Tiger Woods has been disgraced in the media because of his infidelities. Olympian Michael Phelps was disgraced by the public disclosure of his use of marijuana. David Hasselhoff was publicly disgraced by the unveiling of video of his inebriation and ‘compromised’ parenting. Then you have the sad narrative of my governor Mark Sanford and his sordid tale of infidelity. The response, both in the media and in conversations around the proverbial water cooler is one of universal condemnation and disdain for the moral failures of these public figures. In times past, I have joined in on the lambasting of, and laughing over, public figures caught in their moral failures, their sin.
More recently however, I have had a change of attitude, of perspective. I have to check myself that I do not place myself in the position of being innately morally superior to those aforementioned characters. You see, what I have come to recognize more and more clearly is that I am just as deserving of condemnation as those celebrities. My sins, my moral failures, may not be of the same specific and public nature as theirs, but I am not without my own guilt. Have I loved my wife as Christ loves His bride, the church? No, I have at times failed at that. Have I faithfully loved God with all my heart, soul, and mind and my neighbor as myself? No, I fail every day. So has everyone who reads this post, so has everyone. We have all murdered with our words, and committed adultery in our hearts. Perhaps the most pernicious trap in which to fall is the ‘thank God I am not like the Pharisees’ mindset. None, apart from the work of Christ, are without guilt before God.
I think about 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 in context the the failings of others. I think, too, of Luke 18:9-14. Do I sometimes, as already mentioned, self-righteously place myself in the role of the Pharisee who gloats over the moral failures of the unregenerate? I think of Ephesians. 2:1-5. Ultimately, the only thing that separates me from those other miscreants is the grace and mercy of Christ.
1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (New American Standard Bible)
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?
But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.
Luke 18:9-14 (New American Standard Bible)
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’
“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
“I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Ephesians 2:1-5 (New American Standard Bible)
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved,
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
This was a surprising question coming from John the Baptist.
It’s unclear exactly when John first consciously knew that Jesus was the Son of God, whose way he had come to prepare. The Apostle John quotes him as saying, “I myself did not know him” (John 1:31) around the time he baptized Jesus.
This is remarkable because John’s mother, Elizabeth, had known. She knew because John announced it to her in utero by leaping when she heard Mary’s voice. Was she not allowed to tell him? We don’t know. Regardless, John had known even before he knew.
What is clear is that when the revelation came it was an overwhelming experience for John. That day, when Jesus approached him at the Jordan near Bethany, John couldn’t contain the shout: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” With awe and trembling hands he had baptized his Lord. And then saw the Spirit descend and remain on him.
That day had also marked the beginning of the end of his ministry. From that point he had joyfully directed people away from himself to follow Jesus. And they had.
Now he sat in Antipas’ filthy prison. He had expected this. Prophets who rebuke sinful kings usually do not fare well. Unfortunately, he had not been an exception. Herodias wanted him dead. John could see no reason why she would be denied her wish.
What he hadn’t expected was to be tormented by such oppressive doubts and fears. Since the Jordan, John had not doubted that Jesus was the Christ. But stuck alone in this putrid cell he was assaulted by horrible, accusing thoughts.
What if he had been wrong? There had been many false prophets in Israel. What made him so sure that he wasn’t one? What if he had led thousands astray?
There had been false messiahs. What if Jesus was just another? So far Jesus’ ministry wasn’t exactly what John had always imagined the Messiah’s would look like. Could this imprisonment be God’s judgment?
It felt as if God had left him and the devil himself had taken his place. He tried to recall all the prophecies and signs that had seemed so clear to him before. But it was difficult to think straight. Comfort just wouldn’t stick to his soul. Doubts buzzed around his brain like the flies around his face.
The thought of being executed for the sake of righteousness and justice he could bear. But he could not bear the thought that he might have been wrong about Jesus. His one task was to prepare the way of the Lord. If he had gotten that wrong, his ministry, his life, was in vain.
But even with his doubts, there remained in John a deep, unshakable trust in Jesus. Jesus would tell him the truth. He just needed to hear from him again.
So he sent two of his closest disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
The affection that radiated from Jesus was palpable. Jesus was familiar with John’s sorrows and grief and the satanic storms that break on the saints when they are weak and alone. He loved John.
So he invited John’s faithful friends to sit near him as he healed many and delivered many from demonic prisons.
Then he turned them with kind tears glistening in his eyes and said, “Tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” John would recognize Isaiah’s prophecy in those words. This promise would bring the peace John needed to sustain him for the few difficult days he had remaining.
Out of love for his friend, Jesus didn’t include Isaiah’s phrase “proclaim liberty to the captives.” John would understand.
When Jesus had sent John’s disciples away, he said something stunning about John: no one born of women had ever been greater. This, right after John questioned who Jesus was.
In this age, even the greatest, strongest saints experience deep darkness. None of us are spared sorrow or satanic oppression. Most of us suffer agonizing affliction at some point. Most of us will experience seasons when we feel as if we’ve been abandoned. Most of us will die hard deaths.
The Savior does not break the bruised reed. He hears our pleas for help and is patient with our doubts. He does not condemn us. He has paid completely for any sin that is exposed in our pain.
He does not always answer with the speed we desire, nor is his answer always the deliverance we hope for. But he will always send the help that is needed. His grace will always be sufficient for those who trust him. The hope we taste in the promises we trust will often be the sweetest thing we experience in this age. And his reward will be beyond our imagination.
In John’s darkness and pain Jesus sent a promise to sustain John’s faith. He will do the same for you.
I may be very sparse (for me) in the length, perhaps one-hundred words or so, of my posts in the foreseeable future. I think that I will sometimes post questions, mostly rhetorical in nature and with minimal (for me) contextual framing. Here is an example:
I have heard many times that we are to give Jesus “our best”, often within the context on a sermon on tithing. I remember watching/listening to a sermon on the TV by a nationally known and influential preacher at the begining of the year. The message was that, in 2008, we need to be more faithful in tithing, we need to be sure to witness to others on a regular basis, and we need to be more faithful in attending church, perhaps with the inferred promise that we will be blessed by our obedience in the new year, financially and otherwise. This preachers intent was noble and the things he called us to do are, in an of themselves, praiseworthy, but may sometimes the preaching and exhorting to give Jesus “our best” be an unintended invitation to a performance-driven legalism lite? On the other hand, at what point do we begin to tread the dangerous ground of antinomianism?
The life of faith, properly understood within the Christian framework, is not an easy path. It becomes more difficult when it is misunderstood. There are some, both within and outside the Church, who appear to believe that Christians have a faith in faith. I think that, for some, faith is inferred as being a kind of invisible force to wield and be directed until circumstances yield to the force of faith. If one has enough faith, if one simply believes strongly enough, circumstances will change for the better. If the circumstances do not change, the inference is that the fault lies in ones lack of faith. However, I assert that faith, in the context of being a disciple of Christ, is better understood as trust. Read the rest of this entry