... continued from yesterday
Standing in the background of these sorts of judgments is our picture of what God is like. Is God's primary feature his justice, understood in the modern sense? Then perhaps punishment is his primary action in relation to humanity and the world. Then perhaps wrath toward wrongdoing is the primary lens through which to view him. 
This is not Jesus' understanding of God. For Jesus, God is like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He is yearning and longing for the return of his son who has gone astray. He demands nothing of the returning son. There is no legal process for his return; no forms have to be filled out. Instead, he throws him a party.
The God of Jesus does dispense final judgment, as I explore in chapter 8. But mercy is his more dominant mode of operation and justice understood in the sense of stopping those who oppress the weak. This is a key distinction. Many think of prophetic anger and divine justice in terms of punishing those who deviate from some abstract law or rule. By contrast, prophetic anger primarily had to do with those who oppress--it was about being for people more than being against sin in some abstract sense.
There are just a few key lessons to take away from Jesus' conflict with various leaders of Israel over values. The first is of course to have the right values. Justice, mercy, and faithfulness is the short list Jesus gives in Matthew 23. Justice is about standing up for those who are weak or oppressed. Mercy is about making exceptions to the rules because you see the possibility to grow and learn a lesson. Faithfulness is about living always with God and the greater good in view, not my own selfish good.
A second application is to "major on the major," not to "major on the minor," as the saying goes. What is really important? When you are focused on what is truly important, you will make exceptions when it is appropriate. You will see when it is appropriate to ignore purity rules or Sabbath laws. Jesus says at one point, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?" (Matt. 12:11). The "rules" are meant for our good, and most of them are not absolute rules, meaning that there are exceptional situations.
Finally, it's bad to be a hypocrite. A hypocrite is someone who wants to look like she has Jesus' values but really is only putting on a show. The outside looks clean, but the heart is evil and full of the bones of the dead. Some of us don't even realize we are hypocrites. The human heart has an amazing capacity for self-deception. Often we cannot change ourselves, but coming clean with ourselves about our true motives is a first step. God and others can bring us the rest of the way.
 Sometimes this view is confused with a focus on God's sovereignty, his being in control. But this is a circular line of thinking--it assumes what God would want if he were in control. God can be in control and insist that justice is the primary focus, or God can be in control and insist that love is the primary focus.