Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Lord's Favor

At Antioch today, we had a guest preacher, Scott Ross, who is preparing a church plant for Redmond, Oregon. He presented a great testimony and a powerful challenge, and I look forward to hearing stories of how God uses Scott and his wife. One of the Scriptures Scott read was from Luke 4, and I want to use this passage as a springboard for some thoughts that relate to my last post (on hypocrisy).

Jesus was in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, early on in His 3-year ministry. He stood up to read, and was handed the scroll of Isaiah. This is what He read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
As all eyes were still upon Him, Jesus then said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus was saying that His ministry was the fulfillment of this prophecy (and a large number of other ancient prophecies). As we learn more about His message, we find that the central teaching of it was that He was here to usher in the kingdom of God. The Isaiah passage included important aspects of that kingdom, and it was all good news. It was a message of the Lord's favor, as He ushered in through Jesus an age of grace and mercy.

So what has this to do with the problem of hypocrisy in the church? I'll get there now. If you check out the Isaiah passage (61:1-2) from which Jesus read that day in Nazareth, it goes on to say
...and the day of vengeance of our God.
Now, I find it significant that Jesus stopped where He did, and didn't include this part of the old prophecy. (Many of His hearers that day would have known the prophecy by heart, and would also have found significance in where He ceased His reading.)

If I understand this aright, we are still living in the age of grace and mercy ushered in by Jesus' incarnation. And yet, ask most non-Christians in our day and culture what Christianity is, and they are likely to say that it's a different, stricter morality that we seek to push on others, even as we fail to live by it ourselves. And the problem is not just our failures, our inconsistencies (and therefore our hypocrisy). The main problem is that we've missed Christ's central message, that we are supposed to be proclaiming not judgment--not God's impending day of vengeance--but mercy--God's present age of grace.

Don't misunderstand me here. I believe that Christians, of all people, need to stand firm on issues of morality, defending the God-given rights (to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) of the unborn and the aged, fighting for justice, truth, and beauty in a culture gone far astray. But what I'm saying is this: that to the extent that we are seen primarily as judgmental rather than gracious and merciful, to that same extent we have failed to accurately proclaim the central message with which Jesus charged us.

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