I was reading John 5 this morning, and as I came to the end of it I noticed a passage that spoke deeply to me. In verse 45 Jesus says, “Don’t think that I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, the one in whom your hope rests.” I immediately thought about how foolish the people he was addressing must have been. They had Jesus Christ in their midst, and they had put their hope in Moses, who had long since passed. The Jews had so heavily invested in the words of Moses. Their law and scriptures were everything to them. And this man, Jesus, had come and completely messed with their understanding of things. They had their rituals, their laws, their systems, their traditions – and then Jesus. He came in like a whirlwind and questioned all of it. He brought forth this new system called grace and freedom, and they couldn’t comprehend that he actually was who he said he was. Just a few verses back they were trying to accuse him for healing a man on the Sabbath day and telling the man to carry his mat. After all, Moses said keeping the Sabbath was one of the 10 commandments. Who was this man that said, “Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath”? Did he actually go there? Did he touch that? Didn’t he know what these people believed and what Moses had said? These people had placed their hope squarely on Moses and refused to see the salvation and redemption that were quite literally staring them in the face.
So now I want to talk about Moses as “accuser”. When Jesus says that Moses is their accuser what could he mean? Did he mean that Moses set out the laws and the laws were the accusers? Maybe? Probably, even. But this morning when I read it the Spirit spoke something else to me about this passage. Moses was the accuser because he was where they had misplaced their hope. As human beings hope is essential. It is necessary. We lose the will to live when we run out of hope. And Jesus is telling these people that he is there in the flesh – their hope right before their eyes. But letting go of that which has held your hope for a very long time is no small feat. In fact, many never learn to do it. And they may want to harm anyone who asks them to re-evaluate things or dares to question their beliefs. The Pharisees are prime examples of this. They didn’t just want to dismiss Jesus. They wanted him dead. You see, Moses was their accuser because he was stealing their hope from the one true source of life – Jesus Christ. The people had to be able to take God out of the box they had placed him in (quite literally on their foreheads) and realize that the fulfillment of scripture might not look how they had always expected it would. The Messiah might not ride in with power and might and destroy the Roman establishment. He might not save them in the way that they had seen kings “save” nations in the past with military strength and destruction. He might ride in on a donkey and save his people by being beaten and crucified. He might defeat Rome by loving its inhabitants even though they were lost. He might not act like a “king” at all. The things their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents had told them with best intentions may not have been exactly right. But breaking out of those long-held beliefs and patterns requires an upending of everything you think you know. It requires a humility beyond belief to be able to look at what “you’ve always thought” and admit that you might have been wrong. After all, this is their hope you’re messing with. And fear abounds when hope is at stake.
Let’s consider for a moment that we all have “accusers” in our lives. For the Jews it was the words and laws of Moses. Their lives completely revolved around them. What do our lives revolve around? For some of us it is still an attachment to law and order and a literal interpretation of scripture that requires complete obedience and rule-following in order to receive “grace”. And those beliefs accuse us because our hope is in them and not Jesus. But beyond religious ideas, where else do we place our hope? Sometimes our hope is in how much money we make, how lovely our home is decorated or how well-behaved our kids appear in public (we can hide how they act at home). Maybe our hope is in our national security, a stable economy or a political candidate. Perhaps we place our hope in being liked and approved of by everyone we know. It could be that our hope is in being beautiful, defying the aging process and staying within our "ideal weight". Maybe we have lost any positive hope, and our hope of continuing to survive is in a beer bottle or on a computer screen, giving us just enough false hope to keep living until tomorrow. Where is your hope? Wherever we place our hope, whether in good things or bad, these things become our accusers. When we read about the accuser in this passage, our religious understanding tends to take us to a place of immediately assuming Jesus is speaking of being accused in an eternal, heaven or hell sense. But Jesus makes clear time and again that the Kingdom is here with his arrival. Everything is different. Our lives and choices are not just about eternity. We are to be ministers of reconciliation here and now. His words carry weight both temporal and eternal. So, when we place our hope in things other than Jesus I submit that the accusation is now. In misplacing our hope, we are unable to live in the freedom and light that Jesus offers. If our hope is placed in success, safety, approval, etc. we will constantly be let down. We are hoping in the inconsistent, the not hope-worthy, the world. We allow these things to accuse us when we allow the lack of them to steal our joy. When we cannot sleep at night and use anything we can to numb our pain, our hope has become our accuser. When we expend all our resources, both physical and emotional, on things that are temporal, our hope becomes our accuser. When our hope becomes our accuser, we are in a vicious cycle of misery that is hard to break. But Jesus says, “I have come to set the prisoner free”. We are chained psychologically and emotionally to these things that can only offer temporary hope. And Jesus whispers in our ears, “I will not accuse you. It won’t be me. I will only free you. I will only love you. I will only give you life abundant. Will you let me?” Will we accept him for who he is?