How many times have you gotten in trouble at a church for bringing a drink into the sanctuary. I’ll bet it’s more than once. I know I’ve gotten a righteous lecture from several old church ladies about not being allowed to have food or drink in the sanctuary because it’s a holy place where we meet with God. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we have no such rule at our church. Basically because I need to get my revenge. But really, because we want people to feel comfortable in our sanctuary.
One problem this creates however, is stains. Our sanctuary gets used many times throughout the week, and there are a lot of opportunities for the carpet to get stained. I think this is why ye old church ladies didn’t want food or drink in the sanctuary. They just used the “holy place” language to make it so you couldn’t argue against them. The real reason was they were the ones responsible for cleaning stains out of the carpet. If no one ever stains the carpet, you never have to do anything.
Okay, maybe not. But, it’s a good reminder that the sanctuary of the church isn’t the room itself. We are the sanctuary. Both we as individuals and we as the gathered body. Together we are the temple of living stones God is using to build a place where He can dwell. Individually we are the residing place of the Holy Spirit. We are the sanctuary. So, wherever we are, God is with us. That means wherever we are we are standing on holy ground. So, yes, that might be the sanctuary of a church, but it also might be someone’s living room or a dingy alley behind a homeless shelter.
Back to the stains. Recently someone generously donated a carpet cleaning for the church. Our sanctuary isn’t huge, but it’s big enough that it’s expensive to get the carpets cleaned. An expense we simply can’t afford at the moment. So, it was an incredible gift.
And the carpets looked great, until some of the stains started coming back through from beneath the surface and other new stains appeared. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this before, but I have. You use a carpet cleaner to clean a specific stain. You go over it and over it until it’s gone. Then later, an hour, a day or a week, it starts to show back up.
In Matthew 23, we find Jesus giving a stern teaching to the Pharisees: “27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
In real estate they talk about putting lipstick on a pig. You can hide a lot with a fresh coat of paint. But sooner or later the real problems will come out. And no amount of lipstick will hide it.
The rituals of the Old Covenant were lipstick on a pig. They were like cleaning the carpet. Things look better for a while, but eventually the true nature of who we are starts to come out. No matter how many times the priest offered the sacrifice, another one would be needed. Because, no matter how many layers of lipstick you put on a pig, a pig is still a pig. (Yes, I get the irony of using a pig to illustrate the jewish leaders of Jesus’ day.)
What Jesus did was entirely different. Jesus didn’t just address the visible issues caused by sin, he addressed the underlying cause of sin – our rebellion. Religious duty did nothing to change the desires of the hearts of the Israelites. Their hearts were constantly wandering back to old idols from the people of the land they embraced instead of obeying God’s commands.
How exactly do you deal with a rebellious heart? Well, it’s not through rituals, cleansing and strict adherence to legislation. That will never change a heart. The only way to change a heart is love. Specifically self-sacrificial love.
The heart is all about desires. It’s what we want. It’s affection. It’s where emotion comes from. It’s not where calm-rational thought originates. It’s where rage and irrational responses originate. The unbridled nature of being driven by our heart is what gets us in trouble most of the time. If your heart isn’t changed, you won’t change.
Notice in Jesus’ repetition of the greatest commandment “To love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” the love doesn’t seem to originate from the heart. Sure affection, but not love. And, just in case you didn’t know, affection is not the same thing as love.
Love, agape or unconditional love, is something that supersedes our heart, mind, soul and strength. Agape love is sacrificial love. In the Christmas novel I wrote last year, Wyatt, the wise-old guy in the story said this about love: “Love sacrifices itself for the betterment of others.” Love is sacrifice. Agape love is about denying your personal desires for the betterment of someone else.
That was the only way for God to address our rebellious nature. Not by imposing the demands of a religious system, but by pouring it out.
Philippians 2:1-11, my favorite passage in all of scripture is known in theological circles as the “kenosis” passage. Kenosis is the word for emptying, pouring out. You can find it in Phil. 2:7. What it means is that Christ emptied himself of everything he had a right to as the Son of God. He laid down his equality with God and didn’t use that to His own advantage. He deprived himself of the force he could have used to live a perfect life, choosing to do so with only his humanity not His divinity.
That’s how you deal with rebellion. Not with demands, but sacrifice. Not with laws and legislation but with love. And this is what our world needs from us a followers of Jesus Christ – Love. Agape, self-sacrificial, laying down your rights for someone else’ life kind of a love.
That’s how Jesus deals with our sin issue. That’s how Jesus gets beneath the layers of sin we have accumulated in our rebellion against Him. He doesn’t try to hide it with a fresh coat of paint. He doesn’t try to scrub us clean from the surface. He’s not putting a fresh coat of whitewash on the exterior of a cold, dead heart. He selflessly offered his life in exchange for ours. He became sin so that we could become the righteousness of God. He became obedient to our death so we could receive His life. He gave us what we could have never earned through obedience to a law.
He gave us love.