If anyone knows simple, it is Jesus.
If anyone is a revolutionary, it is Jesus. He is the original simple revolutionary. He stepped into a complicated and polluted religious scene. It was cluttered with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots, and Essenes. He did not play by their rules. He could not stand their hypocrisy. He preferred spending time with tax collectors and sinners.
The religious leaders had developed a religious system with 613 laws. They chose the number 613 because that was how many separate letters were in the text containing the Ten Commandments. Then they found 613 commandments in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). They divided the list into affirmative commands (do this) and negative commands (don’t do this).
There were 248 affirmative commands, one for every part of the human body, as they understood it. There were 365 negative commands, one for each day of the year. They further divided the list into binding commands and nonbinding commands. Then they spent their days debating whether the divisions were accurate and ranking the commands within each division.7
Jesus Took the Complex and Made It Simple
Enter Jesus. Jesus has the ability to take the complex and make it simple. A prime example is Matthew 22:37–40, where Jesus gives what has become known as the Great Commandment. Here is the scene. Jesus has just stumped the Sadducees. Literally. He silenced them by His wisdom (Matt. 22:34). Next up are the Pharisees. Maybe they can do a better job knocking this revolutionary down.
The Pharisees gather for a meeting. They devise a debate strategy. Their goal is to humiliate Jesus in front of the crowd. They choose their smartest guy, a lawyer, to take on Jesus. He asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the Law. Of all the 613 commandments, he is asking Jesus for the greatest. Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Think about the significance of that moment. He said all the Law (and He added the Prophets) is summed up in this simple and perfect phrase. He was not lowering the standard of the Law. He was not abolishing it. He was capturing all its spirit, all of its essence, in one statement. He said all of it hangs on this. He summed up 613 commands in two. Jesus took the complexity and the advancement of the Law and made it very simple.
Jesus took the Clutter and Got Rid of It
As a simple revolutionary, Jesus was bothered by meaningless and distracting clutter. On at least one occasion, Jesus cleansed the temple. Many biblical scholars believe He did so twice during His earthly ministry.
Mark 11 gives the account of one of His cleaning projects. Jesus was enraged by what He observed in the temple. The temple had the appearance of being a place where people would seek God, but this was not the reality. People had lost their focus. Mark describes three areas of clutter that infuriated Jesus.
First, people were buying and selling in the temple. The people who came to worship God had to buy sacrifices. The leaders allowed vendors to set up shop in the temple. Historians reveal that vendors were typically set up outside the temple. Now the makeshift marketplace is inside the temple. Jesus responded by driving out those who were selling doves.
Second, money changers were exchanging currency for the Gentiles. The Gentiles needed Jewish money to buy sacrifices, and they were exploited with a fee for the exchange. Instead of the temple being a house of prayer for the Gentiles (all nations), it was cluttered with people robbing them financially. Jesus reacts by throwing over the tables of the money changers.
Third, the temple had become a shortcut for people to pass through the city. People were actually using the court of the Gentiles as a shortcut to carry things. Jesus stopped them.
His behavior in the temple gives us amazing insight into the heart of God. Jesus is adamantly opposed to anything that gets in the way of people encountering Him. He quoted from Isaiah that day saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of thieves’!” (Mark 11:17).
Many of our churches have become cluttered. So cluttered that people have a difficult time encountering the simple and powerful message of Christ. So cluttered that many people are busy doing church instead of being the church.
What about your church?
Adapted from Simple Church (B&H Publishing Group, 2006)