|Games People Play | Charades|
|July 30, 2006|
Audio is unavailable for this message - Part 6 of 10 in our series called Games People Play
Part 6 of 10 | July 30, 2006
audio is unavailable for this message
I want to ask our teenagers a question. Let’s say your parents agree to let you have a party at your house. You excitedly plan everything. You invite everyone you can think of. When the night arrives, you’re blown away by how many people show up. Everyone’s having a great time. This could be the party of the year! And then your mom enters the scene. You nervously watch as she walks around the room, talking to all your friends. And then all of a sudden, she turns the music off, stands up on a chair, and then makes the following announcement.
“Ok, everybody join in. We’re going to play charades!” I would bet that most of our teens would say that this party took a very ugly turn thanks to mom’s good intentions.
This is message #6 in our Games People Play series. Today we’re talking about charades. Charades is not only a pretty lame party game; it’s a pretty lame thing to play in our lives.
To win at charades, you’ve got to be really good at pretending to be something you’re not. The better actor you are, the more successful you’re going to be in the game. Charades is not a game of reality. It’s a game of imagination.
Unfortunately the church has often become a game of imagination. It more closely resembles a masquerade party than real people. In fact, church is often the last place in the world you can be real. You walk in this place and immediately put on your religious mask. Because if you look religious, if you appear pious, then everyone is going to really be impressed with your spiritual maturity. But in reality, it’s just one big charade.
Today we’re in Matthew 23. This charade problem is nothing new. People have been playing this lame game in their lives throughout history. Jesus saw it all the time in the 1st century. And the people who were the best at playing this game received Jesus’ harshest criticism.
The Pharisees were the religious elite of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees looked so religious, so devout, so pious. But when Jesus entered the scene, he ripped into them like a puppy on a new pair of shoes. Jesus took of their mask and exposed these erudite Pharisees for what they really were: masters of the charade.
Matthew 23, pick it up in verse 5. Speaking of the Pharisees, Jesus said, “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:5-7, NIV)
Now skip on down to verse 27. Jesus said, "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 dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28, NIV)
The majority of the Pharisees, who were the most religious people in Jesus’ culture, were living in a game world. Their religious piety was just a big game of spiritual charades. Exposing this to his culture didn’t earn Jesus any popularity points with these elitists. In fact, it was a big reason why they conspired to kill him. But this didn’t stop Jesus. He would rather die authentically than live as a phony, so he courageously pointed out the hypocritical charades of the Pharisees.
Let’s spend a few minutes unpacking what Jesus told us about playing spiritual charades. First of all, he said the people who play spiritual charades are concerned about projecting an image.
Listen to some of the things that Jesus said about the Pharisees. “Everything they do is done for men to see.” They “are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones…” “On the outside [they] appear to people as righteous but on the inside [they] are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Their primary concern was projecting the right image. They made sure they walked right, dressed right, talked right. They were eaten up with people’s perception of them, and so that’s where they spent their time and energy.
And ironically, these religious people were so concerned about the perception of people that they didn’t think about the perception of God. God was able to see right through this image they projected to other people. Jesus likened it to a whitewashed tomb. Slapping a fresh coat of paint on a tomb may make it look more appealing on the outside, but there is still a decaying corpse on the inside.
Check out this video clip from the movie Christmas Vacation. That turkey looked so moist and tender and good…on the outside. The inside was a mess. And that’s the danger when we become more concerned about impressing people than about pleasing God. While we work really hard on cleaning up the outside, the inside deteriorates.
Let’s go back to something that Jesus said that sounds pretty odd to us. He said that the Pharisees, “make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long…” (Matthew 23:5b, NIV) What in the world is he talking about?
Phylacteries were black leather boxes containing Scripture passages from the Old Testament books of Exodus or Deuteronomy. These boxes were strapped either to the forehead or the left arm. Kind of a weird fashion statement to strap a box to your head. You’re probably not going to see a phylactery fashion line from Calvin Kleine anytime soon. The practice of wearing this phylactery boxes came from a very literal reading of Deuteronomy 6.
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts…Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 6:6,8, NIV)
Jesus also said that the Pharisees made the tassels on their garments long. Tassels referred to the fringes at the four corners of the outer garment. This practice came from a literal reading of Deuteronomy 22:12: “And when you make a coat, sew a tassel on each of the four corners.” (CEV)
There was nothing inherently wrong with wearing phylacteries or tassels. But the Pharisees made their phylacteries extra wide and they sewed their tassels extra long to make sure everyone knew how piously they were following the Old Testament law to the letter. It was all meant to project an image.
How concerned are you about projecting your image? How often do you spend more time and energy on the perception of people then on the perception of God? I struggle with this because I’m a people-pleaser. I like it when people have this certain perception of me. I like it when people buy into the image that I project to them. And it’s easy for me to get so consumed with impressing people that I start striving to please them more than striving to please God. That’s spiritual charades.
We’ve got to constantly guard against this Pharisaical attitude in our lives. Do I strive for excellence at work so I can stand out from the crowd or because God told me in the Bible to always do my best? Do I serve at church because it gets me the pats on the back I want or because God has called me to be a servant? Am I always looking for a way to get on stage or am I content to remain anonymous? Am I more concerned that people see me than if they see God? The first indicator that I’m playing spiritual charades is that I’m concerned about projecting a certain image to people.
Jesus gives us a second warning about playing spiritual charades. He tells us that the people who play spiritual charades are concerned about perks.
Jesus said that the Pharisees, “love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.” (Matthew 23:6, NIV)
When you attended a banquet or a party as a 1st century Jew, where you sat was very socially significant. The general custom was to lay outstretched on some cushions placed on the floor, reclining on your left elbow. You were then fanned out on three sides of the table. That developed the social custom that the place farthest to the left was the most desirable spot at the table. The person in that spot could view the entire banquet table without having to lean back or turn his head. This tradition grew until this became the most prominent, important position; often reserved for someone like a Pharisee.
The synagogue was the Jewish place of worship. The Pharisees had the best seats in the house there, too. These seats were located near the end of the building where the scrolls of the Law were kept in a chest called the holy ark. These seats faced the congregation so no one could miss the person sitting there.
Because of their social and religious status, the Pharisees had come to expect these perks. They had worked hard for them. They earned them. They deserved them. Their faith had become all about them.
Isn’t it interesting that we rank our church’s effectiveness based on what we get out of it? I liked the songs today. I didn’t like the sermon today. I don’t want the church to do this. I want the church to do that.
But, wait a minute…we are the Amelia Church of Christ. This is all about what Christ wants. It’s all about how we can best glorify God. Whether or not I like everything that is going on is secondary. What does God think about what is going on? How can we better carry out God’s purposes? How can we please God?
When we search for perks, in other words, what I want…we cease to be God’s church and we become a social club built around the whims and wants of its members. We become nothing but grand masters of charades.
Years ago, the Salvation Army was holding its national convention. William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army, wasn’t able to attend because he was so ill. So instead of speaking at the convention, he sent his message via telegraph. He message consisted of one word: “others.”
Pharisees look for personal perks. They look for what they can gain. They focus on what they deserve. A Christ-follower empties himself of…himself. A Christ-follower isn’t consumed by what I want. It’s not all about me. Deitrich Bonhoffer said it best: “A church that is centered on itself is not a church.”
Jesus gives us one more warning about playing spiritual charades. Jesus points about that the people who play spiritual charades are concerned about position. He said that the Pharisees, “love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:7, NIV)
The Pharisees loved to be out in public, working crowds like a politician. They especially loved it when people would greet them with terms of honor, like Rabbi.
Rabbi literally means “my great one.” No wonder that they loved that title. The term alone communicated that they were above, or greater, than the common folk. It fed one of their great desires: the desire for position.
Jesus was also concerned with position. Later on in Matthew 23, he said, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great.” (Matthew 23:11-12, GNB)
The contrast between the Pharisees and a Christ-follower couldn’t be greater. The Pharisees loved to be called, “My Great One.” Jesus said the real great one is one who serves. The Pharisees were concerned about position. They wanted it well-known that they were superior. Jesus was concerned about position. He calls his followers to become inferior by becoming a servant.
During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier. Their leader was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. The passerby asked why the man was barking out orders but was not helping his troops.
The commander replied, “Sir, I am a corporal!”
The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. When the job was done, he turned to the corporal and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.”
The man that dismounted his horse and helped with the grunt work of these soldiers was none other than George Washington himself.
It’s so easy to slip into an attitude of position versus servanthood. George Washington had the position. He didn’t have to serve, but he did anyway. But it’s really easy for us to become more of a Pharisee in our attitude. I’m not doing this. I’ve done my time there. I’ve moved on to bigger and better things. Let somebody else do this.
The paradox of the kingdom of God is we are never more powerful, never in a more important position, than when we serve. Because when we serve, we are never more like Jesus than at that moment. If you’re looking for power, influence, and position, you can take it somewhere else. That’s a Pharisees game of charades. In God’s Kingdom, the church, the greatest people are the ones who serve the most.
Our culture is involved in a massive game of charades. People project a certain image; they want the proper perks; they jockey for position. And it’s easy to miss the soft and gentle whisper of God saying, “My way is different. Instead of projecting your own image, let people see me through you. Instead of pursuing perks, empty yourself of yourself. Instead of working for a high profile power position, serve.”
I’ve said before that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of paradoxes. It is upside-down, totally backwards from the way our world operates. The wisdom of God confounds the wisdom of our world. This is why some of you have family that doesn’t understand you. You have coworkers who resent you. You have friends who have left you. But if you live as a counter-culture disciple of Jesus, you have a God who will applaud you.
If you’re tired of the charades of our world and you’re ready for something real, Jesus is offering you real meaning, real purpose, real life. It will seem strange and backwards, but once you experience it, you’ll realize that everything else is a fake. It’s just a fleeting game of charades compared to life with Jesus Christ. We invite you to meet him today.
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