I want to leverage the sermon from church this past Sunday to point out some observations I’ve made over the course of my Christian life and a quote from a book that I greatly appreciate.
The sermon, titled Remember Christ’s Mission came from Luke 9:51-56
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went to another village.
A good point that was made about this passage is that Christ’s mission is not to condemn. Now that might raise the hackles on the back of necks especially from those who are quick to point out how much the topic of sin is neglected from the pulpit these days (as if we have a reasonable sample of what all churches are preaching). In fact, I often wonder if this rush to make sure sin is pointed out is to make sure the person knows they can’t get away with anything.
Yes, this is true. But does that mean WE condemn the person? The person who rejects Christ already stands condemned. Consider this passage;
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believed is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
And this is the observation I’ve made that so often Christians can address non-Christians like pond scum because they reject the gospel. We can do this through hostile attitudes or snide condescending remarks. It’s not enough that sin condemns the person, we have to make sure that we condemn them too.
Now, I’m not one to say people are won by our behavior, but it doesn’t help if the ambassador of Christ treats others in unChristian like ways because they are not on board. Even worse, when we adopt the attitude the disciples expressed in vs. 54, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” I hate to say but I’ve seen far too much judgment hungry angst lashed out against unbelievers.
We undermine Christ’s mission to seek and save the lost when we engage in condescending ridicule, eager to heap judgment attitude. We’re demonstrating that we’ve forgotten that we’ve been spared from just as much as the person we’re condemning. Regardless of when you became a Christian, it was only because of God’s great mercies and extension of grace through the redemption in Christ that we can claim to be so. We didn’t save ourselves. We were enemies of God. We did nothing, but be enemies of God and trust in ourselves, engulfed in our own self-righteousness. But God, who was rich in mercy, longsuffering through our rebellion, and compassionate towards us, took us in and clothed us with righteousness.
How dare we act like people deserve judgment just because we didn’t get our way in converting them to Christ? Who are we to turn up our pious noses? All we are is messengers, proclaiming the good news and people will reject it. That’s what the Luke passage shows us. We are not the Holy Spirit. Only he regenerates, not us.
But it reminds me of this gem of a quote in God With Us, a richly theological and tremendously pastoral, user friendly account of how God condescended to interact with his creation throughout the biblical narrative. In the chapter entitled The Final Chapter in the Biblical Story, Dr. Glenn Kreider expounds on Peter’s exhortation in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Peter’s point is that the long delay in the return of Christ, used by scoffers to mock the Christian hope, is, rather, consistent with God’s character. Whereas on earth the focus is the length of time passed, from God’s perspective the focus is on mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. God is patient and compassionate. He does not want the judgment to come. He desires not destruction, but repentance and re-creation. He does not want anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance. God’s compassion and patience are seen in the delay of the “last days.”
The godly response to the delay in Christ’s return is to be similarly compassionate and merciful toward unbelievers. Surely scoffing is ungodly, but perhaps so is an unbridled and even enthusiastic desire for God to destroy all his enemies–and soon. That the day of the Lord’s judgment is a day of darkness, death and destruction should lead godly people to a somber and compassionate attitude towards those who will experience such a terrible day.
Indeed there is something quite ungodly about an unbridled enthusiasm for destruction of others who reject Christ. In the Luke account, perhaps this is why Jesus rebuked his disciples and they went into the next town.