Part II

Chapter 5

Killing for Christ

. . . "that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar."

--Matthew 23:35

* * *

Religious murder is mankind's oldest tradition of violence. Abel was killed because his religious service was accepted by God and Cain's was not. Cain's jealousy over Abel's right relationship with God did not compel him to discover what was lacking in his own. Rather, he took the easy way out and killed the messenger who, by his life, demonstrated the will of God. It was less trouble to turn a blind eye to his own lack, assume his "service to God" was as good as anyone else's, and eliminate the irritating and convicting presence from his life. Crude, but effective.

Down through the ages, as Jesus points out, there have been many religious murders of righteous men. Those who are self-righteous -- pagan, Jewish, or Christian -- cannot abide those who are made righteous by God's grace. One is born of the flesh, the other of the spirit. Paul the apostle made the comparison between the fleshly seed of the bondwoman -- corresponding with Mt. Sinai -- and the spiritual freewoman -- corresponding with Jerusalem. "But as at that time," he explains, "he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born of the spirit." (Galatians 4:22-29)

It is noteworthy that in Matthew 10:17, Jesus warns the disciples to beware of men because they would deliver them up to courts and scourge them in their synagogue s. In John 16:2, He says, "An hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God" These and other verses pointedly identify one major source of persecution as "God's people."

An examination of the life of Jesus reveals that He did not encounter opposition from prostitutes or pagans, sinners or secularists, but rather from the religious elite. For them, He reserved His most biting criticism and His hottest anger. It was not so much that their spiritual lives significantly differed from the common people, it was their self-righteousness and their claim -- true or false -- to know more about God. "A man's enemies," Jesus warned the disciples, "will be the members of his household." (Matthew 10:36) And judging by the events recorded in Scripture, this includes what we see as the household of faith!


"I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes."

-- Matthew 23:34

* * *

In a sense, this is the first offer of hope in the whole chapter-long diatribe in Matthew 23. The sending of messengers is a harbinger that repentance may yet be possible -- that the Rubicon of iniquity has not yet been crossed. Yet Jesus is not optimistic. "Some you will kill and crucify," He adds, "Others you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city."

This section continues the flow from the whitewashed tombs accusation earlier in the chapter. Jesus has indicated that they have killed the messengers of the past and stolen their righteousness to exalt and vindicate themselves. Now, knowing their evil designs on Him, He says He will send more messengers whom they will also destroy.

The point here, I think, is the depth of depravity of the human heart, especially when coupled with a religious justification. Jesus is showing that the darkness of the religious heart is greater than that of the ignorant heathen. "If therefore the light that is in you is darkness," He said, "How great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:23b)

The Glory Buzzards

"You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous."

-- Matthew 23:29

* * *

Name-droppers, that's what the Pharisees were. Name-droppers with an evil twist. They dropped the names of those long dead -- those who could not refute or contradict the perverse use of their names.

The scribes and Pharisees loved to lift up the great men of God of bygone ages and glory in the reflected light of the respect due to these servants of God. But they were selective. They quoted the prophets for authority when it suited their purposes and ignored the jeremiads against the shepherds of the people. They built monuments to the names of the very men of God who would have denounced their works. They honored the dead saints to be in the same league with them in the eyes of the people.

Nor can this condemnation be seen separately from Jesus' accusation that they themselves were as whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones. In fact, as the sons of those who killed the prophets and the very ones who would kill the Prophet, they were filled with the dead bones of the prophets that their kind had killed from the beginning. They were religious murderers!

They captured the latent glory of the dead prophets so as to appear to be their fellows. But they denied in substance the teachings of those sent from God. These Pharisees polished their own appearance by an apparent association with the men of God from the past. They claimed as spiritual ancestors those whom their actual ancestors had killed. They picked clean the bones of the prophets and holy men of old of any glory they could salvage for themselves.

"We would not have done what our fathers did," they said establishing their bloodguilty heritage. Then they proceeded to destroy the ministry of the Messiah.

Whitewashed Tombs and Holy Bones

Matthew 23: 27-35 are a supreme irony -- a bit of dark, holy humor. The religious leaders, Jesus said, are whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones, but those skeletons in their closets appear to be the skeletons of the prophets they and their kindred murdered. The Pharisees, seeing the chance for a more glorious public appearance, drag out and display those relics in a way that presents the murderers as the compatriots of the murdered. Their public remembrances of these saints becomes just another coat of whitewash.

It is quite a trick -- but one that Jesus exposes.

Deathstyles of the Poor and Prophetic

"They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground."

-- Hebrews 11:37-38

* * *

And all of this blood, according to Jesus, was on the heads of the religious leaders of His day. Today, however, it would be considered gauche to actually kill a messenger from God. The American gospel forbids being "unloving" -- so the messenger and his message are simply shunted to the sidelines, chided as extreme, and rendered ineffective.

No longer are men themselves sawn asunder -- only their credibility is. A pummeling with stones would be unacceptable but casting the first doubt at their reputation is kosher. The sweep of the executioner's sword has been replaced with the skewering with selected portions of the "sword of the Spirit" before the congregation.

Unholy ignorance is a deadly weapon in the Church's hands. Not only do we ignore the existence of the troublesome messengers of bad tidings, but we leave them slowly twisting in the wind when other forces attack them. When, for instance, Everett Siliven, a Nebraska pastor, and the leaders of his church were jailed for running a church school and their church was padlocked by state police, the Church at large said nothing. The prophetic stand of these men to free their children from the Spirit-numbing propagandizing of the public schools was met with puzzlement, at best, and ire, at worst. Most of those who spoke at all, rebuked them for not obeying the law requiring them to hire only teachers who were state certified indoctrinators of humanism.

Paul Schenk and other ministers from Buffalo, New York were ordered by a federal court not to preach from Proverbs 24:11-12 or any other verse which might be interpreted as support for anti-abortion rescue missions. In fact, they were specifically ordered to preach against participation in rescues. The judicial injunction included what they must say or not say from their pulpits. The American Church stifled a yawn as it muttered that preachers should stick to preaching the salvation message and stay away from the controversial stuff.

This amounts to a passive, spiritual euthanasia. In the same way that a sick and struggling person in a hospital may be ignored to death, so the Church may turn a blind eye to the stultifying oppression of the world against messengers of God -- at least ones that declare the bad tidings.

Like George Muller, the visionary founder of many orphanages in England, the Church may squeeze out a man of God's ministry by allowing grinding poverty to discourage or destroy them. Muller survived this attempt but there are untold others who do not. I know some may say that if God was in the work, it could not have been cut short, but this is beyond our ken. It matters little if we regard their work as "finished" whenever and however it stops or is "cut short." The abrupt and violent end of their ministries by discouragement or death will leave all the participants in that end guilty before God.

The fact that God knew and planned the end of John the Baptist does not modify the guilt of Herod or any who helped to bring about his death.

Revisionist Christian History

A prophet is a man who becomes known for speaking the Word of the Lord -- after you have persecuted and killed him. He is also a man who is deemed worthy of all honor -- even in his own town -- by those who killed him.

Church history is replete with men and women who were castigated in their own times and crowned after their convenient demise. John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim's Progress While jail for public preaching, was cast out of his church -- a church which now sports his statue outside. I have often wondered if they whitewash it once a year.

More recently, A.W. Tozer has become immensely popular. His popularity was not so great when he was alive because he was around to point the prophetic finger directly at the guilty -- but now that he is safely dead . . .

Everybody loves a dead prophet. We call him "irascible," "dynamic," and "a curmudgeon" once he dies, "divisive," "uncharitable," and "a pain" while he lives.

Those who now claim Luther would, in all probability, have killed him were he to try to begin the Reformation today. We love to quote the great men of the Reformation or one of the great revivals, but we ignore the seething words of condemnation they had for the Church which so ardently resisted their every move. Nor do we take a lesson from the opposition of the Church these men faced. Yet these opposers -- the Church's power structure -- are our spiritual ancestors.

While William Booth labored on the London streets, the Church disparaged his work, assassinated his character, and placed obstacles in his way. Wesley was forbidden to speak in church pulpits, ridiculed, and his followers -- the Methodists -- were sorely persecuted and hounded. Across the pond, Spurgeon was denounced as an "enthusiast" and his services were described as carnivals. Slave-freeing Quakers and Oberlin College students were castigated by more "moderate" Christians (who, evidently, were moderately Christian) as dangerous fanatics.

More recently, the Church has elevated people like A.W. Tozer, who -- when living -- roundly denounced the current sins of the Church while they were still in seed form in the 1950s. The full flower of the evils he denounced then can be seen in today's Church. Despite the fact that he was not heeded while he lived, he is selectively quoted today and regarded as a prophetic Christian. Still, his ringing words are largely unheeded.

The work of Francis Schaeffer among young intellectuals during the 1960s was viewed with suspicion. His warnings against Church abandonment of the Word, the world, and everything outside our paltry little religious exercises were ignored. Now, since his death and the death of his living outcry against pietism, he is fondly remembered. Remembered -- but not heard.

Probably hundreds of lesser-known or completely unknown men of God have been buried under the concerted bulldozing of the American Church's determination to persist in sin. Anything that challenges the American Dream Gospel, that causes discomfort, or demands sacrifice will be destroyed. The "head" of that call to repentance, however, will be stuffed and mounted -- perhaps on a platters -- as a token monument to our ministries. In fact, the invoking of their names becomes a great fund-raising tool (If he were only here, he would want you to give generously to *fill in the blank* .).

But it is more than individuals who are targeted. The Church opposes prophetic, godly movements -- unless some profit can be seen in them. The Jesus People Movement was mightily resisted by the Church until it was discovered that the hippie converts could go to work and pay tithes. Even then, most of the Church demanded the long hair and hippie clothing as a burnt offering in exchange for salvation.

When Keith Green sang, "The world is sleeping in the dark / which the Church just can't fight / 'Cause its asleep in the light," 1 he was branded as too negative. His concerts were acceptable as long as his music had a good beat and you could dance to it. Following his accidental death, his music gained in popularity -- but his prophetic warnings became musical entertainment to most people.

This is reminiscent of Ezekiel 33: 30-33 where God tells the prophet that the people of God are asking him to bring them the Word but that they view him as one who sings a pleasant song with a beautiful voice and who plays well on an instrument. It had become just religious entertainment to them.

Dave Wilkerson's original foray into the concrete jungle of New York City gang territory was greeted with unbelief and rejection -- until it succeeded. Wilkerson's current work in Times Square is overlooked and his cries against the Church's sins are ridiculed. The Rescue Movement is also a current pariah. The Church can hardly stand an activist in the first place. However, it will suffer one if he will moderate his activities into "respectability."

One rescue leader in Corpus Christi, Texas, who had moved to town specifically at Christ's command that he rescue by blocking abortuary doors, emerged after months of silence to announce that God had accomplished His goal in rescue. His church had persuaded him that it was sufficient to become politically active and help set up a crisis pregnancy center. Corpus Christi, of all cities in my experience, had the most rescue-friendly atmosphere and here, a man called of God to rescue had suddenly discovered alternative service.

I do not demean other pro-life work, I only say that those instructed to rescue should not quit and offer the "strange fire" of other works.

But the same Church that does nothing to defend the fatherless abortion victims loves to claim the Underground Railroad and German Resistance as their spiritual forebears.

Who are today's disparaged prophets? What movements of God's Spirit will the Church resist today? Look long and hard at those who skewer your conscience, who demand your sacrifice, who are unsparing of your sensibilities -- among these you will find God's men.

Upon Our Heads

"Man proposes, God disposes," the old maxim says expressing an almost fatalistic acceptance of things as they occur. Often the reason man's proposals, in all our wisdom, are not thus disposed by God is because His viewpoint of eternality differs significantly from man's. Where we see a single murder when Cain kills Abel, God says, "Your brother's bloods cry out to me from the ground" indicating genocide as opposed to simple murder. In God's view, Cain had slain Abel and all his seed!

When Abraham paid tithes to Melchisedec, it is recorded that Levi, Abraham's great-grandson, paid tithes to the mysterious priest "while yet in the loins" of Abraham. (Hebrews 7:4-10) When that patriarch, Abraham, passed through the pieces of the animals as a token of a covenant of his life's-blood (Genesis 15: 5-21), the Lord, through Jeremiah, railed against Abraham's children who had abandoned the covenant made when they "passed between the parts of the calf." (Jeremiah 34: 17-20)

. In the Middle-East, a covenant of this type was very serious. As mentioned earlier, the implication of passing through the pieces was to say, "If I break this covenant, I will be like these -- bloody corpses." The Jeremiah passage reflects this in verse 20. What is important to note, however, is that God Himself, in His grace was pledging His own life as well.

Other passages show families whose patriarch made familial oaths and whose descendants generations later are still held accountable. This is part of the eternal perspective from which God operates.

But these are foreign concepts to our carnal and temporal minds. Not only are they hard to conceive as daily practicalities, they appear to us to be unfair. Yet the evidence of Scripture is clear that God views things in this way.

It is an element of this principle of spiritual heritage that gives Christ the jurisdiction to put the guilt of all the righteous dead upon the heads of those who were persecuting Him.

The Bowl of Pottage

Esau despised the inheritance of his father. His comforts were of greater weight than the as-yet-unseen promises of Abraham. He spurned any cares for his heritage in favor of his own raging desires.

Much like this, the Church in America has allowed hunger for worldly desires to blind it to the promised inheritance of God. Those voices that call the Church back to its true mission are drowned by the Siren song of a bowl of gruel to quench the devouring desire of instant fulfillment. But, in first rejecting God's Word, then His messengers, the Church incurs guilt for all the persecuted, wronged, rejected prophets. Our rejections of the warning voices of today casts them in league with all those Pharisees and scribes who rejected God's Word in the past. Not only does the Church today reject the admonishments of modern messengers, we equally reject any application of past prophets' words -- Biblical or otherwise -- to our current conditions.

In this way, the American Church -- especially its leaders -- participate in the parade of bloodletting that has marked the Pharisaical pageant since Abel.

The Measure of Our Fathers

"It cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem."

-- Luke 13:33b

* * *

Jerusalem was the holy city -- the seat of the true religion and the place of God's temple of dwelling. It was also the place where every murdered prophet was killed. Even Ninevah did not respond to Jonah's harsh indictments with bloodshed.

Often, in the Old Testament, the most vile corruptions were found in the very sanctuary. (Ezekiel 8) It is small wonder that the prophets were least popular -- and most likely to be killed -- in Jerusalem.

It is understandable that pagan peoples will persecute and kill missionaries because they threaten local religious rites and power. Does this possibly indicate how pagan those in Jerusalem had become when God sent prophets of repentance to His own people? I think it does. I also think it provides a solemn warning to us about our accommodation to paganism.

Jesus repeatedly warned the religious leaders that they were headed in the direction of their fathers. They too had begun to worship their own religiosity more than God. Sacrifices were done as formalities much like the Gentiles -- to "appease the gods." Offerings were a way of lifting themselves up in the eyes of the people. No longer were they in love with God. Nor were they anticipating His Messiah. They desired to "seize the inheritance," as the parable said, by killing off the Son -- just as they had killed off all that the Father had sent before.

But Church history is little different. After a good start, certain quarters began to take control. Messengers calling for repentance and reform were slaughtered with vigor. Some reformation took place from time to time, but at the price of much blood. Hatreds, jealousies, strifes, sprang up between factions. Whoever gained political control despised and persecuted the others. Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or Reform -- all joined together on one common act: To kill those who called for repentance and submission to God.

And so it is today, the most consistent voices calling for repentance within the Church are stifled. Rather than killed, however, they are dismissed as "prophets of doom," lumped in with bearded cartoon characters carrying signs saying "The End is near!" and treated to the wagging of heads reserved for the tragically insane. Their writings are as scorned and their sanity is questioned. Christians are urged to think positively, look on the bright side, expect a miracle, and "conceive, believe, and receive." All the negative talk, they are told, will just hinder your faith.

But the prophets continue to speak.

"Fill up then," Jesus said, "the measure of the guilt of your fathers." (Matthew 23: 32)

The Legacy Continues

There has been no change in human nature since the coming of Christ. While individual lives are changed by the work of grace, essential human nature has not become better. The power vested in the scribes and Pharisees was the fulcrum of their self-righteous persecution of the servants of God -- all done in the name of God. It seems mankind -- even those who have a desire to follow God -- cannot refrain from lording it over others and destroying those who act as telltales of spiritual defection. This is especially true when they gain the overwhelming majority.

Throughout history, God's messengers have been outnumbered, outgunned, outmuscled, and -- eventually -- victorious. When the Sanhedrin was in the seat of power, they killed Jesus, James, Stephen, Paul, and many others. When the Catholic Church reigned, Luther, Huss, Calvin, and Wycliffe were hunted. The Protestants imprisoned Joseph Plunckett, beheaded Thomas More, and dispatched many others when they held the reins. Episcopals tried -- and failed -- to suppress the Pilgrims, Puritans, and Quakers. Puritans, who gained ascendancy in Massachusetts, soon afflicted Catholics, Quakers, and nearly everyone else. What separates the New and Old Testament oppressions is -- nothing! The same wicked spirit is the father of both.

Jesus asked the religious leaders of His time, "How shall you escape the sentence of hell?" (Matthew 23:33) A rhetorical question like that coming from the lips of Jesus should be terrifying. Jesus, the bringer of grace and mercy, is asking this question as though there were no adequate answer. He is asking it of them who -- by human religious lights -- were the most likely candidates for the kingdom of God.

One can only hope that the illustration does not escape us. For the Scripture warns us that Esau could not find a "place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears." (Hebrews 12:16-17) Have we gone too far as a Church? We are told to look to Israel of the Old Testament as examples of what evils to avoid and that we who think we stand ought to take heed lest we fall. (1 Corinthians 10:1-12) Consider what God was willing to do to them for their defection from the truth and their rejecting of His prophets. He fed them to their enemies!

Look also to the New Testament threats to the Churches of Laodicea, Pergamum, and Ephesus -- "I will spit you out." "I will make war," and "I will remove your lampstand."

Today's American Church which tries to claim the heritage of the great saints of the past will likewise be guilty before God. We, like the scribes and Pharisees, will bear the bloodguiltiness for all the slain of God's people because we refused to hear their words from the past or harken to the messengers of the present.

Dare we reject the Word of God? When He sends prophets, wise men, and scribes, will we join the grisly parade of those who kill the messenger?

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Copyright © 1999 Paul deParrie