Jesus went to 'church' (synagogue) to teach people what God’s Word means (Luke 4:16-21). The congregations were amazed as the Scriptures came to life. Religious leaders thought they had nothing to learn but they came to find fault with Him. They did not have open minds to receive any message from God to help them understand what the Old Testament prophets wrote about Jesus. Instead, their hearts were hard. They had already decided that Jesus was an intolerable threat to their authority and power structure. He needed to be removed ... legally, of course; and so they scrutinised all His words and actions to uncover a plausible reason to kill Him.
We do not know if the Pharisees and theological academics 'planted' the disabled man in the congregation, but they certainly thought that he might attract Jesus' attention. They had come to see what Jesus would do. If He healed the man, they would be able to report Him to the religious court for breaking the Sabbath law by 'working' (Mark 3:2). How perverse they were! They came to church to find fault with the Son of God and use His loving kindness as a means of accusing Him. They had no compassion for the man with a paralysed hand – despite God’s instruction to be kind to disabled people (Leviticus 19:14).
Christless religion (that is, religion which is not devoted to worshipping and serving the Lord Jesus) will always behave in the same way. Jesus and His disciples are a threat to those who do not love Him (John 16:1-4). He is an obstacle to their pride and power. It should never happen in the church of Jesus Christ, but it does if people forget that Jesus really is the Lord. Once-helpful structures for serving Christ become powerbases for personal politics. Ministry then becomes submerged under a flood of non-Jesus agendas. In the extreme, His Word is dismissed by 'wise thinkers' who invent 'modern ways' which He will never own (Isaiah 5:21; Romans 1:22). Meanwhile, those who speak out for truth are criticised, or worse - as happened to Jesus.
Every believer needs to be alert to the danger of pretending to be on God's side while disagreeing with God's Word about Jesus. Christian leaders are especially vulnerable. And if that is true for them, pray for those who think they speak for God but have no hope in Christ. It is sobering to read that Jesus was more generous to His executioners (Luke 23:34) than to the religious leaders (Luke 11:37-53).
© Dr Paul Adams