Saturday, May 3, 2014

People and sheep and self-righteousness


The Lord is MY shepherd . . . (Psalm 23:1)

I once owned some sheep. We didn’t have much of a relationship. They were kept in a pen and sold very quickly because I soon realized I was not shepherd material. These critters were easily frightened, unpredictable, and smelled bad. I was impatient, uneducated in the ways of sheep, and had no time for their fears and foibles.

My Shepherd does a far better job. He leads me to green pastures and beside still waters. He reassures me when I am afraid and takes care of my every need. His rod and staff guide me and correct me. He reasons with me, something that cannot be done with four-legged sheep.

Jesus says things like, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:18–20)

This morning’s newspaper has a religion section where ordinary people can submit articles about their faith. Today’s writer claimed that the resurrection of Jesus Christ proved her opinion about a current issue is correct. I wondered how many people besides me scratched their head over that connection. It was like saying, “Because the sun always shines, I can use my cell phone when I drive” or “Because the mountains are large, I have the right to keep snakes in my house.”

Anyone who uses a miracle of God to justify their position has missed the point of what God is doing. This happened constantly during the time of Christ. The Jews valued the Scriptures and made this proof that they were “the people of God” but when God appeared in human flesh, they rejected Him. Shouting proof does not make things true.

They rejected Jesus mostly because He failed to deliver them from Roman rule, but instead talked to them about their sin. Eventually, He said to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40)

They missed the point. Having this life Jesus talks about is the most important thing. It isn’t about political or civil freedoms but about deliverance from sin and having eternal life with God. This life is not earned nor deserved, but a gift from God to sinners who recognize themselves as such and put their faith in Jesus Christ, who died as their sin-bearing sacrifice.

Jesus explained eternal life as a relationship with Himself and with His Father . . .

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:1–3)

While I sometimes get on a rant about the sins of others, the fact of knowing Christ even though I am a sinner always brings me to my knees. How can I rattle on about what others do wrong when I am also guilty? How can I “use” the truth of what Jesus has done to prove my rattling is righteousness? Even this morning, while I see this article writer has erred, don’t I also err by thinking I am better?

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)

Justification is not for the “I am right” people, but for those who know they are sinners who need a Savior, for those who can say, “All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid on Him, our Shepherd, the iniquities of us all.”


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