"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?"
* * *
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
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?"
* * *
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
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:
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
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
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?
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
The tragic American condition reflects nothing better than the Deuteronomy 28 curses to the nation that abandons God. To list just a few:
"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
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
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)
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.