Starting with Love

10 March 2013

Joe Christian meets a guy who’s shacking up with his girlfriend. Within the first conversation, Joe lets this guy know that he needs to “make an honest woman” of his girlfriend.

Susie Christian discovers that her coworker at the real estate office is a lesbian. Susie isn’t rude, but she makes a point of telling her coworker that her lifestyle is a sinful choice.

Jack Christian answers the door to find two Mormon missionaries on his front porch. He wastes no time explaining to the two young women that Joseph Smith was a false prophet and they are doing the devil’s work.

***

I wish I could say these types of situations are rare. They’re not. For some reason, many Christians seem to feel that when they encounter someone with (what they perceive as) a wrong belief or a wrong practice, they have a duty to express God’s disapproval. After all, Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have disapproval for everything wrong.”

Oh, wait…no He didn’t.

Why do we feel the need to express the disapproval right away, and then maybe follow with love later on?

In my experience, when we lead with disapproval, we never get a chance to show love. People don’t want to be around us. And seriously, why would they? Do you enjoy having your treasured sins dragged out into the light? Me neither.

“But it’s necessary to get the sins out into the light,” someone will say. Yes, it is. But how did Jesus do it?

***

Once the religious authorities — masters of disapproval, they — caught a woman in adultery. In the very act. They dragged her to Jesus and threw her down in front of him. Imagine the scene. Do you think they asked her politely to accompany them? Do you think they escorted her gently into Jesus’ presence? Do you think they waited patiently while she dressed? Of course not. So there she is, thrown headlong on the cobblestones, half-dressed at best, scratched, bruised and bleeding. “Moses told us that such a person should be stoned to death!” they said. “What do you say?”

What did Jesus do?

Did He explain to her how what she was doing was wrong? Did He assure the Pharisees that of course He disapproved of her lifestyle choices? I mean, what would people think if He didn’t clarify things?

But of course, He did clarify things. He refused to take it seriously. He looked at the ground, and wrote in the dirt. They kept insisting on an answer. Finally, Jesus looked up and spoke.

“Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.”

Then He went back to writing in the dirt. Beginning with the oldest and continuing to the youngest, every last one of her accusers left. Every one of them.

Jesus looked at her. “Where are those who condemn you?”

“Gone.”

“I don’t condemn you either,” Jesus said. “Go and sin no more.”

Do you see how He did it? Jesus loved her. Not just in word and in tongue, as a smart commentator would later say, but in deed and in truth. As she lay naked and bleeding on the cobblestones, the woman didn’t need someone to tell her how wrong she was. She didn’t need someone to express disapproval, to accuse her. The sons of the devil had that covered already. What she desperately needed was an advocate, someone to stand between her and her accusers and make them back off.

She needed an advocate precisely because she really was guilty. Obviously guilty. She had no case at all, no possibility of a defense. Johnny Cochran and Gerry Spence working together couldn’t have gotten her off.

And then, for no apparent reason, Jesus simply dismissed her sin. How is that right? Where’s the justice in that?

Jesus carried her sin to the cross, and let Himself be tortured to death for her sin. He paid everything anyone could ever ask in recompense for her sin, and then some. He bought the right to dismiss the consequences. You want justice? There it is — “He has shown you, O man, what is good — and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He satisfied justice to the full, and gave her mercy.

And then, once He had met her obvious needs and protected her from the predatory men who were going to kill her, Jesus said “I don’t condemn you either.” Did she believe Him? Of course she did — He had proved it already, hadn’t he?

Only then, once she believed that He didn’t condemn her — only then — does He also say, “Go and sin no more.”

Jesus took her sin seriously. He called it what it was. He told her she needed to stop. He didn’t duck the issue at all.

But He loved her first. He met her needs first. He stood between her and her accusers first.

So should we.


The Kingdom of God Has Come

30 September 2012

“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God is come upon you.”

With these simple words, Jesus raised the stakes on the religious leaders. He had just cast out a mute demon, a difficult feat that some rabbis maintained could only be done by Messiah Himself. Rather than believing, the Pharisees had rejected Him again and accused him of casting out demons by Satan’s power. Jesus pointed out what a foolish thing it would be for the ruler of demons to cast out his own demons, but the real challenge was yet to come.

The real challenge was simple: What if He wasn’t using Satan’s power? What if it was the Holy Spirit? What then?

Then the Kingdom of God is come. God’s rule, already firmly established in heaven, is breaking into earth, and where that is happening, the agents of the kingdom of darkness are being driven away.

The Kingdom is future. One day, we will see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, and Christ’s enemies will be His footstool. As Hebrews 2:5-9 observes, that day has not yet arrived, and so we can confidently say that the Kingdom has not yet come.

But then again, there are little pockets where we see exactly those things happening — God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, and Christ’s enemies crushed under His feet. Jesus was pointing out one such pocket. In that place, at that time, the rule of God was being asserted, which is to say that the Kingdom had arrived.

***

Abram’s servant, seeking a wife for Isaac, met her at a well. Jacob met Rachel at a well. Moses met Zipporah at a well. In the Bible, when a man meets a woman at a well, you can practically hear the wedding bells in the background. So when Jesus meets a woman at the well outside Sychar, we know what is about to happen.

Jesus is going to marry Samaria.

Samaria has had five “husbands,” five nations who possessed her (see 2 Kings 17:24*), and the nation that dominates her now, Rome, is not really her husband. The emperor is just using her for the tax revenue. She’s defeated, hopeless, oppressed — a captive, trapped in the kingdom of darkness.

She meets Jesus, and her world changes. Finally, a man who knows her: “He told me everything I ever did,” she later says. He bypasses the theological smokescreen she throws up on the Gerzim-Zion question (there was a right answer, but she didn’t really care about it anyway). Instead, He speaks to the deep need of her heart: to have reality in her relationship with God, to have life. She drinks the water that He gives, and as He promised, it wells up in her and becomes a fountain of life. All her neighbors hear about it from her, and then meet Jesus for themselves, and He remains a few days in Sychar.

Now here’s the key question: In terms of the kingdoms of light and darkness, what just happened?

Obvious, isn’t it? Yahweh’s reign has come to Sychar, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom of God has come to Sychar. Has it come perfectly? No. Has it come fully? Nope. But has it come truly?

Of course. Where Jesus is, the Kingdom is already forcefully advancing.

***

So the question is, do we believe His promise?

Jesus sent His disciples out, not just with a commission, but with a promise: “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and disciple the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all the things that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Do we believe His promise?

If we do, then we know that He is with us wherever we go. As He cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit, so we have the indwelling Holy Spirit in us, always.

If the Kingdom breaks out wherever Jesus is, then why shouldn’t the Kingdom break out wherever His Body is?

***

If we understand that it’s God’s will for the Kingdom to break out wherever we go, then we can pray boldly. He wants to break the domain of darkness through us. From driving away oppressing spirits to freeing broken people, we are agents of God, seeking to establish His reign. Knowing that He sent us out, that He is with us, and that He wants to establish outposts of His reign on earth, we pray as Jesus taught us: “Thy name be hallowed; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

_________________
*many thanks to Michele for pointing out the 2 Kings 17:24 connection.