, brought down the rule of temple worship and the priesthood.
Today, remnants of the state religion of Israel thrive and grow in various forms in our midst. The rule of Satan through deception, division, dissension and destruction remains stronger than ever. How Jesus changed that rule is recorded in the New Testament. However, even that narrative has been turned into a legal code upon which to re-impose old rules and old ways of serving God. The religions of today merely multiplied the choices by which humans submit to the rule of Satan. If the Jewish religion became so depraved and corrupt that God caused it to be abolished and replaced, what more with the present set of denominations run by modern-day descendants of the Pharisees and Scribes?
Religious rules – and rulers — are on the rise again. The sad thing is that Jesus’ name is used to accomplish this shameful thing.
Finally, Jesus broke the rule of sin, suffering and death over humans. What more can be said? The fact that Jesus resurrected, already removed the power of sin, suffering and death over those for whom He died. Yes, we still sin, suffer and die; but the condemnation no longer applies by virtue of Christ’s having taken our place on the sacrificial block to seal the end of God’s wrath and judgment against disobedience. By faith we overcome the rule of the curse upon Adam in our lives.
- Jesus broke the rule of wicked human leaders.
- Jesus broke the rule of sinful human desires.
- Jesus broke the rule of godless human intellect.
- Jesus broke the rule of Satan over the world.
- Jesus broke the rule of corrupted religion and its confining priesthood (a “temple worship” model which still rules today, unfortunately).
- Jesus broke the rule of sin, suffering and death.
All these rules that many consider important and even absolute and inviolable have been set aside by Christ. To continue following or applying such rules in the face of such divinely-guided rebellion and reformation, will lead to defeat in the end.
We may not see or feel that Jesus did break all these rules, especially death; but the truth remains. His rulership does not depend upon us achieving all these in our lives and in our time; nevertheless, our rule with him will depend on whether we work with Him or not to achieve them in our own lifetime.
A true ruler conquers by destroying the rule of falsehood, sin and pride. Jesus and His disciples taught that, to serve God, what He simply requires is for us to be perfected in love. For in perfect love, we fulfill the law.
Remember: Submitting to the rule of God results into breaking the rule of this enslaving world.
(Painting above: “Temptation of Jesus” courtesy of google.com)