Monday, August 20, 2007

Missing the Point

I’ve been desperately trying to catch up on my podcast archives so I have been listening to Allestair Begg from July, John Piper from March, and John MacArthur from early August. The series that Dr. MacArthur is preaching on deals with what types of people God saves, and it is focused (at least as far as I am now) on the fourth chapter of Luke where Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims that this very Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing. My point with this entry is not to re-state everything from MacArthur’s sermon but to offer an observation and possible correlation to modern Christendom.

As far back as I can remember thinking about various stories in the Bible and those involved in them, I can vividly remember being shocked at the apparent stupidity and ungratefulness of many of the people. Whether it is the idolatry of the Israelites with the golden calf, their lamenting of manna that God provided, or the unfaithfulness on the doorstep of Canaan that led to the wandering in the desert for forty years, every time that I read or hear those stories I got so annoyed because they were being so foolish and ungrateful to God. Along with those thoughts I remember, on many occasions, thinking that if I had been living in any of those times that I would not have worship the calf, complained about the manna, and that I would have been on Joshua and Caleb’s side.

But when I was in college, I began to think about these things again and I began to realize that I was not like Joshua or Caleb, but I was more like the ungrateful and unfaithful Israelites who constantly took God’s previous miraculous works and bountiful provision and counted it as normal and as something to be expected. Just like anything that we receive on a regular or daily basis, we tend to expect it and we become (as a rule) less overtly thankful for it because it has come to be expected and counted as normal occurrence rather than a blessing. What do these thoughts have to do with 4:14-30?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana1

The people in Jesus’ day had the privilege to see Christ and hear the perfectly articulated and tempered proclamation of the gospel that was a fulfillment to all that the Scriptures had been anticipating. They had the Perfect Law-Giver and Savior in their midst proclaiming that which the prophets and patriarchs wanted so desperately to see and hear, but yet virtually all of Jesus’ contemporaries missed it entirely while He was living, and even following His death, only a small percentage of national Israel has ever found her Messiah.

The question that comes to mind is how could these people who were so committed to the law and prophets and who were so knowledgeable about the commandments of God and the prophecies of the Messiah miss the very one they were awaiting and expecting? Through years of compromise or simple human vanity, the majority of Jewish people were waiting for a Messiah who was not primarily interested in the forgiving of sins and the salvation of the lost, but they were waiting for the Messiah to be the conquering king who would restore national Israel as a nation and kick out the Romans.

Since Christ has come and we have believed in Him, historically those who confess Christ have seen the folly of their error and have esteemed Christ as the only Begotten of the Father and have hailed Him as such. And we continue to be somewhat bewildered that Christ’s contemporaries could have missed everything that is so apparent to us. I fear that this same folly is as present today as it was back then. It may not take the exact form as it once did, but it is the same humanistic folly.

In Christ’s time, the popular and prominent teachers of the law saw no use for Jesus unless He would overthrow the Romans, and they demonstrated this by suing for His death. Some of those in opposition to Christ were, no doubt, committed disciples to the false religion that they had been instructed in. These same may have had no underlining agenda of personal wealth, fame, or preservation, but they believed that they were doing God’s work by having a false prophet and heretic executed. However, it is also just as likely that many of these religious leaders were more concerned about lining their own pockets, maintaining their own traditions, and holding onto their positions of leadership over and above worshiping and seeking after God, even if it would have been done in a false legalistic system that does not save.

Today many in the most prominent pulpits and ministries are preaching watered down and inclusive gospel messages, if they preach any kind of gospel at all. Teachers today are more focused on health and wealth, growing church ministries, or psycho-analyzing their parishioners rather than on the pure gospel message found in the plain understanding of the text of the Bible itself.

Some of the most frightening waves inside of Christendom are those of the emergent and social gospel movements. The emergent movement (specifically I am referring to those who are emergent in their theology, not in style of worship) seeks to blur all lines of doctrine in endless “conversations” that have no conclusions because all ideas are viewed equally valid. I agree with them, but not in the way that they intend. My views are equally as valid yours – they are both rubbish unless they are the views that are enlightened by the Holy Spirit and unless they come from a correct contextual reading and understanding of the Bible itself.

The social gospel movement removes the focus of the gospel from saving sinners and being justified in the eyes of God and instead puts the focus on social programs like feeding the poor. Feeding the poor and fighting disease is a good gospel work, but it is not the gospel. Feeding the poor and curing them of all sorts of diseases without explicitly preaching the true saving gospel of Jesus Christ is not an act of love, but it is an act of supreme hatred. If I know that God will condemn those who have not repented of their sins and believe in the gospel, but I do not exhort and plead with them to repent and believe, it shows that I don’t truly care for them.

Should Christians work to feed the poor and clothe the naked and heal the sick? Yes. But that should be done (a) because we are commanded to by Christ, (b) because we love those in need, and (c) because it is a testimony to the truth of the gospel. May we not fall into the folly of misplaced religious fervor, whether our main goal is to expel Rome or to feed and clothe those in need, that so easily grips the hearts of men, but let us focus solely on Christ and Him crucified for the salvation of sinners to the glory of God alone.

1 The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905

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