Would we know, for one thing, the exceeding sinfulness of sin? Let us often read these first five verses of John’s Gospel. Let us mark what kind of Being the Redeemer of mankind must needs be, in order to provide eternal redemption for sinners. If no one less than the Eternal God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, could take away the sin of the world, sin must be a far more abominable thing in the sight of God than most men suppose. The right measure of sin’s sinfulness is the dignity of Him who came into the world to save sinners. If Christ is so great, then sin must indeed be sinful!
When the truth of God enters the soul, it breeds zealots, martyrs, confessors, missionaries and saints. If any Christians are in earnest and full of love to God and man, they are those who know what grace has done for them. If any remain faithful under reproaches, joyful under losses and crosses—they are those who are conscious of their indebtedness to divine love. If any delight in God while they live and rest in Him as they die—they are the men who know that they are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, who justifies the ungodly.
All glory be to the Lord, who lifts the beggar from the dunghill and sets him among princes, even the princes of His people! He takes the very cast-offs of the world and adopts them into His family and makes them heirs of God by Jesus Christ! The Lord grant us all to know the power of the gospel upon our sinful selves! The Lord endear to us the name, work and person of the sinner’s Friend! May we never forget the hole of the pit from where we were drawn, nor the hand which rescued us, nor the undeserved kindness which moved that hand! From now on let us have more and more to say of infinite grace. “Free grace and dying love.” Well does the old song say, “Ring those charming bells.” Free grace and dying love—the sinner’s windows of hope! Our hearts exult in the very words! Glory be unto You, O Lord Jesus, ever full of compassion.
~ Charles Spurgeon
- “He will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick.” Matthew 12:20
A reed that grows in the marsh–let even a wild duck land upon it, and it snaps; let but the foot of man brush against it, and it is bruised and broken; every wind that flits across the river–moves it to and fro. You can conceive of nothing more frail or brittle, or whose existence is more in jeopardy, than a bruised reed.
Then look at the smoldering wick–what is it? It has a spark within it, it is true–but it is almost smothered; an infant’s breath might blow it out; nothing has a more precarious existence than its flame.
Weak things are here described–yet Jesus says of them, “I will not break a bruised reed; I will not put out a smoldering wick.” Some of God’s children are made strong to do mighty works for Him; God has His Samsons here and there–who can pull up Gaza’s gates, and carry them to the top of the hill; He has a few mighties who are lion-like men. But the majority of His people are a timid, trembling race. They are like starlings, frightened at every passer-by. They are a little fearful flock. If temptation comes–they are captured like birds in a snare. If trial threatens–they are ready to faint. Their frail skiff is tossed up and down by every wave; they drift along like a sea bird on the crest of the billows–weak things, without strength, without wisdom, without foresight.
Yet, as weak as they are–and because they are so weak–they have this promise made specially to them! Herein is grace and graciousness! Herein is love and loving-kindness! How it reveals the compassion of Jesus to us–so gentle, tender, considerate! We need never shrink back from His touch. We need never fear a harsh word from Him–though He might well chide us for our weakness. Bruised reeds shall have no blows from Him, and the smoldering wick no damping frowns!
The Sadducees came from the affluent sections of society, their members mainly belonging to the priestly class (Acts 4:1; 5:17). It is generally assumed that the title of Tsadokim in Hebrew (Saddukaioi in Greek) indicates a connection with the line of the High Priest Zadok (from the time of King David). As in the case of the Pharisees, their main ideological opponents, the actual origins of the Sadducees remain unclear.
Their doctrines were based exclusively upon the Written Law. Unlike the Pharisees, they did not treat the interpretations of the Oral Law as binding. They denied the resurrection of the dead, immortality of the soul and the world to come (Acts 23:6-8). According to their belief, biblical Scriptures offered no basis for belief in the resurrection of the dead, a matter on which they approached Jesus – “Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to him and asked him” (Luke 20:27 and parallels).
The Sadducees thus differed greatly from the Pharisees, in their way of thinking but equally in their attitude towards the common people. During the final Temple period the Sadducees, who included the chief priests and the elders supervising Temple worship, were identified with the aristocracy and sought to ingratiate themselves with the Roman rulers by collaborating with them in keeping the population quiescent and obedient. They were consequently less popular than the Pharisees with the ordinary people.
The NT records the frictions between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Paul’s imprisonment highlighted the divisions between the two groups: ” ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.” (Acts 23:6-8). In spite of these differences, John the Baptist confronted both Sadducees and Pharisees by calling them “brood of vipers” and challenged them to “bear fruit”, namely repentance among the people (Matt 3:7-11).
Unlike the Pharisees, who regularly debated important religious issues with Jesus, the Sadducees typically avoided confrontation. Only on one occasion did the Sadducees approach Jesus, together with the Pharisees, to demand a sign from heaven (Matt 16:1).
As the Sadducees were in charge of the Temple they must have been bewildered and alarmed when Jesus said: “not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt 24:2) and “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days” (Matt 26:61). These apparent threats to the Temple could have been among the reasons why the Sadducees, as defenders of public order, wished to have Jesus executed (Matt 26:3-4). After the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the Sadducees disappeared, while the Pharisees continued to represent mainstream Judaism.
The Essenes were a Jewish semi-monastic sect active during the latter part of the Second Temple period (2nd cent. BCE to 1st cent. CE). According to Philo of Alexandria, the Essenes numbered some 4,000 and lived in various towns and villages of Judea, with prominent concentrations along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Knowledge of the sect is mainly based on the following ancient sources: among the Jews, the historian Josephus and Philo of Alexandria; the Roman writer Pliny, and Eusebius, an early Christian Bishop.
The sect consisted of adult males and celibacy was encouraged. The Essenes lived as a highly organized community that held possessions in common. All property was held in common, as were wages, food supply, and clothing stocks. Elected officials supervised the apportionment of all these items. They condemned slavery and prohibited trading because it led to covetousness and cheating; they avoided luxury, abhorred untruthfulness and forbade oaths, with the one exception of the oath a new member took after two years of probation. In this oath, the member pledged piety toward God, justice to men, honesty with fellow Essenes, preservation of the sect’s secrets, and proper transmission of its teachings.
Personal modesty was stressed by the order as was physical cleanliness, ritual purity, and the wearing of white garments. Temperance was considered a virtue, common pleasures a vice. Meals were eaten in common and appear to have been imbued with some sort of sacral character. The Essenes, though excluding themselves from the Pharisaic and common pale, nevertheless sent votive offerings (but no animal sacrifices) to the Jerusalem Temple (Philo, Every Good Man is Free 7:5). In contrast to the Pharisees, the Essene sect, according to Josephus, believed in an unalterable destiny (jewish Antiquities XIII, 127), which essentially meant denying the free will. The belief in a dualistic predestination was very much stressed among the Essenes. They were extremely strict in observance of the Sabbath, again in contradistinction to the more elaborate Pharisaic halakhah.
The Torah was read and expounded among them as among other Jews, although they possessed sacred writings of their own. During the Great Revolt against Rome (66-70 CE) Essenes were to be found in the ranks of the Jewish fighters. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE the Essenes, like other non-mainstream sects, vanished from the stage of Jewish history.
After the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, most scholars concluded that the documents emanated from an Essene community, identified with those who lived in Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea. Some scholars, however, believe the library of scrolls were brought to the site and hidden there after the destruction of Jerusalen in A.D. 70. This topic is currently debated.
There is no direct reference to the Essenes in the New Testament, but they could be the subject of Luke 16:8 as Jesus refers to the “the sons of light”, a title which the Dead Sea Sect used for themselves, opposed to “the sons of darkness”, which were the wicked people outside the Essene world.
I would like to introduce a short series which briefly examines the Jewish traditions from which Christianity emerged. It will begin with the Zealots.
Josephus refers to the Zealots as the “fourth Jewish philosophy,” founded by Judas the Galilean (in 6 A.D.); he strongly contends that all succeeding troubles including the burning of the Temple can be traced to his teaching. It should be noted that Josephus, who had turned to the Romans, is most certainly offering a politically acceptable assessment of these sworn enemies of Rome that he calls “bandits.” It is difficult to discover reliable information about the zealots when Josephus, who opposed them bitterly, is the primary, if not only source.
Josephus relates that the name “zealot” was self-ascribed by this Jewish sect, “for Zealots they called themselves, as if they were devoted to good works, not zealous for all that was vile, vile beyond belief.” (Wars IV.161). The designation has frequently come to be used of all who rebelled against Rome with force.
The movement was both religious and political. One might describe the Zealots as a sect very much preoccupied with Jewish nationalism. The common ground for all the Jewish parties was the Torah. But unlike the Pharisees or Sadducees, the Zealots offered no new conception of the Law; they were not out to interpret it, just to fight for it. They would assert that the Law demanded YHWH be only king that the Jews acknowledged and that they should establish His reign by rooting out paganism and by breaking from the tyranny of Rome. The Torah made separation from Gentiles necessary, exalted Israel as the chosen of God, and promised triumph. The zealots sought to enforce these beliefs by violence of any kind.
The Zealots favored armed rebellion against Rome. They held to the idea that Roman rule was incompatible with Jewish freedom, and that the Jews should be free of Roman control. This culminated, eventually in an actual revolt, the Great Jewish Revolt. Zealots, especially those in the Iudaea Province, captured Jerusalem and were able to hold it until 70 CE. Rome eventually retook Jerusalem, leading to the destruction of the Second Temple.
The Zealots do not figure prominently in the biblical records, but there are references to them. One of the twelve, Simon Zelotes (Mark 3:18) was possibly a Zealot at one point. Barabbas was likely a zealot; the term used to describe him in John 18:40 is the same word used by Josephus to describe the Zealots.
Jesus never openly refers to the Zealots. His statement that men try to take the kingdom by force (Matthew 11:12) has been interpreted as a criticism of such misguided zeal. Whether it refers to the Zealots or not is debated.