Jesus’ words: implications of a simple statement

Mark 2:17 (ESV)

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

Thinking over that last part, Jesus is essentially saying that in his coming to earth, there are some people he calls, and some whom he does not. In other words, some people Jesus saves, and others he does not.

The natural discrimination falls at “the righteous” and “sinners;” the sinners are saved and the righteous are not! However, we also know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If everyone is a sinner, wherefore art the distinction?

Clearly then, the distinction of whether one is ‘called’ by Jesus is made based not on whether you are righteous or a sinner, but whether you consider yourself a pretty decent person or whether you despise yourself and repent in dust and ashes. Sound melodramatic? This latter group have the presence of mind to say, “Jesus, without you I am lost, and cannot hope to stand before God, in His glory and holiness, and say that I have lived a good life worthy of God’s stature and of being in His presence evermore.

All these implications Jesus packed into 9 words: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
(Well, translated over to ESV, it’s 9 words; maybe even less in Aramaic or Greek or Hebrew.)

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Flies or Children?

The following concerns how one sees oneself when unceremoniously dumped into a less than ideal situation: am I a dirty, hairy, worthless fly, or a beloved child dealt a painful but sobering blow?

In other words, am I with the stricken and woeful King Lear, infamously betrayed by two of his daughters while having unfeelingly rejected the third one who loved him? In his suffering, he says, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.” He seemed to think the gods tortured people for fun as boys tortured unsuspecting insects like flies, ants, etc. to sate their curiosity. (Apparently I have some fascination with Lear, as I found two other previous posts on this!)

If not Lear’s perspective, then might I have a more sober view of myself as one who could use some discipline, and a more reverent view of God than to see Him as a wanton boy looking for cheap curiosities and thrills?

The following passage from the Letter to the Hebrews makes me want to read it all in a sitting!

Do Not Grow Weary

[3] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. [4] In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. [5] And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
[6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

[7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
[12] Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, [13] and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. [14] Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. [15] See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; [16] that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. [17] For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

(Hebrews 12:3-17 ESV)

3 Things of Interest

  1. I’m not that interested in my holiness, on a standardized scale. Perhaps relative to a handful or more of people I could think of, I’m more interested in my holiness than they are in theirs. Nevertheless, as the author of Hebrews points out (correctly), in my struggle against sin I have not yet resisted to the point of shedding my blood. Touché.
  2. To our benefit (in most cases), we receive painful discipline from our legal and loving guardians, a.k.a. parents. We also reserve our energies and thoughtfulness to express the painful truth to those we love, not to any old acquaintance. We expect nothing less than the painful truth from those we trust. (“Do I look stupid wearing/doing this?”) Shallower words are for shallower relationships. Hence, we can expect painful discipline from a holy and loving God who wants us to be holy, like Him. (Romans 8:28-30)
  3. Pain always sucks because it hurts. There’s not really a way to go around this predicament or sugarcoat it. But as for the pain of God’s discipline for the followers of Jesus Christ, his adopted children, at least we know that this pain will eventually yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

1 Thing to Keep in Mind for the Rest of Life

  1. I am not yet holy enough for God to stop disciplining me. (Not even after next time. Or the time after that.)

I happily self-identify as a beloved child of God! I am no fly :)

Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)

Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Sarah. Joseph. Moses. The people of Israel. Rahab. Gideon. Barak. Samson. Jephthah. David. Samuel. The prophets. (Hebrews 11, the list of the faithful.)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

First of all, thank goodness the people included in this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ are flawed to various degrees, just like I am! When I was younger, I used to mistakenly imagine Christians of the past in heaven looking down at me disapprovingly and being disappointed/disgusted – not to mention Jesus or God’s perspective. (Couldn’t even bring myself there.) That sort of watchful ‘accountability’ is terribly disheartening, and resulted in my greatly desiring to let no one get to know me, lest they discover what all these heavenly witnesses knew better. Nevertheless, I know better now: Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is my identity, as with all of those in that cloud of witnesses. None of us could stand before God but for Christ, even if some appear somewhat more righteous than others. (Truthfully though, it also helped my acceptance of this truth to discover how others too were more sinful than I had first assumed, and that I wasn’t too sinful to be forgiven, or too damaged to be made new. Due to the helpfulness of this discovery for myself in making my acceptance of salvation in Christ a joyful thing, it has since been a personal conviction to freely share my dirt as is appropriate to the situation, but regardless of my own discomfort.)

Returning to that verse in Hebrews, the ESV Bible mentions “weight” rather than things that hinder, and the New KJV uses “ensnares” to describe sin rather than entangling. A snare, being a trap, is more active than the action of entangling, which seems more passive. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: we are bound and held captive by sin. Kinda like a slave. Last summer I received a copy of Slave by John MacArthur which I will finish this summer. (On my word, I shall!) It emphasizes the very Biblical but unsung idea of switching loyalties from being a slave to sin to being a slave of the Lord Jesus, and how this second ‘slavery’ is, in actual fact, freedom from sin and the various burdens of a sinful nature.

Recently, at a women’s retreat, I’ve been privileged to be read a list of hindrances by which we may be trapped, and these made me sit up and pay rapt attention.

Hindrances:

  • self-preoccupation
  • false accusations
  • worry and fear
  • bitterness
  • unforgiveness
  • pain of past and present hurts
  • circumstances (health, physical limitations, finances, jobs…)
This made me sit up because as a Christian, I tend to unthinkingly categorize everything negative as sin when not every burden is technically sin, even if it resulted from sin or could result in sin in some way. The point is, though, that both burdens and sin are debilitating to our ability to run the race, to be a new creation, to have the courage to go and be a witness, to rejoice and to worship. Burdens are a yoke of slavery that prevents us from living as those who have been freed.

Anyhow, imagine a hot air balloon, the pictorial theme of the retreat weekend. Being tethered to the ground prevents it from soaring, but soaring willy-nilly is dangerous. Like us, when the balloon is tethered to Christ as a guide, then it can soar freely in safety.

But I don’t always feel like I soar, or am safe!

Where is Christ then? And there, something that John Piper said brought comfort: One of the greatest heartaches of the Christian walk is our slowness to change.

Didn’t Jesus wash me clean? Aren’t I free now? That certainly is a heartache of mine.

The following verse is so wonderful I’ll state it twice, in different versions:

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)

“…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

I promised spectacular grammar in the title of this post, and there it is. That Jesus “has made perfect” is stated in present perfect tense, which deals with a past event that has present relevance. (E.g. “I have lived in Vancouver.” I can call myself a West Coaster, but Eastern Canada is my home now.) On the other hand, “those who are being made holy” is in present continuous tense, which deals with events that are in progress now and will be in progress for an unspecified time yet. These two different time tenses happen in unison. Perfect. Holy. Finished and still in progress.

The good news, as I was reminded that weekend, is that “being on the way is proof that we have arrived.” Are we there yet? No, but yes. So keep going, whether the way is slow, tortuous, or quite circular at times. Take heart in the good news of the gospel of grace, and our sanctification that follows. “Our fight against sin is not simply to become perfect, but because we are.”

The funny thing is, when we are weak and struggling through little fault of our own, it is easy to turn to God and rely on Him. In stark contrast, when it is our folly, our lack of self control, our empty purpose, our pig-headed stubbornness, our self reliance, our apathy, our resentfulness, our bitterness, our unwillingness to forgive or anything else like that which has caused us to stumble, struggle and be faint, or even caused others to be hurt, it is harder to rely on God. “Do I have a right to?” subtly comes to mind.

Yes. Most assuredly so. You didn’t earn the right, but Jesus earned it for us, and at this time, you need to rely on the one who sanctifies us. You just gotta suck in your pride and look upon glorious, undeserved grace.

My favourite image from that hot air balloon themed retreat was that of the fire in the burners. In those times of fire and trial, our dependence on and closeness with Christ in the uncomfortable environment of hot air gives us lift to soar that a mild and cool environment does not. It’s like the special treat of trials, almost like a consolation prize, except that it’s much more, and conversely, is really the point of the trial, I would say. It’s hard to complain about difficulties when you see that God is bringing you closer to Himself through these things.

One last scribble that I took from just the first talk of the retreat: Living for Christ – waiting for our emotions to catch up.

Being in the world, but not of it

This sermon by Charles Spurgeon about the clean and unclean designations of the old testament was illuminating on the topic of the importance of being holy, separate, distinguished.

Read it here: The Clean and the Unclean

Below is an excerpt speaking of the Jews’ standard of separateness from the world and our separateness:

They would remain as much a distinct people, as if a great wall of brass had been built all around them, or as if they had been transported to some island, and an impassable gulf had been put between them and any other kindred upon earth. They were separated for ever. Now friends, you will say, “What is the use of this to us?” I answer, it is the earthly type of a heavenly mystery. When the Jews were put away as the people of God for a time, then the Gentiles were grafted into their olive, and though we did not inherit the ceremonies, we did inherit all the privileges to which those ceremonies point. Thus all of you who name the name of Christ and are truly what you profess to be, are solemnly bound to be for ever separated from the world. Not that you are to leave off your daily intercourse with men. Our Savior did not do so. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Yet, you know, he was always in the company of sinners, sitting at their table, seeking their good, and hunting after their souls. He was with them, but he was never of them; he was among them, but always distinct and separate from them; not conforming himself to them, but transforming them to himself. He hath set us an example. It is not the seclusion of a hermit, nor the exclusion of yourselves in a monastery, where you would be of no service to your fellow-men, but it is a higher and more spiritual separation which I claim of Christians to-night. You are to be in the world, and among the world, you are to mingle with all sorts and conditions of men, but still to maintain the dignity of your newborn character, and to let men see that you are among them as a speckled bird, as a light in the midst of darkness, as salt scattered over putridity, as heavenly angels in the midst of fallen men. So are ye to be a distinct people, a chosen generation.

Just above this passage, Spurgeon made a very interesting point about the importance of ceremonial rituals. (Yes, interesting! Though I will admit I am reading Leviticus, the book of ceremonial laws, and it is not the most thrilling book of the Bible.) Among the Middle Eastern religions, the strict and stricter regulations of Muslims and Jews meant that there was little to no conversion between religions. Spurgeon says, “the familiarity which seems necessary in order to proselyte is quite prevented by the barrier that precludes from intercourse at the table.” I find that wording a little convoluted, but essentially, lifestyles and ‘customs’ are an important barrier to preserving your faith and preventing you from falling away. Humans have habits, and habits are powerful.

Leviticus 13 talks about infectious diseases and mildew (a spreading fungus) being “unclean.” This word unclean has the meaning of ceremonial uncleanness attached. In any case, it conveys the idea that an impurity spreads quickly. That explains a bit about how vigilant God wanted his people to be about staying holy and pure. The smallest dot can spread if unattended to. Intermarrying with surrounding nations resulted in increased the Israelites’ idolatry time after time. It is an important discipline to self-assess and to weed what needs to be got rid of. (This last little paragraph about Leviticus was from me, not Spurgeon. Take this last paragraph as me processing thought, not as a great preacher’s commentary.)