Rest for the Wicked
Hello Church Family,
I’ve been enjoying some extended time over the last two weeks, while on vacation, reading simply for spiritual nourishment rather than reading for teaching. (If you do any teaching you know the difference I’m referring to.) And as I’ve been taking in the Gospel of Luke, I have been once again stunned by the ministry of Jesus. Seriously. You can’t make it through one chapter of this gospel without being confronted with this reality: Those who truly receive Jesus are the broken; only those who are aware of their own unworthiness cry out to the Christ in saving faith.
Consider this: In Luke 7, a centurion sent some religious leaders to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his dying servant. The religious leaders approach Jesus like this: “He is worthy to have you do this for him” (v.4). However, when Jesus arrives (actually, before he even gets to the house), the first thing the centurion says is, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy” (v.6). About this man’s response, Jesus says: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I seen such faith.” What did Jesus “marvel” at? It was this man’s humble recognition that he had been shown favor (i.e., grace) when he was completely undeserving.
A few paragraphs later, Luke records Jesus’ dining experience with a Pharisee and a sexual deviant, or “sinful woman.” When the Pharisee observes the woman literally pouring out her affection on Jesus, the former thinks to himself, “How could Jesus let this happen … if he were really a prophet he would know who this woman is.” Aware of his host’s self-righteous indignation, Jesus tells him a story, and in un-Jesus-like fashion also reveals the point: Those who have been forgiven much (that is, the truly redeemed) respond with love toward God and grace toward neighbor, while those who think they’re really good and not in need of salvation, show no signs of true love for God or neighbor. To the Pharisee, Jesus offers an anecdotal word of caution; to the broken woman, he says: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Jesus doesn’t remind her of the importance of sexual fidelity. He doesn’t give her a plan for personal improvement. He simply says: Go in peace. Her newfound forgiveness (and imputed status) will be all the motivation she needs to live with a new commitment to holiness.
This story reminds me of something I read a few days ago from Rod Rosenbladt, a professor and pastor in Irvine: “The language of Christianity is the language of substitution. It is not primarily the language of morals. God is not presented as a mother saying ‘eat all your vegetables.’ Instead, Christianity is about a one-sided rescue, that we didn’t want and certainly didn’t deserve, and he did it anyway.”
My kids have been stuck in the car with me a lot these last two weeks, as we’ve traversed through Arizona and Nevada, even visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time, and I have labored (to their chagrin, I’m sure) to present to them this message: Christianity is not about staying out of trouble, cleaning your room, avoiding lust, watching your mouth, and being polite (although, please hear me, I want them to do all those things!); Christianity is a posture of repentance and faith, that leads us to cling to Christ and his righteousness rather than celebrate our own.
In his book The Prodigal God (which I picked up again last week), Timothy Keller comments on the danger of making the Christian faith primarily about rule following. He says: “We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginalized avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.”
On August 1, we will begin a new ministry year here at Northpoint (our ministry year runs August 1-July 31). I have all kinds of goals and ideas on how we can better make disciples who make disciples. But at the top of my list is this desire: I want this church to be the sort of community where the hurt find healing in Christ, where the beaten-down find acceptance in Jesus, and where believers and unbelievers are confronted and comforted by the news of a holy God who, while accepting only perfection, makes the repentant perfect with debt-canceling forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.
I want every one of our ministries at church to reflect this message: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). This is the only news that will bring hope, meaning, peace, and purpose to a lost and desperate world. Let’s resolve together to make it our resounding song.