Part IV

Chapter 13

The Question

"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?"

-- Judas to Jesus
Matthew 26: 25b

* * *

American Christians, like the Jews of Jesus' time, find it difficult to believe that they could possibly be in opposition to God. When Judas asked the question above, he was consciously aware of his plot to sell out the Savior (Matthew 26: 14-16). His question was rhetorical, not serious. If, in our spirits, we ask the same question after looking at the charges against us in this book, we do so under a self-imposed blindness.

We are blind both to the seriousness of our condition and to any hope which appears before us. This blindness comes from our fallacious belief that evil -- even in us -- would appear evil. Like picturing the Devil as a horned being in red tights, we imagine that if we were so bloodguilty and sinful, we would fairly drool with wickedness. Instead, we believe our own civilized facade. The second false belief is that, if we really needed to repent, any offer of hope or salvation from our condition will come in a proper package. That is, he would have appropriate credentials. He would deliver a well-modulated, dispassionate, believable address to the appropriate leaders (and would most likely arise from among those leaders). His manners and dress would be impeccable. The messenger would fulfill all our expectations.

The Hope of Israel

The priests and scribes gathered in a tight knot. "Do you think it is He?" Yacob asked the others, "Could it possibly be?"

All looked surreptitiously toward the man who stood in the distance speaking to a crowd. The hot, afternoon air buzzed with bugs and excitement. "Will you ask?" requested Yosef of the other.

"I will ask," volunteered Eli who, until now, had stood to the back of the group. He set out toward the preaching figure with the rest of the group in tow. Waiting for an opportune moment, he called to the grisly, wild-looking man, "Are you the Christ?"

The wide eyes of the preacher quickly turned and settled on Eli. "No, I am not," he answered without hesitation.

"Then, are you Elijah?" added Yacob.

"Or the Prophet," continued Yosef.

Shaking his untamed mane, he said, "No."

The group exchanged glances of confusion. Eli stepped forward again. "Then who are you? We must have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say of yourself?"

* * *

At the time of Jesus, all Israel was in expectation of the Messiah. They knew He would have to fit certain criteria -- in fact, so would any important character foretold in prophecy. They were looking, and looking hard, for the Anointed One to free them from Roman domination and make them kings of the earth.

The tragic tale of the gospels is that the Jews were blind to His appearing -- deliberately blind because of their hardness of heart. Twisting the knife, Jesus now pronounces an additional blindness upon them. "You shall not see Me," He said. Him whom they most desire to see would be kept from their vision. The Hope of Israel will stand before them and they will not see Him.

There is, however, a proviso which will open their eyes.

Blessing the One Sent

In Matthew 23, Jesus told the multitudes He would send more messengers to them. This was odd because He had sent Israel messengers throughout history and they had only abused them. Yet, here we find another attempt by the Lord to salvage these hopeless people. Even this, however, was couched in negative terms as though there was little hope expressed that they would respond. He had predicted the prophets' persecution.

They, He says, will not see Him again until . . . "until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

I believe that this has a two-fold meaning:

  • They must come to the place that they receive Him as a child -- and specifically those children at the gate who cried "Hosannah! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" or,

  • They must receive those who are sent in His name before they will be able to see Him.

These same people were the ones who had most strongly objected to the outcry of the children at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, now He was asking them to humble themselves as these children. (Matthew 18:3-4) The repetition of the children's chant in this quote could hardly have escaped their notice.

In the second meaning, the scribes and Pharisees were being required to "see" Him in His messengers -- to receive Him through receiving them. Jesus told the disciples that whoever received them, received Him. (Matthew 10:40-42) Interestingly, this also connects well with being humble as children since Jesus also said that whoever received "one such child in My name" receives Him (Matthew 18:5). But this would have been difficult for those who looked with disdain on those twelve grubby disciples "who knew not the Law." In both cases, the stooping required was too great.

Yet, this stooping appears to be the only hope Jesus offers.

The "Day of the Lord" Dodge

Joseph Foreman, a Missionary to the Preborn, once pointed out that eschatology has not changed its premise in over 3,000 years. The Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians both looked for a conquering Messiah who would trounce their enemies and lift them up to rule with Him with a rod of iron. But, as true as these prophecies are, God has chided those who presumptuously see themselves as the beneficiaries of all this power at the triumphant coming of the Lord. "Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord," God said in Amos 5:18, "For what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light."

And why would the Lord say such a terrible thing to His people? Because of the sins listed in verses 10 through 12 of Amos 5 -- sins which have easy equivalent in the American Church. God was trying to tell them that their bloodguilt and spiritual pride had turned what had been their hope into what would actually be disaster for them. They knew the day of the Lord brought judgment for sin, but they supposed that only the pagans would suffer God's anger. They rejected the idea that they might be among the judged.

A similar mindset infects the Church today. All around us we see the "signs of the times" destroying both Church and nation. The Church, however, would rather focus on that day of supposed glory than attend to simple obedience today. We dodge our responsibility to mollify the evils around us by alluding to our hope of heaven or rapture. We also avoid having to deal with our personal faults.

Seek Ye First the Faults of the Pagans

Much of the blindness of the Pharisees was attributable to farsightedness -- that is, the inability to see things close at hand. Jesus rebuked them because they were able to discern the signs in the sky but were unable to see the signs of the times (Matthew 16:2-3). In their visually impaired spiritual condition, they were quite able to call the sins of the pagans but remained hazy about the faults they themselves had.

As spiritual descendants of this tradition, the Church continues sightless before the mirror of the Word. We denounce humanists and New Agers for participating in ungodly shamanistic practices, yet we sanctify many of those very practices within the Church. Bookshelves are filled with fast-selling tomes denouncing New Age spirituality while Christian psychologists baptize hypnosis, inner healing, and guided imagery into the sacred canon of acceptable counseling.

When David Hunt warned about the drift of the Church into occult activities, he was castigated for his trouble. We deplore materialism on paper but we measure spirituality by material prosperity (or lack of it, in the case of ascetic groups). Our comfortable jobs, homes, cars, insurance policies, and fellowships become the boundaries of godliness while we complain that secular people spend their lives seeking hollow fulfillment in their jobs, homes, cars, insurance policies, and friendships.

It is always easier to find fault with others than to do the hard work of self-examination. "Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?" Jesus once asked the multitudes. Jesus clearly indicated that, comparisons with others notwithstanding, everyone would be responsible for his own sins. They may not have been as bad as others, but they were guilty all the same. The American Church will not survive by boasting of its great mission efforts or by comparing itself to the burnt-out husks of now defunct European churches. It would certainly not fare well in comparison with the Iron Curtain Church of the last three decades.

I have heard that since the "collapse" of the Iron Curtain, Christians have seen the influences of the American Gospel sweep into their lands and actually undermine the strength of the Church. According to reports I have received, many of the faithful are praying for a return of the persecution in order to destroy the noxious leaven of American Materialistic Christianity.

If there is any hope for the American Church, it will be when we compare ourselves with the Plumb Line.

How Long, Oh, Lord?

How much sin -- how close a comparison to the sins condemned by Jesus and the prophets -- would it take for God to declare the "woes" on the American Church which were pronounced by Jesus on the Jews? Not all scribes and Pharisees, after all, participated in all the evils named and, in some instances, a case can be made that the American Church has out-Phariseed the Pharisees -- but all Israel paid the price! The good and the bad, the religious and the non-religious, the leaders and the followers all paid in blood at the hands of Rome. The evils in the American Church are at least as pervasive as those of Israel and the Church is in much danger.

As an example of our great danger, I cite one profound moral choice of the American Church -- abortion. The bloodguilt incurred by the American Church in this arena alone makes it difficult to understand why we cannot hear audible cries of "How long, oh, Lord?" coming from the soil of our country.

The Other Shoe

America is a land of opportunity. You have the opportunity to be judged by God.
You have the opportunity to be robbed and have the police take your report over the phone. Your cities can be virtually powerless against criminals and gangs. When you go out, your investment in an alarm system may be your only defense. You can kill your child in the womb -- and some of the time, you can kill them after birth. And those you don't kill may join gangs and turn on you. You have the opportunity to be killed by relatives who don't want to pay more medical bills or by doctors who need your organs. You can be arrested for speaking publicly against homosexuals. You have the chance to get any of a number of serious or deadly communicable diseases -- even if you are not sexually involved outside marriage. You may pay increasingly high prices for food because of drought and pestilence. You have the opportunity to always be in short supply of necessities. You have the chance to bring your children downtown and run into a homosexual "pride" parade. You may be raped or have your wife or daughter raped. You can owe -- through your government -- trillions of dollars to foreign nations and participate in the greatest national credit orgy of all time. You can be part of the most indebted nation on earth. Your nation's armies can be defeated by a succession of tin-pot dictators. You have the opportunity to be one of many infertile couples in a nation that has not reproduced at replacement level in more than a dozen years. Even your livestock can have difficulty breeding. You have the opportunity to send your children to schools that will teach them confusion about God, themselves, sex, and life in general. You have the ability to struggle hard making a business work only to see the profits go to foreign investors. Major American corporations have the chance to be owned by Japanese, German, or Arab investors. The very name of your country can be a byword and a laughing stock. All of these and more are the current American opportunities -- but this is only the first shoe.

The tragic American condition reflects nothing better than the Deuteronomy 28 curses to the nation that abandons God. To list just a few:

  • The Lord will smite you with consumption and fever . . .
  • The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust . . .
  • The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies . . .
  • . . . you shall be robbed continually, with none to save you.
  • You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall violate her . . .
  • Your sons and daughters shall be given to another people . . .
  • A people whom you do not know shall eat up your produce . . .
  • You shall become a horror, a proverb and a taunt
    among all the people . . .
  • The alien who is among you shall rise above you . . . he shall be the head and you the tail.

"So all these curses come on you," God concludes, " and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you."

It doesn't take any imagination to see where America -- once blessed of God with the blessings of the early part of Deuteronomy 28 -- is now. The point of our destruction has not yet been reached but we are careening headlong toward it.

God has dropped the curses on this nation -- curses which grow in magnitude daily. We are being pursued by these evils. When will He drop the other shoe? -- and can it be prevented?

Consider the things God was willing to do in judgment of Israel: Destruction of their nation, the capitol city, and Temple; exile, slavery and scattering; entire bloodlines blotted out; the slaughter of innocent children and women. Ultimately, God rejected Israel (after the flesh) in its entirety as the vehicle of His blessings to the world. There is some indication that a remnant of Israel will still play a role in God's plans, but it is far from the grace of which they could have partaken.

Paul asks the rhetorical question, "Are we better than they?" and answers that we are all under sin -- and, as such, subject to discipline for sin. (Romans 3:9-18) Later, Paul warns that we -- the gentile Church -- have been grafted in to the Vine where Israel was removed. "Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches (Israel), neither will He spare you." (Romans 11:20-21)

America has suffered judgment in the past. Consider the retribution for our unwillingness to defend our black brethren from the outset of this nation. We, the Church, permitted the diabolical system of slavery and institutionalized racism to be planted as tares in our field. The price? Millions dead, maimed, or wounded in a horrible civil war. Abraham Lincoln, shortly after his conversion at Gettysburg, commented on the implications of the war as God's judgment.

"Yet if God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled up by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as it was said three thousand years ago, so it must still be said, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'" 1

The tone of repentance and resignation to the justice of God's decrees is paramount -- a tone completely absent in the American Church today. But the judgment seen by Lincoln was not the end of the matter. More than a hundred years of civil and political strife over race followed and no resolution is yet in sight. This is the price of our disobedience.

Yet, even this judgment is "true and righteous altogether."

It Can't Happen Here

"But we are God's people," some will answer. "He said the gates of hell would not prevail against us. How can He allow us to be destroyed? "

There are several responses to this. One is that Israel also thought that their "promise people" status gave them immunity from the consequences of sin. They believed that their position was irrevocable and they would not be cut off. But, God can use anyone or anything to perform His will. As Jesus told the Pharisees who complained about the rejoicing multitude at His triumphal entry, "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!" (Luke 19:40) God will use those who are willing -- and if we are unwilling, He will use stones, if necessary, to fulfill His purposes.

The arrogant American Church likewise has adopted the mentality that we are indispensable to God's plan. But just because we are in the new covenant does not mean we can sin with impunity. God's promises -- and even His love -- are not unconditional, despite what the popular speakers in the Church tell you. Jesus said, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him." (John 14:21) That sounds pretty conditional to me.

Even the New Testament warns us to look at the example of what evil befell Israel -- and fear.

Where We Stand

This is the most difficult question. Is there still time to repent and escape wrath? Or are we doomed? Perhaps a better question is whether it -- even if the other shoe drops -- is worth expending our last energies in repentance and obedience? Is being in good standing with God, alone, sufficient cause to repent?

Whether we have crossed the Rubicon of iniquity or not may not be clear at this moment.

Once again, I will defer to my Nigerian friend. The other day I received my first correspondence from him. The letter was composed of two points. First, he said, "America. I don't know why I so love that nation upon their spiritual callousness. This signifies to me that God's love for them still endures." But following this, Theophilus wrote of bloodguiltiness in nations. "I know the consequence of the shedding of blood of men born and unborn. Read Numbers 35:33. Think of that for sometime you will find that this retribution from God's word may make blood touch blood in human viewpoint." I shiver every time I read it.

It is like America is on the brink -- a brink to which the American Church has led it. The prosperity of America has been its own greatest downfall -- much like Israel. "I spoke to you [Israel] in your prosperity," God said, "but you have said, 'I will not listen!' This has been your practice from your youth, that you have not obeyed My voice." (Jeremiah 22:21)

Eighteen Inches

To obtain the hope Jesus offers we must travel -- we must travel the 18 inches between our knees and the floor. Our blindness has been self-propagated and self-perpetuated. If we now see this glimmer of light, we dare not let it pass without grasping for it.

It will not be possible for us to bless those who come in the name of the Lord later if we neglect the call we hear today. They will still come but we will view them as madmen and troublemakers. We will label them "divisive" and "unloving" but if we do, our house will be left desolate.

Those who come in the name of the Lord must be received -- not because they are anything but because their Lord is Someone. The critical messages of people like Dave Hunt, David Wilkerson, Franky Schaeffer, and, more importantly, our local troublemakers, should be more carefully examined.

"Our Law does not judge a man, unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?" Nicodemus wisely asked the leaders of the Jewish people. But the Pharisees were blinded by their own presuppositions. They already "knew" that no prophet arose out of Galilee. (John 7:45-53) Likewise, we ought to consider what some of modern troublemakers say. Not all that any of them say may be God's criticism of us, but their faults, their crudeness, and their peculiarities should not be used to toss their messages out.

David, sensitive to the possibilities of God's rebuke, would not permit Abishai to kill the loathsome and contemptuous Shimei who railed at the king and threw stones at him while he fled Jerusalem. David told Abishi, "If he curses, and if the Lord has told him, 'Curse David,' then who shall say, 'Why have you done so?' . . . Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him." (2 Samuel 16:5-14) Such humility is worthy of emulation.

Consider how inappropriately many prophets have behaved. Ezekiel slept on one side and ate food cooked over dung, Isaiah wandered naked for three years, Amos married an unfaithful harlot, John the Baptist wore camel skin (phew!), and Philip had four virgin daughters that prophesied. (Acts 21:8-9) God can even use a jackass (or a jackass's sinful owner) if He so desires. (Numbers 22)

Just as the Samaritan woman at the well was an unlikely source for a Jew like Jesus to seek water, so Jesus was an unlikely source for the Samaritan woman to receive the living water He offered. Jesus himself was not called a winebibber and a glutton by staying at home. Jesus was not what the Jews expected in a Messiah. The Scripture tells us there was "no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him." (Isaiah 53:2) If we were to see Jesus as He was then, He would not look like the handsome man in our "Christian" plaques in the bookstores. He might even be described as homely. He had no advance men, advertising budget, fine clothes, invitations by the local rabbinical committees, credentials from the school of Gamaliel, letters of commendation from Caiaphas, or glowing halo to mark Him as someone to whom we ought to attend. He had miracles -- which were denounced as demonic. He had hard sayings -- for which people stayed away in droves. He had a demanding call -- which the rich heard and walked away saddened. Only a comparative few in Israel had the humility to listen to this man.

It takes humility to hear the Word of the Lord when it comes wrapped in an unexpected way. The barrier to hearing is our pride.

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Copyright © 1999 Paul deParrie