Forgiveness and Grace

I apologize that I haven’t written in awhile and we have been continuing our voyage through Matthew. I will also apologize in advance that this post will probably not be thoroughly proofread as I am wanting to get this out.

As Chapter 18 closes Jesus responds to Peter’s question about forgiveness. Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother and Jesus basically told him not to keep track. Many times we will forgive someone a once or twice but after a period write them off as loss. Jesus suggest that instead we continue to extend grace as is necessary.

This is difficult for a number of reasons. First is the fact that because this is a fallen and broken world filled with fallen and broken people and as such a lot of damage can be done from one person to another. We can be hurt physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually as we are assaulted on any number of fronts. Asking that we forgive someone who has inflicted tremendous pain on us is a tall order to say the least. Second we are not wired to forget such offenses and they can continue to impact us for years after the actual event and as we hold on to that pain it becomes ingrained and even more difficult to let go of. Third we come up with all sorts of reasons why we shouldn’t forgive, things like, they don’t deserve it, they haven’t earned it, they aren’t really sorry, or they will just do it again. Fourth, we feel the person has to “pay” for what they have done. Many times a person does something and it seems there are no consequences for their actions and our sense of justice demands they are held to account and because they aren’t we find it difficult to forgive. There could be other reasons as well, but these are the most common.

To help us put things in perspective Jesus tells a story about someone who was forgiven a great sum impossible for them to pay and yet that same person was unwilling to forgive a much more modest sum they were owed. This landed the person in hot water and we are warned that God may do the same to us if we are equally limited in our wiliness to forgive. As we approach Easter it is a great time to remember what tremendous cost was paid on our behalf that we might be forgiven and what all we have been forgiven. As we face this great task of extending grace here are some reminders.

One, because of Christ death on the Cross, forgiveness is attainable. Before He went to the cross He knew every sin you would commit and He decided that you were worth it and went to the cross anyway. By His actions we can be forgiven far more than we could ever repay.

Two, we do not deserve this, did not earn it, could never repay it, may repeat our sins, and by in large have escaped the worst consequences for these actions, that is eternal separation from God.

Three, we are not worthy of this nor could we ever do anything to make ourselves worth.

Four, as those that have been redeemed God has chosen to forget our sin and look at us only as sinless, not the terrible creatures that we are, but the glorious beings we shall one day become.

Five, forgiveness is not an event but a process, it can take a lot of time to get there but we should try.

Six, forgiving someone will help you far more than it will help them. Often the rock of hate / anger / contempt we hold on to will cause more damage to us than the lack of forgiveness to the other person.

Seven, it is equally important to forgive ourselves.

Eight, if God has chosen to forget something maybe we should to.

Nine, just like us, many times the consequences for a person’s sin were paid by Christ. Again if that payment was good enough for God, maybe it should be for us as well.

Ten. Grace is paramount. If the church is going to grow and effect change how it was intended, it must be willing to extend grace far more than anything else.

This is a tough lesson, but one we all need to hear, learn, and heed.

God Bless.

Looking ahead

As 2020 closes out and 2021 looms ahead how are you doing? Are you glad this year is finally over and looking forward to the new year? Are you anxious about what may come. I mean there are no promises that 2021 will be any better than 2020. It could in fact be worse. Before we get to depressed thinking about all this I want to assure you this is a message of hope not pessimism.

In the 16th chapter of Matthew Jesus is speaking with the Disciples and ask them who do they say He is? Peter answers and declares Him the Christ. Jesus honors him by saying this was only revealed by the Spirit and that on “this rock He would build His church and the Gates of Hades would not prevail against it.” While there is a lot tied up in this I am only going to look at the part about the Gates of Hades not prevailing. Most people takes this to mean that the power of Satan would never defeat the church or Christ and while this is correct I think there is much more here. First we must think about what a gate may symbolize and what do we normally think of about gates. Gates of course are designed to either keep something out or keep something in, or both. Because of this a gate has to have a level of strength and reinforcement to make this happen. For this reason gates are associated with strength and power and why some may think this passage is about the Power of Satan. While there is some truth to this I reject the idea of the image of the Power of Satan against the Church. This gives us a picture of the Church as a fortress surrounded by the forces of evil, essentially the Church is on the defensive. Remember gates are about keeping stuff out or in. Obviously the church is not on the inside but the outside, so it is the realm of Satan that has to stand against the Church and not the other way around. Where does this leave our image now?

In short the Church, started by Christ is going to continue to grow and advance and nothing, not even the gates of hell (Hades) will stop its advance. Now Hades represents the underworld and we know that the gates of that underworld would not be able to contain Christ. Nor will they be able to contain the souls of those who die in Christ. So in this sense the gates of hades will totally fail in their mission and the power of Satan will be broken forever. The Church will continue to grow and advance until it covers the world and in the final battle Christ will defeat Satan and Satan, Death, and Hell will all be cast into the lake of fire. As terrible as things may be on Earth, we who are citizens of Heaven and members of the Family of God have nothing to fear because we know our King will defeat Satan and Evil and no matter how bad things may get, it is only temporary. We also know that those who die in Christ will not remain so, but will be in eternity with Him.

I say all this to remind you, and myself, that while things may be dark and at times it may look like Christ and the Church are on the defensive and facing defeat, this is not true and will never happen. Regardless of what happens here on Earth, God is still in control and Christ is still moving forward. His plan is still in place and history is moving in its long slow march toward that time when Christ will return and all His children shall be gathered home. Until then it may be difficult for us, but remember that we have been sealed in the Spirit and promised an inheritance as we are now children of God. So as you look ahead, don’t just look to the next year nor just this rock we are on, but look ahead to eternity when we shall home with Him and be filled and surrounded by His love and grace for evermore and as the only Hymn goes, we’ll work till Jesus comes then we’ll be gathered home.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Peaceful Christmas

I think most of us can agree that this year has been difficult for various reasons and probably one of the last adjectives or emotions that would come to mind is that of “peace” or “peacefulness”, which is why I believe it is terribly important to talk about it. In that same passage from Luke 2 where the Angels visited the shepherds they talk about Joy, they also talk about Peace. This is where we get the line “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men”. So was all that just hopeful poetry that has been unrealized? Given all the wars, famines, strife, conflict, abuse, oppressions, and depression that has went on in the two millennia since the birth of Christ one might think so. Before we write off Luke as overly optimistic here, let us do what we have to do with so many other things, change our perspective.

You see, most of when we think of Peace we think of quiet, solitude, and an absence of conflict. A nice sunny day, not a dark and stormy day. While that is true, it is not descriptive of the peace that the Angels speak of here. In fact this idea of peace is one that is maybe better understood as security. After all, what brings about peace better than knowing you are safe and secure? In this instance the coming of Christ is a reminder of God’s unconditional love, His drawing near to us that we may be near Him, and His faithfulness. In a world where there is no one you can count on and everything fails at some point the God of the universe says I AM here, I love you, and I want to be in relationship with you, so much so that I AM breaking into time and the Word became flesh (Human) and dwelt among us. So now because of what God did through Jesus, we can now be restored in our relationship with Him. We no longer have to run the gauntlet of laws and sacrifices to atone for our sins and find peace with God because God has done that for us. We no longer have to worry about eternity because God has done that for us. We no longer have to worry about being distant from God because He has come near to us. We no longer have to worry about our future because God has sealed us, holds us in His hand, we have been purchased by Him and we have an inheritance laid up for us by Him, and nothing in this universe can take that away. No matter what happens to you, to me, how bad, dark, dismal, disappointing, or difficult life here gets, those things are assured. We have to remember that this world with all its troubles are merely temporary but what we have with God is eternal. Its kind of like being in a storm shelter in the middle of a storm. Yes its violent and raging around you, but because of where you are at, you are safe and because you know you are safe you can rest easy and be at peace. No matter the storms that rage around us in this world, we know we are held safely in His hand and because of that we can rest and be at peace.

I do hope this Christmas season you are able to reflect on this idea of peace and take comfort in know that the God who created this Universe loves you unconditionally and holds you close. That through Jesus, this little baby who’s birth we celebrate, God came to Earth that we might know Him and experience His love and in return give our love to Him. Let this message of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace resonate with you during this season and for the year to come. Merry Christmas.

Tis’ the Season

Greetings and my apologies for being so long in writing. With everything going on this year it seems I have not been able to be as faithful to this blog as I should be. I am hoping to rectify that moving forward. Still amazingly enough with everything that has gone on, I feel as if I have been transported across the year to December and Christmas is upon us! I don’t know if anyone else is feeling that way but it seems as if the year has been all a haze and how did we get here?

That being said, we are here and as usual there is much going on related to it and Christians have every reason to be just a joyous as they always are. This is the season when believers celebrate the birth of their Lord and Savior, that moment when God burst into history and the Word became flesh. Yes I know there is much distress, confusion, and chaos in the world and that is something that will always remain and trying to make but so much sense out of it is pointless. Most of the things that are going on are far beyond our control so why stress? Yes I know this is much easier done than said, but again with the season that is upon us, let us focus upon that instead.

So what are we focusing on exactly? For me it is the greatest of all gifts from God and that is Love. Love stands behind everything. The fact that Jesus came, the ministry of Jesus, and His act of redemption on the cross that would restore me (and every other believer) to right relationship with God, all was and is motivated by Love. So it is with Love we should move through every day and especially Christmas. Now in thinking on Love we have to change our thinking just a little. Mostly we think of love as that warm fuzzy feeling we get when around friends and family, holding a spouse, or snuggling a puppy / kitten / etc… But the love I am speaking of us much more potent and abiding. The love that God showed us it what is referred to in the Bible as “agape” love. This is one of the four words used by the Greeks to describe the feelings we all place under the heading of love. To be fair it was not commonly used before the New Testament and it was the Biblical writers who used it to great affect. Agape love is a love of compassion that is not based upon the object of love. That is it is love just because. God loves us because we exist and nothing more. It is unconditional in its purest sense. Its not based on attraction, on conditions, on the idea of getting something in return. It is not based on anything found in the object. This is rather astounding when you think about it.

Now with this being Christmas let’s carry it a bit further. If this is the season to love like no other then it should be the season where Christians demonstrate true love (agape). This means doing things, giving things, being helpful, charitable, gracious, generous, etc… for no other reason than just to do it. This can manifest itself in all sorts of ways, but ultimately it means we as believers put ourselves second and we put other people first. It means we don’t try to get all we can but we try to give all we can. This is difficult and contrary to popular culture and society, but what better time than Christmas, when our Savior came as a baby in a stall, to show the world just how truly different Christians are and what it means to be covered by Grace.

So I encourage you to join with me and celebrate this season by seeing how many different ways we can love everyone around us just as God loved us.

Grow where you are Planted

Starting in the 13th chapter of Matthew several parables of Jesus are recorded. The parable was and is an effective teaching tool utilizing story to convey a deeper message, often in a way that is much more relatable than focusing on the point itself. In places where the majority of people are not literate this is in fact a much better tool. Again Jesus demonstrates His effectiveness as the master teacher. For those long in the church many of these parables are well known and remembered, but there are still gems to be mined by hearing them again. Many of these have an agricultural theme owing to the amount of farming taking place in the vicinity where He was teaching. In so doing these become immediately relatable to His audience.

While there are many, for today we will look at the one about the Wheat and the tares. In short a land owner has planted a field of wheat. While his workers were asleep an enemy snuck in and sowed tares. It wasn’t until the crop had headed out that it became evident what had happened. In wisdom the owner said that the separating of the two would have to wait until the harvest less the wheat be destroyed in trying to remove the tares. Jesus would later explain that the wheat was planted by the Son of Man and the Tares by the enemy. At the Harvest, those planted by the Son of Man would be gathered and presented to the Father where the Tares would be gathered and cast into the fire. A stark warning for those outside the care of the Son. So what was Jesus trying to teach?

First its a reminder that although the world started good at creation it soon became polluted with evil because of Sin. Now this is a fact and there is no way to undo it without causing harm to all (think Noah and the flood). Second that even though there is much evil in the world, good can still grow and flourish. One’s faith can increase and they can do much good regardless of their circumstances. Third, just as it was impossible to distinguish the wheat from the tare while they were growing it is equally impossible for us on the Earth to tell the difference. This is something left to God to know and separate in His time. Fourth, in the end there will be a great reckoning and justice will prevail. Fifth it is not our job (those that are in the church, part of the family of God, the “wheat” if you will) to try and root out the tares. In so doing many a good minded person have done a lot of harm in attempting to root out tares. This is the purview of God and God alone.

So what do we do with this? Simply put, we grow where we have been planted. We focus on growing and developing our faith in spite of the circumstances we find ourselves in. This will not always be easy but is always necessary. This is done by focusing on the nourishment provided by the Father. Enjoy the warmth of His love and spurn the coldness of the world. Drink of the richness of His Word rather than the emptiness of the enemy. Spend time with Him in prayer and contemplation over time spent away from Him. In so doing we shall grow together bigger and fuller and others shall see this and miss the tares. They are but a distraction and an annoyance to be separated at the Harvest. In short grow where you are planted and know that God will provide all you need to do so.

Priorities

Throughout Matthew 10 and especially towards the close Jesus brings us face to face with what can be for some an unsettling reality, Jesus must come first. Those that would follow Him must pledge fully body and soul to Him and seek to honour Him with all they do in every aspect of life. There must be no area where He does not come first. We are to love Him more than any other person or object in the world and be willing to sacrifice all for Him and submit every whim, wish, and desire to His will.

He speaks of the one that might deny Him before the Father and He speaks of those that love their own father and mother more than He as not being worthy of Him. Naturally, many who have been raised to have an unyielding commitment to their families may recoil at this. How also, can one who speaks of love, grace, and compassion, speak so harshly about relationships with those whom we are closest? It is because that He is deity and fully God and just as we are reminded in the 10 Commandments that we can have no other god and Jesus admonishes us to love God with our full self, so must we give such priority to Jesus.

In practical terms this means that our will must be subordinated to that of Christ. Whatever He says do, we do, wherever He says go, we go and so forth. When we are told to love our neighbors as ourselves and it is explained that pretty much everyone is our neighbor, then we are to do it. No longer do things like race, creed, color, lifestyle, income, status, etc. matter. They are our neighbor and we are to love them. This does not mean we condone sin and ignore vice, for truly loving someone may require dealing with such things, but it does mean that we are not free to view them personally with contempt or beyond the reach of God’s love or grace. We are to live this out being Christ’s hands, feet, and mouth. This is what it is to be the body of Christ and nothing or no one is to stand in our way.

It is these very principals which may lead one to become offended by Christ (Matthew 11) as He makes startling demands on our lives and He fails to live up to our meager expectations. Far to often we try to make Christ (God) in our image when it is we who were created in His and are being transformed into the image of Christ. We prefer a god we can control, who has the same view of life as we, that doesn’t challenge us, but this is a little god of our own making that has no power at all. Christ cannot and will not be so contained. It is us who must be transformed and conformed to His image and His will. This is not an easy process and takes a lifetime. It requires the work of the Spirit and must be repeated daily. It starts with a conscious effort to put Christ first in all things and a simple prayer that the Spirit would lead us in making Christ our number 1 priority. I invite you to join me in pursuit of this lofty goal and I truly believe that in so doing we will accomplish far more than we ever could on our own.

Who is Worthy?

In Matthew 9 we see a lot of things happen. Jesus heals and claims to forgive sins and is held to be Blasphemous. He associates with the dregs of society and is considered immoral. He raises the dead and is said to be under the influence and power of Satan. Why does Jesus get all this push back for doing good? Simple. He is exposing people for who they really are. In offering grace to people who aren’t worthy he exposes the religious elite for their bigotry. We see this come to light at the end of Chapter 9 as Jesus looks with compassion on the people and sees “sheep without a shepherd.” It should have been the role of religious elite, the Pharisees and the Sadducee to help these people come closer to God. But where Jesus looked upon the people with compassion, the elite looked upon them with contempt.

As much as I enjoy focusing on what the Bible says and how it speaks to us, I do not live in a vacuum. While part of my job is to help people better understand the Bible and how through it they can better know God, another part is to show how the Bible speaks to us about what we are dealing with today. Sure its great to know what happened to whom and when, but it is much more helpful to know that even though we aren’t in the exact same situation, we can still learn valuable lessons, have our faith increased, and get closer to God. So what does this have to do with all the tumult going on in our world today? The question “who is worthy” must be asked and how you answer it will reveal a lot.

So who is worthy of love, of grace, of compassion, of forgiveness? Who is not worthy? Is there any who are or are there any who aren’t?. What makes someone worthy and another person not? Are they just a terrible person who goes around kicking puppies and stealing ice cream from kids? Have they committed horrible unspeakable crimes against humanity? Or on the other side, are they practically perfect in every way? Do they give all they have away to help the poor and needy, recycle everything correctly, and never do or say anything offensive to anyone? Is there anyone you look at with contempt and declare they are not worthy? If so what are you basing that on and what gives you the right to make such a statement?

The truth is none of us are worthy. Paul reminds us that we all fall short of the Glory of God. Go back through the sermon on the mount and see how many sins and transgressions you have committed and how far short you come to the standard that God has provided. If you read it honestly, you will come to the same conclusion I did. Without Christ I have no hope. I am so far in the hole I could never climb out. It is only because Christ looked upon the people with compassion that we have any hope at all. We are not worthy and have no basis to declare anyone else not worthy either. Sure we can talk about their sins or crimes and how their lifestyle doesn’t meet expectations, but neither does ours. Maybe I haven’t committed sins like Murder, but I have hated and felt a grudge so I am guilty. I have broken one law so I have broken them all.

I am a traitor to God and deserve death and eternal separation from Him. I am not worthy. But when He saw me He looked with compassion not contempt. As Christians we are called to do the same. So the next time you see that person you don’t agree with, the one who talks or acts differently, has a different lifestyle, has made different choices, don’t declare them unworthy just because they don’t meet your standard or anyone else’s standard. At the end of the day the only standard that matters is God’s and we all miss that one. We are called to love them and that means compassion and grace. Forgive as you want to be forgiven. Give grace as you have recieved it. This is a lesson we all have to work on.

So as you look around you…who is worthy?

True Faith

As chapter 8 of Matthew closes we see Jesus cross a storm tossed sea to heal two gentile demoniacs. While both of these narratives demonstrate Christ’s authority over the natural and supernatural world, for me the bigger message is about faith, as the crossing follows on discussions of discipleship and a lot of teaching and healing by Jesus. He must have fallen asleep almost as soon as they got in the boat. Crossing the Sea of Galilee wouldn’t have taken much more than an hour under normal conditions and they surely wouldn’t have set off knowing a storm was brewing. The fact that Jesus was asleep shows us his human side and the exhaustion of his work.

At some point in the crossing a massive storm comes up. The Greek used describes an earthquake and remember that several of the disciples were experienced sailors having been fishing that very sea for most of their lives. Panicked they cry out to Jesus to save them. He awakes, rebukes them for their lack of faith and then calms the storm. So what’s going on here? First, they had some faith as they decided to get Jesus to do something. Chances are they had tried hard to do what they could on their own before turning to Christ. Second they were full of fear and panic meaning that even then they weren’t convinced that Jesus could save them. Both show they had yet to fully understand who He was even though they had seen many miracles. Far too often we do the same thing. When storms come about what ought to be our first call is often our last. We mistakenly believe that in our power we can deal with the situation. Only when finding we are about to be swamped do we cry out to God for salvation. If we truly believed and had faith in God that He could and would do all He has promised us, we would cry out to Him first. The fact that we don’t betrays the fact we have yet to surrender all of ourselves to Him and recognize Him as He really is, just like the disciples. Also the storm that arises causes much fear and concern and again shows our limited faith in Christ. Its not that the storm is not terrible or dangerous as it can be. Our very lives may be taken by such storms. The fear of losing such does speak to our will to survive, but also our affection for this world over the world to come. Only through increasing faith can we be at ease with the idea that our time on this world is marked and will one day end and that is OK.

After the crossing to the other side Jesus and His band encounter two men possessed by demons. As an aside let me say if you believe and accept the idea of God and Jesus and Angels and even the devil, you must also accept the idea of demons. It is a natural conclusion from such belief in the supernatural. I do believe they were more active in the time of Christ as you send your solders to where the fighting is the hottest and with Christ on Earth, that is where the struggle was the most intense for the Enemy. The demon(s) recognize Jesus as deity, more so than the disciples had yet to do. Still this simple belief and understanding of who Jesus was did not save them. Later when writing his letter, James, the brother of Christ would say the demons believe and they shudder. He may have been recalling this event. What stands out here is that mere belief is not enough. One must give everything over to Christ, heart and soul. They must put their faith and trust in Him for EVERYTHING. This is not an easy task and it requires that we swallow our pride, humble ourselves, and recognize both our sinfulness and weakness. It means that we call upon Him first and do as He has bid, even going on dangerous missions to uncomfortable places and dealing with people we may not like.

So reader, where is your faith today? Is it as strong as it should be? Mine is not. I say this because I know there are areas I haven’t surrendered to Christ. This tells me I don’t fully trust Him yet. I am holding back. Either because of fear or pride I haven’t given over all yet, though it is His. I pray that through the power of The Holy Spirit I will surrender more and more to Him and my faith shall increase with every breath. I pray this for you as well. For when we have such faith, then we can have peace in the fiercest storm knowing that come what may God holds us in the hollow of His hand and nothing will cause him to let go. We as His children are dearly loved and dearly held.

Non-Violence

Disclaimer: I know this is a bit of a break from my normal content, but in light of current turmoil, I wanted to address the topic.

Daniel O’Connell became known in Ireland as “The Liberator” and their “uncrowned king.” Why? Because he was able to accomplish Catholic emancipation. During most of the period that Ireland was under the control of Britain, the Catholic majority was not allowed to vote. This meant that most of the population of Ireland had no voice in their rule, neither in the short-lived Irish Parliament, nor the English Parliament in London. They were heavily oppressed by the protestant minority in Ireland along with the British military with little to no redress. It was this oppression and lack of a voice that led to many unsuccessful Irish rebellions, the most notable being that of 1798. In the wake of such failed uprisings, in the early 1800’s, an Irish Catholic by the name of Daniel O’Connell rose to power by pushing for Catholic emancipation. Except for a duel that led to the death of the challenger, O’Connell rejected violence wholesale. He led mass rallies and meetings where thousands attended, but there was no violence. Even when the British military did all they could to instigate a fight, O’Connell dissuaded them. Because the Irish never responded with violence or aggression, no matter how provoked, the police and military were powerless to stop them. They won widespread public opinion across Britain, and because of this effort, Catholic emancipation was won. O’Connell was elected to Parliament, one of the first Catholics to do so. While this did not end Ireland’s troubles, it was a great victory achieved through non- violence.

In the early 1900’s, India was still under the control of the British Empire. India was considered the “Jewel of the Empire” under Queen Victoria in the 19th century. Still, the oppression of the people of India by the British was severe. While there had been several revolts, they had all been crushed. A British-educated man by the name of Gandhi began a non-violent movement. As with Daniel O’Connell and the Irish Catholics, Gandhi and the supporters of his movement committed no violent acts, so the British military / police were powerless against them. The antagonistic efforts of the British were seen as the oppression it was and public opinion was on Gandhi’s side. Because of his tireless devotion to non-violence, the independence of India was secured.

Following the example of both O’Connell and Gandhi, a young Dr. Martin Luther King used nonviolence during the Civil Rights struggles in the United States. While Dr. King preached Civil Disobedience, including sits-ins at establishments where African Americans were not allowed, it was understood that violent reprisals by whites and police were possible. The images of police using dogs, firehoses, and physical force against peaceful protestors shocked audiences who watched the horrific scenes unfold from their living room. This led to landmark civil rights legislation being signed into law.

In all three cases, groups were being held down by institutional violence and oppression. They were discriminated against because of their race, religion, and culture. They were held to be inferior, unintelligent, and incapable of being responsible for taking care of themselves. By using nonviolent means, they were able to erase any doubts as to who the real brutes were and undeniably revealed themselves as the victims of an unjust system. 

As groups continue to struggle with oppression and discrimination, they would be well-served to learn from these leaders. While they knew it would mean a longer struggle without the allure or excitement that mob rule and violence can often bring, they also knew that responding with violence and agitation would only play into their oppressors’ hands by confirming the false narrative of their own inability to be responsible and reasonable. In short, violence would only serve to further justify the use of force and the state’s legal powers against those being oppressed. Change is needed, but violence, looting, burning, and wanton destruction will only slow or prevent that change. These men were not perfect, and each had their own issues, but all three are remembered and famous today because of their achievements. They were able to attain success because they chose a different route. Rather than rise in rebellion or prove true the stereotypes of their oppressors, they challenged public perception and won the hearts and minds of millions by demonstrating with peace, respect, and responsibility. This is a sorely needed reminder in these tumultuous times.

Righteous Anger

In Matthew 21, a brief account of Jesus clearing the temple is recorded. While other gospels mention this event, the basics are the same. So what was going on and why did Jesus respond as he did? The normally calm and peaceful Christ responded with anger and violence. How does this relate to the world today and does it mean that it’s okay for me to respond with anger and violence? All are valid questions and worth examining.

First, what was going on? By the first century, Jerusalem had become a cosmopolitan city and as a result of the Jewish Diaspora, many would come from all over the ancient world to both worship in the temple and pay the temple tax. The temple tax could only be paid in one form and thus the need for money changers, who would exchange whatever currency was brought them for the proper form for a fee. Thus, they were profiting off pilgrims who were simply trying to meet the basics of their faith. In truth, this is something that should have been done as a courtesy rather than a business model. Secondly, a sacrifice had to be performed using the right animal without blemish. A priest had to certify that the animal was correct and without blemish. In this same area, stalls were set up with animals that had been “pre-certified” by the priest. Just in case your animal didn’t meet the cut or you hadn’t brought one (especially after traveling a long distance), you could exchange / purchase such an animal again for a marked up fee. The issue was the same people were being taken advantage of and prevented from worship. Thirdly, this was taking place in the outer court. This was the only place Gentiles could come and “worship” if they chose, and all others had to pass through. This meant there was a constant din of noise as money was exchanged and animals crowded the stalls. So Jesus, who is also fully God, became indignant as these people were profiting off the crowds and impeding their ability to worship. He turned over tables, fashioned a whip, and drove out the money changers. This was one of the actions that led the High Priest, Pharisees, and Sadducee to decide something must be done to this troublemaker.

Jesus responded with what we might call “Righteous Anger.” It was born out of people who were supposed to be encouraging and assisting in worship actively preventing and profiting off it. It was other-centered and not self-centered. While Jesus did have harsh words at times for religious leaders such as the Priest and Pharisees, this is the only time when violence was recorded. Notice he would also around this same time encourage people to pay their taxes to the Roman Empire. Jesus was no anarchist, nor even a socialist. In fact, when confronted with arrest (for which he had committed no crime), a sham trial, and even a chance to plead mercy from the Roman Governor, what did Jesus do? Nothing. He was for the most part silent. He didn’t rail against the system or the Romans. He took his beating quite literally, all the insults, and died on a cross. With his last breath (a very prescient thought in this moment) he called for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Later, Stephen would emulate Christ when he was stoned by an angry mob.

So what do we learn from this and how do we apply it to our lives today? First, anger is an okay emotion and response to injustice. Remember though, Jesus’ anger was directed at the perpetrators and not an entire class or group of people. He took them as individuals, not as collectives. It was also not in response to a personal affront, but on injury to others. While at times a level of violence may be warranted, again it must be limited and proportional. Jesus flipped over tables and used a whip to drive people out. He didn’t take any of the money or the animals. So wholesale violence against a collective of people, wanton destruction, and theft are not on the table.

In most instances, our Anger is never as righteous as that of Jesus. Why? Because we are usually at least in part motivated by selfish urges or personal affronts. We often seek revenge, and remember that is the province of God, not us. By launching wholesale assaults on groups or society and seeking to disrupt everything, we sow more chaos, breed anger and resentment instead of calls for peace and justice. Unlike God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive, we are quick to anger and slow to forgive. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be upset when we see injustice before us. Become upset, or even angry at times. This is indeed an okay response. But check yourself first. Were you attacked, assaulted, or injured or was it someone else who is otherwise defenseless? Are you seeking justice or vengeance? Are you getting, or planning to get, something out of your response? Are you directing your anger toward a group as a whole, or only those who have acted inappropriately?

As protests fill our land, it is good and right that we let the powers that be know we are not happy, that we are upset and will not long suffer such injustice or indignity toward our neighbors. It is good to let them know they are not alone in their moment of difficulty and offer aide and comfort toward them. At the same time, we must not let anger and hate so fill our hearts that there is no room for love and forgiveness. Violence is not the answer to set an example and impact change. Jesus had many opportunities to use force and power to demonstrate who he was and to bring about the change for which he came. At every turn he rejected this and used love instead. If one is looking for an example of Christ to follow, perhaps the myriad of times he forgave and loved even the most unloving would be better than the one time he responded with anger and violence.

In short, yes there are times when such a response is warranted, but those instances are few. Jesus was almost killed by the people in his hometown; he ignored them. John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded; Jesus did not attempt to free him nor lead any real response to the act. James and John wanted to bring down fire upon the Samaritans for spurning Christ; he rejected this. I already mentioned his arrest, scourging, trial, and execution. In fact, the closest one reads of a riot in the New Testament is when the people of Ephesus rose up because Paul’s message was hurting the trade of the silversmiths. Remember God is a God of love and order. If what you are seeing is not of Love and full of disorder and chaos, then chances are it is not from God, but rather from the Enemy. Bear this in mind when as you choose whom to support and whom to denounce.

Remember it is never okay to be mean, violent, cruel, or nasty for Jesus, or act as such in His name.