When Jesus talked of faith, what did HE mean?

When Jesus talked of faith he wasn’t talking to us, he was talking to his fellow Jews in the first century. It was their faith he was interested in, not ours. And what he was asking of them was revolutionary.

Imagine, for instance, being the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner in Luke 11:37. The first shockwave hit early when Jesus sat down to eat without washing his hands first. It was a flagrant breach of protocol – and in front of the Pharisee’s very important lawyer guests, including, probably, several other highly respected leaders in the Jewish community. Imagine the second shockwave, then, when Jesus doesn’t apologize, and instead he launches into a speech slamming these proud leaders and their protocol. “You foolish people,” he calls them in verse 40, and in six devastating “woes” he explains why they’re foolish: All their silly rituals and traditions had actually “taken away the key to knowledge,” verse 52, and “hindered those who were entering.”

You mean the “key to knowledge” wasn’t obedience to all these rituals and interpretations of the law the Pharisees and lawyers insisted on? But how could that be? Surely it was their expertise in the law that identified them as God’s people, and their obedience to all their rituals and traditions that God required to deliver them from their enemies and restore them as a glorious nation again. But here was Jesus saying that none of that was necessary, and in fact it was hindering people from entering the new Israel that all their rituals were supposed to create.

This was revolutionary, as we see in the fierce and bitter reaction of the Pharisees and lawyers in verse 53. But no one thought to humbly ask, “Well, if we don’t have the key to knowledge of how people enter the new Israel God promised, what’s the key instead, and who has it?”

In their pride they could never bring themselves to accept that Jesus himself was the key. He was the one God had sent to restore Israel, and it was faith in Jesus that would decide from now on who the true Israelites were, and who would enter the new Israel God was creating. It was faith in him that was the key to all their hopes and expectations as Israelites being fulfilled. Jesus himself was the source of their deliverance and healing, not the Temple, not the Law or their traditions, or the interpreters of the law and the priests, nor their clean hands at mealtime.

When Jesus talked of faith it was to his fellow Jews to trust in him and his work from now on, not theirs.

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