You know: the subject of God’s love is not an either/or question in the face of orthodoxy. It’s not either you think God loves men or you have the right theology. In fact, I would say that the manner by which you can affirm that God loves men determines whether or not you have the right orthodoxy.
Hence: the Sunday school lesson I sat through a while ago.
We’re reading the Gospel of Mark together in class (it was an adult married class, for the invasively curious), and we had just completed chapter 2 and just begun chapter 3. And Chapter 3 opens like this:
- Again [Jesus] entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And [the Pharisees] watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
The stuff in brackets, btw, are things I stuck in for clarity – I replaced the pronouns with the right antecedents. But here we are in Mark 3, and the question seems to be this: will Jesus do work on the Sabbath?
See – in Chapter 2, we have 4 incidents in which the Pharisees have very pointed questions to and for Jesus about what’s going on here. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus heals the paralytic who was lowered through the roof to him to circumvent the large crowd, and He uses the words, “your sins are forgiven,” and the Pharisees ask Him how that cannot be blasphemy. In Mark 2:15-17, Jesus is accused of eating with sinners and tax collectors – and the Pharisees want to know how that’s not breaking the ritual cleanliness rules. In Mark 2:18-22, the disciples do not fast, and the Pharisees want to why they don’t obey the religious customs. And finally in Mark 2:23-27, the disciples are picking the heads of wheat on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees want to know why they are breaking the Sabbath law – why do they work on the Sabbath?
These religious guys seem to be full of questions – and from their perspective, they are good questions. They don’t want anyone committing blasphemy; they don’t want anyone being unclean; they don’t want anyone taking the tradition of Moses lightly; they don’t want anyone violating God’s law. On the surface, these seem to be good reason to be worked up – even if Jesus seems to give good answers to their questions.
But what’s really stunning here is what happens in the Synagogue. In Mark 3, Jesus comes in, and the man with the withered hand is there, and Jesus asks the Pharisees, “I’ve heard all your questions about the Law – what’s it say about healing on the Sabbath? Do we do good on the Sabbath, or should we do evil? Should we save a man’s life, or should we kill?”
And notice something: Jesus is angry with these guys and he’s got grief over their hearts which would rather that he not heal this man, or that he be condemned for doing so. That is: he’s both angry and sad over their sin.
Now, why is that? Is he crazy? Is he having some kind of schizophrenic episode? How can Jesus be both angry and sad at the hard hearts of these men?
I think it has something to do with love, my dear readers.
Let’s think about this together, first by finishing the story here. The first thing to realize is that the Pharisees have no answer for Jesus, even though Jesus has answers for their apparently-tough questions. Now, why do they have no answers? Are they speechless? Is the question very hard? I suggest that the question is not very hard at all – it’s a somewhat rudimentary bit of moral reasoning even from the standpoint of the Torah and the Tanach. Of course the Scripture does not forbid man from doing good and showing mercy, even on the Sabbath; they in fact demand that one break the law against work to save a man when he is in danger.
But why did the Pharisees not simply say that – why not admit that they were wrong? It’s because they had hard hearts – and we can see exactly how hard they were. “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” Think about that: not only would they not admit that the Torah demands that they even break the rules of work to save a man’s life, they began planning immediately – that is, on the Sabbath — to destroy Jesus.
Doesn’t that seem a little strange? They have had the extraordinary concern for why others are breaking the Sabbath law, but when they are shown that they are not really concerned about the actual law or the actual spirit of that set of laws, they do not admit they are wrong: they plot to “destroy” the one who has pointed this out to them, and to everyone.
See: these Pharisees would affirm that God loves them – individually, and as sons of Abraham, brothers in the family of Israel. But what kind of love are they affirming? What kind of love is it that wants to put some aspect of authority or scrupulous appearance ahead of the real welfare of others? If we take this passage seriously, I think it’s not the kind of love that wants to make sure it offers sufficient condemnation to those who make mistakes: I think it is the kind of love which seeks to remedy the mistakes of others and not look out for their welfare.
Now look: before you start the internet rumor that Frank has gone soft and is preaching a social gospel or I’ve joined DailyKos or some stupid thing like that, here’s where I’m going with this. What is the Christian definition of “the real welfare of others”?
Yes: it involves meeting needs. Yes: it involves giving a glass of water to the thirsty, and caring for the prisoner, and doing for the widows and orphans in their time of need. But it does it with the Gospel plainly in sight. Not the systematic theology of Robert Reymond clearly in sight, and you can’t get the next cup of soup until you can pass a test on chapter 2; not even the denominational-equivalent of the confession clearly in sight; but the Gospel.
The Gospel! Listen: sinful men are dying, and they can’t hear the Gospel because we are afraid that we are going to mistakenly tell them that God is going to do something for them that He is not going to do. In the meantime, CBN is making prophecies for them, TBN is telling them God wants to make them rich and happy, and the Mormons and Oprah are telling them that they can makes gods of themselves. They are not afraid to come out with a draft statement, or steer people is a direction that might need some work in the long run. In the face of that, let’s not write off a guy like Francis Chan or take him to the principle’s office because he forgot to mention the Lamb’s book of Life or to use the words “Glory of God” when he said that angels have to cover their eyes in front of God when they are shouting out “Holy! Holy! Holy!” before Him. In a 15-minute evangelism video.
What if, rather than worry about whether someone else is eating a head of wheat on the Sabbath – gosh! A head of wheat?! – we stood with them as they told men who are perishing that there is a savior from their sin and the punishment it deserves?!
Christ died for our sin, in accordance with the Scripture. Think about this:
Isa 53:4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
You know me better than now to ask, “cent, have you gone universalist?” You know to whom specifically the “us” in 1Cor 15:3 refers. But think about this: the prophet was not afraid to say that the sins of all are laid upon Christ even if not all will be spared the final wrath of judgment. Can we not find some place in our hearts and in our actual interactions with people to stop worrying about whether they are keeping the right fast and instead do something about that withered hand they have?
Dude: lost people need to hear the message that wrath is coming but that love will conquer wrath. Lost people – such ones as we once were. You can worry about the elect when they come! You an make them into Christian soldiers when they come! First they have to hear the message that Christ died for our sins, and was raised from the dead to prove He has both the authority to judge and the ability to save. But how are they to call on him they don’t believe? And how are they to believe in him if they’ve never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? Because the Bible tells us not, “Man, you have to get all the jots and tittles right before you go out and tell people about Jesus,” but “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
God will be glorified when we get our biases and stumbling blocks out of the way of the Gospel. Frankly, God is going to be glorified if we do not get out of the way, only we won’t be getting the “beautiful foot”: we’ll be getting the other foot, the one under which the enemies of God will be. Get beautiful feet instead. Put some shoeleather on the Gospel rather than another coat of polish.
You. The guy who doesn’t know any lost people. Yes, you.