Thursday, February 11, 2016

Debt

Luke 23:33
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there

How often do we think of this and how real is it to us?

I have been blessed with two six year old twin sons, and one of them asked me in the middle of a Church service “Daddy why did Jesus let those men do that to him?” Wow, I did not have a quick come back for that one. I told him we would talk about it later and we did. As I tried to explain what Jesus did and why he did it in terms that a six year old might grasp the enormity of his gift and sacrifice washed over me in a new way yet again. Seeing it threw their eyes and watching their concern for Jesus played out in their facial expressions nearly brought me to tears.

How often do we ponder this great gift Christ gave? How real is it to us that this God we serve put on flesh and allowed us, his creations, to murder him so that he could pay a debt we could never pay ourselves. I pray I never get used to it, I pray it never becomes just another fact on a page in the Bible to me, and I pray it doesn’t for you either. As Christ stood before Pilot just before his scourging and crucifixion he said he came to testify to the truth. His greatest testimony was given when he gave his body over to be tortured and nailed to a tree. He came to testify to the truth of the Father’s limitless and relentless love for his people. He showed us through his immense sacrifice how far the Father was willing to go to reach his people and draw them to himself. During his ministry he demonstrated that his people were not of a certain social class, ethnicity, or racial persuasion but that by simple repentance, belief, and obedience redemption was possible for anyone.

Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, tentmakers, tax collectors, thieves, prostitutes, lepers and murderers. He could have certainly chosen more learned and righteous men from the synagogues. Right from the start of his ministry we can see the testimony he is giving. We see him heal a leper by touching him; something at that time was no doubt seen as very radical. Certainly the Lord could have healed the man without his touch but he purposefully chose to lay his hand on him. Someone with the disease of Leprosy would have been completely ostracized from the community. Being seen as unclean if they did venture into the city they were made to announce their uncleanness as they went as to warn others to keep their distance. If a person in the community were to touch an unclean person they too would suffer the same separation from the community and would from that day on be seen as unclean. No doubt Jesus intended to make a statement by touching the Leper.

We see Jesus having dinner at the home of a Pharisee when a “sinful” woman comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet and begins to wash them with her very tears. She even kneels behind him instead of in front him as if she feels herself unworthy to even face him. The righteous Pharisee reacts with disgust and suggests Jesus couldn’t be a prophet or he would know what kind of woman she was and certainly wouldn’t want her touching him.
It is interesting that Jesus responds with a parable on debt asking Peter who would love more in return, the one with much debt forgiven or little?
 He then rebukes Peter his own disciple saying she has already done for him far more than Peter did when he went to Peter’s home. He is telling Peter, the Pharisee, and us that we have much to learn from this “sinful” woman that many would see as unworthy. Christ then forgives her of her sins.

Again and again we see Christ rebuke the self righteous and religious authorities that somehow see themselves more worthy through there own efforts than other people around them and then feel themselves justified in not sharing the Kingdom of Heaven with these unworthy people. He tells them they are doing the work of their Father the Devil, why? Because they are deceiving people about the true nature of the Kingdom of God, they themselves have been so deceived that they have exalted themselves instead of the Father. He tells them in one confrontation that the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of them, why?
Because they rightly see their place in the presence of an all righteous and Holy God, they give no merit to their own deeds or think themselves more worthy or more valued by the Father than anyone else, on the contrary, they see clearly what they have been saved from and know they have only the Father to thank.

Christ was very clear that the gift he came to give and the love of the Father which he came to testify about is boundless. Christ hung on the cross and died for yes those that loved him then and those that love him now but also for the ones we wish not to think of. Christ gave his life for the murderer, the Pedophile, the rapist, and among others for the terrorist. He gave himself for us and all those our society would label as unwanted and unworthy. He gave himself for the drug dealer on the corner, the strippers in the strip clubs, the thief that breaks into your home while you’re working. He made his testimony very clear when he chose Paul, a murderer, to be an Apostle, when he called Levi the despised tax collector to follow him, when he reached out and put his hand on the leper, when he forgave the adulterous woman, when turned to the thief on the cross and said “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

So what is our attitude to these people, to these that our culture would call unworthy, to these that our Savior died for?

If we are honest do we find ourselves feeling a little more worthy than others we may see in our daily lives or watch on the nightly news? What is our feeling when we see the parent mistreating their child at the store, do we immediately think of scolding that person, do we compare ourselves to them and think how we would never do such a thing, or do we see ourselves in them, both being sinners? What about the guy tattooed from his toes to his nose, do we cross the street to avoid him? Do we watch the nightly news and call for bombs to be dropped so that entire ethnic groups might be wiped from the earth?

Recently we saw in the news that twenty-one Egyptian Christians were beheaded by ISIS. They videoed the incident and released it. Not long after the brother of two of the slain Christians was quoted by the press saying he wanted to thank ISIS for allowing the Christians to vocally proclaim their faith before they martyred them. He also said “Since the Roman era, Christians have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way. This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to Love our enemies and bless those who curse us.”

This man could have used this air time to call for vengeance, ask other nations to exact justice, or at the very least express his anger and disdain for ISIS but he doesn’t do that. Doesn’t this statement sound like something the Apostle Paul might say? This is a man that knows what his faith is asking of him and he has chosen to practice it. It is incredibly convicting for me, someone that at times has a problem loving the other people I must share the highway with, seeing a man thanking the men that killed members of his family. This man knows the God he serves came and died on the cross to pay a debt even for the men of ISIS. He knows the Father loves his enemy at the same degree as he loves him, the only difference between this faith filled follower of Christ and the members of ISIS is the follower of Christ has been found and the other is still terribly lost.

Isn’t that what we are seeing when we look on to some of the people out in our society, people in various stages of being lost? Some granted are so tremendously lost, such as the members of a terrorist group that they may never return, but lost is what they are. If we were to insert ourselves into the story of the prodigal son just before he had squandered all his inheritance we would see a boy partying his life away, spending all his time with prostitutes, and living a careless unrighteous life. We have all seen this type, some even in our own family or at one time maybe we were that lost person living only for the next party or bit of self gratification. Would we condemn the younger son before he has an opportunity for redemption, or would we try our best to be gracious to him understanding that his father desperately wants him to return? In the story when he does return the older son is angry and jealous, he thinks the younger brother unworthy. He is looking at his deeds and what he has done for the father compared to his younger brother. Do we do this; do we look at our years of faithful service to the Lord and compare our deeds to the lost around us allowing ourselves to feel more worthy?

The first illusion is that we could have anything to offer the Lord. Isaiah 64:6 says our righteous acts are like filthy rags to the lord. The Lord created us and everything we have in this life then paid our incredible debt with his very life. If we give him all that we are and all that we have we would only be returning what he has already given. The second illusion is that we are any different than the murderer. James 2:10 says if you’ve broken one law today your as guilty as anyone who has broken them all. This tells me I stand equal with those I might see as unworthy.

In John 1:29 John the Baptist looks at Jesus and proclaims “Look the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Christ suffered and died on the cross to offer the inheritance of eternal life to that person that’s giving us a hard time at work, the person giving us a creative gesture on the highway, the person at the store with their child that only knows how to parent the way they were parented, the terrorist murdering our Christian brothers and sisters for their faith. What Christ did on the cross was enough to cover all sins, not just ours. Do we want to stand in the way or be indifferent to that prodigal son or daughter returning to the Father or do we want to aid in that returning?

Let’s be mindful that our words and our actions as Christians are presenting the Cross as a one time atoning act for all sins and for all people!
Let’s start saying hello to those people we maybe would normally avoid, let’s offer our help rather than our judgment; let’s love past the hate.

In doing this we will allow the power of the Cross to shine.