Desiring mercy, not sacrifice


In my message a couple days ago about Jesus being “perfect theology”, I asked the question “does God shun sinners?” To which I answer emphatically NO, he welcomes them. There are many “proof texts” I could use, but the one that comes quickest to mind for me is this from Matthew – But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This verse will always come quickly to my mind, it’s the verse that changed my life. I had never read through the Bible before, but the suggestion from my sponsor (I was open to suggestions at the time!!), I started to read. Matthew being the first book of the New Testament and all, that’s where I started. So I’m reading along, I don’t remember anything standing out to me. But then I come to that verse in chapter 9, and I just stopped. I literally went and re-read that at least 4 times, not sure if I had read it wrong. After all, it was in red letters! I live in America, I had heard so many different things about what Jesus had taught, but I had never heard that. I had always been told (or at least, understood) that you had to be “good” to go to God, go to heaven. But here’s Jesus plainly saying he didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. Sinners like me…

So, back to the present. There was an overdose yesterday. Apparently, there have been 8 this week in Calvert County, Maryland, where I live. They happen every week now, it’s just a part of life in the big city (or small town. Or even where you live). Usually it’s just something we hear about and move along, but sometimes it gets personal. This one was fatal. And it happened to be someone my family and I know very well. It happened in my neighborhood, to a daughter of a very good friend of my wife’s, a girl who had been a part of our in-home day care for 7-8 years as she grew up, a girl who had played with my children, been a daily part of life in my own home. She was not a “bad” person, was not “evil”, I would not say she was “wicked”. But she was troubled, she had struggles, as do all of us. And now her struggles have taken her life.

And now, some of you are wondering, “did she know the Lord?” By which you really are asking, “is she going to heaven or is she going to hell?” Because in our “economy” of salvation, you’re either in or your out. You’re either “saved” or you’re not. You’re either part of “the elect”, or you burn in fires of hell for the next 10 billion years. (Is that really part of a “beautiful gospel”?)


So, my answer to that question “did she know lord?” is simply that I don’t know. But she knows the lord now. But was she in or was she out? I don’t know. But I guess here’s my thought for today – if she’s not “in”, if there is an “in” and there is an “out” as some of us so vociferously believe, does that mean she’s burning in hell for the rest of eternity? 
 And my own answer to that question is another question, see if you can help me with this – “What would be the point of that?” And seriously, if you have thoughts on this, let me know, what would be the point of that?


Jesus is the friend of sinners. Yet we will all come before the judgment seat of Christ, this I know. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead (BTW- this is all you must believe about the after-life to be considered orthodox in your beliefs). But what will that look like? I don’t know, but here are some of the things Jesus himself told us.  
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus is the one who judges, right? He’s also the one tells us that it’s not the will of the father that any would be lost.
““But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” Luke‬ ‭18:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Why do we so exalt ourselves, thinking “we” are the only ones who might be shown the mercy of Christ?

““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew‬ ‭6:14-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Are we forgiving of sins against us? This will be a measure of our own judgment, does Jesus not tell us?
““Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:35‬ ‭NLT‬‬.  
Of course, this from Matthew 25 – ““Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”” Matthew‬ ‭25:44-46‬ ‭NLT‬‬
In case you don’t know, I don’t think it’s as simple as “in” or “out”. Don’t ask me for clear and easy answers, I don’t have them. But I have one answer – we will all stand before the judgement of Christ. I also know this – there is a mother and a father and a sister who are in hell today, this day, in this life.  
I pray that the light of Jesus Christ might wash over them, and their daughter, their families, their friends. I pray the love of Jesus Christ might wash over them and guide them through this dark time. I pray the light of the world will continue to overcome the darkness we see all around. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Amen.

“But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.9.12-13.esv

John Lewis

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Out of the Storm


I’m going to be continuing and expanding on my message yesterday for the next few days, expanding upon some of the questions and answers I used for examples in showing how Jesus might “mess with” and disrupt some of our theological “systems”, how we look and think about God.


The first question I asked is, does God send the storm?? No, he calms the storm!! The Bible can be read in such a way that we become convinced natural disasters are the works of God. Millions do just this. In fact, even our insurance industry has clauses in policies for “acts of God”. To be sure, every time there is a natural disaster, we will hear somebody explain it that way. A hurricane hits New Orleans. An earthquake hits Haiti. A tsunami hits Thailand.  



They were such sinners in New Orleans, God had to send those hurricane. Those people in Haiti made a pact with the devil 200 years ago, God finally just had to send that earthquake. All those Buddhists living Thailand, God just got tired of them being Buddhists so had had to do that to kill 200,000 of them.
Haven’t heard the theories about Mexico, Puerto Rico, Houston, or Florida yet, guess I haven’t been paying enough attention. We can read the Bible this way, but at best, it’s imperfect theology.

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”
What does Jesus (the exact imprint of God’s nature) say when he’s caught in a storm? Does he say “I guess my Dad’s mad at you guys for being such sinners and all!! Fortunately, I can walk on water, so I’m going to be ok, but it sure looks like you boys are in trouble!!”?? Does he say “Father I thank you for sending this here storm to show Peter what a terrible rotten sinner he really is!!”?? NO!! He says nothing like that. The Bible tells us – And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” He says “Stop it!!” to the wind and the waves, and all is quiet. He doesn’t bring the storm, he quiets the storm.

And – He said to them, “Where is your faith?” So, if you look at places like Houston, New Orleans, Mexico, Haiti, and see these great natural disasters and think about what rotten sinners all those people must have been, “Where is your faith?” What God do you believe in?? Do you believe in Jesus, who calms the storm, or do you believe in the monster God just waiting to rage on sinners so he can get his glory in our human misery. And just how do you reconcile that with God is love?




And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Who is this?? He is God in the flesh, the exact imprint of God’s nature, that’s who.


“One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?””

‭‭Luke‬ ‭8:22-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/luk.8.22-25.esv

John Lewis 

Perfect Theology

Perfect Theology

ikon of god

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/2co.4.4.esv

invisible god
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/col.1.15.esv

right hand of God
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭1:1-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/heb.1.1-3.esv

good news

Good morning!! In a Good News mode this week. I thought about adding to my message from yesterday, the Good News that people on the fringe can be blessed just by brushing up against Jesus, and I still might come back to that later. But I have even better Good News today. The Good News that Jesus is the exact imprint, or ikon,  of God. The Good News that if we want to know what God the Father is like, all we have to do is look at his only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, because God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. We haven’t always known this, as the apostle John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel writing, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” John‬ ‭1:18‬ ‭NLT‬‬. This seems to be echoed by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, which I also included above. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:4‬ ‭ESV

firstborn of all creation

‬‬

Theology can be defined as “how we understand God“. If you’ve ever spent any time thinking or discussing what God is like, then you’ve done theology. But if theology is a quest to understand God, we have to understand that there is no perfect “system” of theology. Perfect theology is not a “system”, it’s a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Perfect theology is not a book, it’s the life of Jesus. As Paul also tells us, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Colossians‬ ‭1:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   Jesus is God’s ultimate act of self-disclosure.  Jesus is the only perfect Word of God.   Jesus is the only perfect theology.

q & a
So, here are some quick, short questions and answers about God based on the revelation which comes through Jesus.

jesus-calming-the-storm
Especially in this crazy, stormy summer, we want to know, does God send the storm? No He does not!! Jesus calms the storm. “And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.” Luke‬ ‭8:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬. It’s not the act of God that brings the storms into our lives. It’s the act of God to calm the storm and lead us out.

miracle-loaves-fishes-james-tissot-82990-print
Does God cause the famine? No!!! He feeds the hungry. When Jesus is present, ain’t nobody going hungry.

Jesus-healing-sick
Does God inflict sickness? No, He heals the sick. “And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” Mark‬ ‭6:56‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And so many other places…

tax collectors and sinners
Does God shun sinners? NO!!! He welcomes them. “And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”” Luke‬ ‭5:30‬ ‭ESV

not to condemn

‬‬
Does God condemn the guilty? NO!! He saves them. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

works of god
Does God blame the afflicted? No, he shows them mercy. “And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” John‬ ‭9:2-7‬ ‭ESV

water-to-wine-david-snyder

‬‬
Does God resent human pleasure?? No, he’s the one who, for no apparent reason whatsoever, turned the water into wine, just so the party could keep on going. For days….

party goes on
Does God take our side in our hostilities? No, God humanizes (the opposite of demonize…) our enemies. “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”” Luke‬ ‭4:25-27‬ ‭ESV

namaan the syrian

‬‬
Does God kill his enemies? No, he forgives them. “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭23:34‬ ‭ESV

casting lots

‬‬
Does God return in resurrection with vengeance on his mind? No, he comes with words of peace. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”” John‬ ‭20:19‬ ‭ESV

peace be with you

‬‬

Talk about good news. What better news could there ever be? Jesus is the is the image of God. Jesus is what God is like. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. 

radiance of the glory
God is not mad at you. God never hated you. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” ‭‭1 John‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

God_is_Love
God is like Jesus. Always has been, always will. We didn’t always know that, we still barely comprehend it. But talk about a truth to set you free…

god is like jesus

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭1:1-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/heb.1.1-3.esv

John Lewis

On the Fringe

On the Fringe

fringe

Talking about good news today. Specifically the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is really just about the best news there’s ever been.

degraffl-darknessontheedgeoftown.jpg
This is the end of the sixth chapter of Mark. This chapter is loaded with action from the life of Jesus. It begins with Jesus being rejected at Nazareth, then he sends out the twelve apostles. John the Baptist dies, he feeds the 5000, and walks on water. It’s no wonder we miss this gem which almost thrown in at the end of the chapter.

Jesus-disciples
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. One thing we can see for sure, Jesus was not doing his work anonymously. People were talking. These people in Gennesaret, in Galilee of the Gentiles, knew who Jesus was. It says they immediately (that key word for Mark’s gospel) recognized him and ran through their region bring all their tired, their sick, their poor in spirit to Him, wherever they heard he was. If he left one place and went to another, they would find him.

touch the fringe
And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. It didn’t matter where Jesus was, gentile marketplaces or Jewish marketplaces, they found him and desperately brought their sick to him. And all they had to do was touch the fringe of his garment to be made well. I told you this was Good News! I mean, read this again!! All they had to do was touch the fringe of his garment and they would be made better. That’s it. I don’t know why these people were doing what they did, maybe they had heard of the woman who had been bleeding for twenty years who got well just by touching his garment. But they brought their sick to Jesus, touched just the fringe of his garment, and were made well.

radiating from jesus
Jesus had healing power just radiating from him. It was (and is) just a part of who He is. It’s in His very nature. And remember, God is like Jesus. Jesus is the exact ikon of God, no one has ever seen the father except his only begotten son who has made him known.

galille of the gentiles
These people in Genneserat were both Jews and Gentiles. Galilee is not like Judea, where the only gentiles are the occupying Roman forces. Here, there is much more acceptance and mixing of the Jews and the gentiles. Living in such close proximity they’ve gotten to know each other a bit. Jesus is not taking his ministry to the gentiles, that would come later with Peter and Paul. But neither does he purposefully and systematically avoid them like the Pharisees, for fear of being made “unclean”. Jesus never avoided those people on the “fringe” of society, those people whom the people of Yahweh would have nothing to do with for fear of being made “unclean”.

were made well
So while Jesus is not here specifically to minister to the Gentiles, he does not avoid contact with them either. They brought their sick from all around, and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. Look at what is happening here. They don’t ask Jesus to pray with them. They don’t ask Jesus to heal them. They don’t ask Jesus to lay hands in them, or touch them. They really don’t even ask for Jesus to even acknowledge them in any way. They just want to touch the fringe of his garment. And just by touching the fringe of his garment, as many as touched it were made well.

on the fringe
These people in Gennesaret were considered to be on the fringe by those in good, religious society. They were Gentiles, not part of “the elect”. Yet these people on the fringe could touch just the fringe of Jesus’ garment and be healed. Yes, they did have faith, enough faith to be drawn near to Him. But they didn’t have to follow a plan of salvation. They didn’t have to say a sinners prayer. They weren’t asked to accept Jesus into their hearts. They weren’t baptized. They didn’t have to make their case for being worthy, didn’t have to take a six week course, sign any papers, take any oaths, or publicly repent of their sins. Jesus doesn’t heal them with the promise or requirement that they might accept him as their Messiah. There is no bait and switch here.  Jesus doesn’t heal them so that they might become his followers. He just healed them.  They had no, nor promised to make any particular allegiance to Jesus. Yet the Kingdom of God was among them and available to them just by His presence.

 
People on the “fringe” were made better simply by drawing near and touching the fringe of Jesus garments. And two thousand years later, based on his having passed through our midst, it is like we are still touching the fringe of Jesus garments. People on the fringe, people for whom going to church or submission to Christ are on their list of things not to do, can still receive the benefits of Jesus just because He passes near and they are somehow able to just brush up against Him. After all, the body of Christ is still present, isn’t it? Aren’t we as his church, his people, now the body of Christ?

staticelectricity
I guess the question is, is there enough Christ in us that people can be healed simply by drawing near to us? Do we have healing power radiating from us? Or is the power within his church these days more like static electricity, that anyone who happens to brush against it might receive a quick little shock to remind them not to come too close??

jesus-heals-with-power
I say, we still have the power of healing within us. It still radiates from Christ through the church. His church is always one generation away from dying out, yet 80 generations later, here we are, radiating healing and forgiveness into a world that desperately needs it.

holyof holies
And if his church is not radiating that healing, I know a place that is. It’s the holy-of-holies of the New Covenant, inaugurated by Christ himself the night before he was crucified. There once was a time when only one man, the high priest, could go into the holy-of-holies, once a year. He was not allowed in without having a rope tied to his ankles, lest God should strike him dead while he was in there and there was no way to get his dead body out. But we have a new holy-of-holies, his communion table, that still radiates healing. And nobody, no matter how bad the sin, is struck dead for coming near. It is inclusive, all are invited, never exclusive. Because Jesus is still the friend of sinners.

new holy of holies.jpg
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭22:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭6:53-56‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mrk.6.53-56.esv

John Lewis

Hail Caesar!

Cäsar

Looking at Romans 13, which is really a continuation of Romans chapter 12 with a very unfortunate chapter break thrown in. Very unfortunate because it leaves Romans 13 on an island by itself, with no context, when clearly the context for chapter 13 is chapter 12, which we looked at the other day, Paul distilling for us Jesus’ teaching from the sermon on the mount.

MLK-Love-enemies
Paul goes directly from giving us Jesus teachings in his great sermon, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”, into what we know as chapter 13, but is really a continuation of Paul’s take on the sermon on the mount.

love of enemy

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

caesars sword
Paul here in Romans 13 is writing about Caesar, and this passage is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied passages in all of scripture, very often with tragic consequences. Beginning a little after the Emperor Constantine, all the way through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, and even, unfortunately, to this very day, Christians have been using (misusing) this passage, which in the writing of Paul is an extension of the Sermon in the Mount.  Many have used this not as an extension of the sermon but instead as a rebuttal to the Sermon on the Mount. Whenever we want to disagree and rebut someone using the teachings Sermon on the Mount to argue for peace and love of enemies, we turn to this writing of Paul for our rebuttal, claiming our New Testament sanction for the war and violence we so firmly believe in. But the question is, who are we rebutting when we do this? Are we rebutting the one using Jesus’ teaching, or are we rebutting Jesus?

st paul.jpg
Why do we interpret Jesus in light of what Paul has written? If we are Christians, who believe in Christ, should we not then be interpreting the writings of Paul through the lens of Jesus? After all, isn’t Jesus the one who was resurrected and vindicated by God on the third day? I am reminded here of what God himself had to say at the transfiguration of Christ. “And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬. To which God the Father had something to say. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And when the disciples could open their eyes, the only one before them was Jesus. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus, not Paul, is the beloved son with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to Him. Paul does not get a tent.

PP-JesusTransfiguration_JS_0037
So when we think we see Paul overruling something we know Jesus taught us, we need to try to figure out where it is we are getting it wrong with Paul. In other words, we need to default to Jesus until we understand how and why are we misinterpreting Paul.
First of all, notice the pronoun change from chapter 12 into 13. Chapter 12 is all about “you”, chapter 13 Paul is writing about “he”. Put simply, chapter 12 is written for “you”, it’s an admonition for you. Chapter 13 is an observation upon “he”, Caesar. It is not an admonition to you as a follower of Christ. Followers of Jesus are called renounce vengeance and love their enemies ALWAYS, as taught by Jesus in his great sermon and explained by Paul in Romans 12.
Paul is, I believe, doing two things here in Romans 13. Number 1, he is endorsing the police function of the pagan empire of Rome to maintain a civil society. Make no mistake, Rome was a pagan empire, but even a pagan empire in rebellion to Christ can arrest bank robbers and keep the streets safe.

violent revolution
Number 2, more importantly, Paul is calling these Christians in Rome away from violent revolution. Violence is off the table. Violent revolution against the empire had long been a temptation of the Jewish people, don’t forget that this the time between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Paul here is giving the new Christians in Rome basically the same warning Jesus gave to his disciples in his Olivet discourse. The very warning against violent insurrection most of the Jews in Jerusalem did not take heed of, which resulted in the destruction of the temple and deaths of 600,000+.

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As Paul said, But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Caesar does not carry that sword in vain. If we embrace violence because we feel our cause is right and “just”, Caesar just may use that sword and you will suffer. Then you will be talking about the wrath of God which comes upon us, inevitably, for not following the Jesus way and instead seeking vengeance on those who have harmed us. The wrath of God which is the divine consent to our own choice to follow or not follow the path laid out for us, and the consequences thereof. Sin always carries its own punishment.

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Why do we hold up Romans 13 as the only place in the Bible that talks about the government? The Bible talks about the principalities and powers all the time, and it’s almost always in a dark light. Pharaoh during the Exodus. Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah. The parade of beastly empires in Daniel. Most clearly, Babylon, aka the Roman Empire, in the book of Revelation. These governments and empires are most often depicted as agents of the satan, not agents of God.

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And we need a little context here for what Paul is writing to these Roman Christians. Never, ever forget that Paul, the man who wrote Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God to the Romans, was himself executed by the government, in Rome, for not submitting to Roman authorities out of fidelity to Jesus Christ.

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Jesus himself was subject to the governing authority of Pontius Pilate, but that does not mean Pilate acted justly. On Good Friday the Roman government was not acting as a servant of God but a servant of Satan. Jesus even explains to Pilate – “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”” John‬ ‭18:36‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus was subject to the governing authorities in that he did not violently resist them, which is exactly what Peter and the other disciples wanted him to do. BUT – in being subject to the governing authorities Jesus shamed these principalities and powers in his crucifixion and was vindicated by God in his resurrection. This is the posture towards evil that followers of Christ are called to imitate.

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To pit Paul against Jesus, and Romans 13 against the sermon on the mount, is bad interpretation and worse Christianity. We are followers of the slaughtered and victorious lamb called (by Jesus AND Paul) to overcome evil with good.

 

John Lewis

 

Repay Evil With Good

Repay Evil With Good

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The first written record alluding to the sermon on the mount is not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. It is written by Paul in Romans 12 probably 20 years before Matthew was written. So even before the Gospels were written, the earliest Christians were familiar with sermon on the mount. These earliest Christians were familiar with Jesus’ great sermon because it’s not only what he taught in announcing the kingdom of God, it’s what he embodied on the cross, kingdom truths lived out for all to see.

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“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

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Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome to live out the Christian virtues of humility, mercy and forgiveness. Believe it or not, in ancient times, in ancient Rome in particular, humility and mercy were not considered virtues. This is unthinkable or unimaginable to us, because in western culture, every religion, every worldview, humility and mercy are considered virtuous and desirable, qualities that if we don’t have, we aspire to. This is an accomplishment of Christ in the world we know. The Rome Paul is writing to has a different value system than we “moderns” do. Rome, the empire, values pride, vengeance, retribution and revenge.

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Paul is reminding these early Christians that they have a new, revolutionary value system. Jesus announced the kingdom, taught the kingdom, and then embodied his teaching upon the hard wood of the cross. His teaching and his actions matched.

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Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Insult and violence are not made right because it is retaliatory. Evil is still evil, regardless of whether someone else did evil to you first. We have to know and realize that all such evil is always retaliatory to the one doing it. Everyone doing violent evil in the world believes they are simply responding to a wrong done to them. If your kids are fighting, and you sit them down to get to the bottom of why they are fighting, you will never get to the bottom of it. There is no beginning, there is no end. No end, that is, until someone imitates Jesus Christ, absorbs the blow, and forgives the wrong done to them.

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Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 

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Paul says never avenge yourselves. We are to be like Jesus, absorb the blow, and instead of recycling that anger into vengeance upon the one who harmed us, recycle it instead into forgiveness, returning the evil done to us as love, mercy and forgiveness.

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The wrath of God. Forgiveness is not exoneration. No one in this life “gets away with it”, regardless of how things appear to us. Let’s just say that you can be sinned against in such a way that it’s not “ok”. But forgiveness says, “I release you from your indebtedness to me” and trusts in God that things will be made right. In forgiving someone we release ourselves from the burden of having to collect that debt, we release ourselves from the burden of making the world right. We trust that God will make all things right if we surrender to his perfect will.

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To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Sometimes we can see the progressive revelation of God before our eyes in the Old Testament. In 2 Kings chapter 1, we see the great prophet Elijah calling down fire from heaven to kill his enemies. But Elijah has a successor, Elisha, who asked for a double portion of the blessing of Elijah from God and who, coincidentally, performed twice as many miracles as Elijah. In 2 Kings chapter 6 we see Elisha with a much different response to his enemies than Elijah.

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“When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria. As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.” 2 Kings‬ ‭6:15-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into Israel. The Syrians were the enemies of Israel, coming on a raid to kill the prophet (prophets tend to upset great and powerful empires)  and destroy Israel. Instead of reacting to their evil with evil, Elisha told the king of Israel to feed them and give them drink. They had a great feast, broke bread together, and now these enemies were no longer enemies. The repaid evil with good and broke that cycle of war and vengeance with their Syrian brothers.

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Paul says that in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head. Paul is not teaching us how to torture our enemies, he’s not teaching us to do a reverse kindness upon our enemies in the hopes that they will be tortured and anguished by our goodness and kindness. But he is making a point. If we sincerely try to love our enemies, the rejection of sincere love offered is it’s own form of torture. It’s not the wrath of God, but how we respond. If we choose to reject sincere love offered to us and choose to keep our enemies as our enemies, we are torturing ourselves and sickening our souls. Sincere love rejected brings its own judgement. Just as Jesus’ crucifixion shined the brightest light on the darkness of our retributive violence. Just as Jesus not picking up a stone shined the bright light into the darkness of collective murder, so evil repaid with good, genuine good, shines the brightest light on the evil itself.

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John Lewis