Friday, February 07, 2020

"613 Reasons"

Mark 2.23-24 NKJV; 2.27-28 NLT

“Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!’

Rules are intended to benefit everyone in the organization. Company policies are supposed to protect employees and employers alike. Contracts are made to safeguard the interests of all parties to the transaction. Building codes are enforced so tenants don’t suffer injury and landlords don’t get sued. Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions (CCR's) are written to help all homeowners maintain home values in their subdivision. Marriage vows remind couples to remain faithful to the family during the hard times. Laws exist to support every citizen of a nation.

Rules, covenants, vows, policies, contracts, and laws are good. Without them relationships falter, societies crumble, and people get hurt. We need rules until... the rules take on a life of their own. Sometimes members of organizations blindly comply for reasons they cannot recall. The purpose of a law can actually become secondary to the law itself. Policies may evolve to define, rather than enhance membership. “We’ve always done it that way” might be the only truthful explanation for outdated and stupid regulations. That’s when courageous people must take action to make a change.

Jesus Christ was a courageous agent for change. He knew it was against Jewish law to “pluck the heads of grain” on the Sabbath, but His guys were hungry! That apparently mattered more to Jesus than the impact of His violation.

Rule-making is actually fun and personally gratifying for a rule-follower, in a self-centered sort of way. Humans have a strong tendency toward self-justification. Rule-keeping satisfies our clamor for self-approval and our ever-present need to “be right. The more rigorous the rules and higher the standards, the better compliance makes us feel, camouflaging our own sense of inadequacy. When my inner sense of “OK-ness” depends upon my outward obedience to a code of conduct then I must only find (or create) a personal moral code to which adherence is achievable for me. It’s simple and makes me feel good. It’s also ungodly, that is, quite unlike God. 

Jewish tradition holds to a total of 613 laws corresponding to the number of commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the “Law”). These laws are divided into 365 negative commands (for each day of the solar year) and 248 affirmative commandments (ascribed to the number of bones and important organs of the human body). Pretty neat, huh? 613 is also the number of Hebrew letters in the 10 Commandments.[1] Numerology like this appeals to the unregenerate mind. The discovery of such, so-called, deep and secret knowledge confers an almost magical or Gnostic” power to those who are eager to earn their ‘rightness’ with a god of their own creation.

Jesus is much bigger than any set of laws that govern human behavior. He is “Lord, even over the Sabbath.” He subscribes only to standards that made sense for the people He loves and serves. Rules which do not benefit people are of no use to Jesus. 

That’s just one of the (many more than) 613 reasons I love Jesus.

[1] I first learned of this interesting numeric legal standard from a sermon by Phil Comer, founding pastor of A Jesus Church (formerly Solid Rock) at the Westside campus in Tigard, Oregon, delivered on January 20, 2008. I found an abundance of information on the Internet for historical fascination with the number 613. I actually dusted off my Biblica Hebraica and counted all the Hebrew characters in the Exodus 20.2-17 version of the 10 Commandments. I came up with 620, but I may have miscounted by 7 letters (and I'm not doing that project again!). The parallel passage in Deuteronomy 5.1b-21 contains nearly 1,000 Hebrew characters.

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