Monday, June 30, 2014

A Lopsided Charismatic Mess

Life of Christ 106

          We've just seen a rather startling series of events between Jesus and Israel's religious leadership in Jerusalem. Jesus chose to attend the Feast of Tabernacles, and to openly, boldly, and clearly state His claim to be the Christ and to be God. Along the way, He had repeatedly tangled with the Pharisees, ruined the closing ceremony of the feast, made a mockery of their attempt to trap Him with an adulteress, and sent them an unmistakable message by healing a blind man. Their reaction, along with a determinedly wrongheaded continual rejection of Him, was to attempt to assassinate Him on three different occasions during the feast.
          We can see, then, that the conflict between Jesus and Israel's religious leadership had become so sharp that He found it necessary to remove Himself from Jerusalem for a while. At the same time, He doesn't want to just vanish into the wilderness somewhere. His choice is to make another preaching tour around Judea, the Jewish region surrounding Jerusalem.
          Once before, at the beginning of His ministry three years prior, He had preached through Judea but since then He had largely left it alone. Galilee, His home region, had been much more receptive of Him. In fact, there is an old statement that Galilee gave Jesus a home and Judea gave Him a cross. Judea was more spiritually arrogant, and thus harder to reach, but He chooses now to give it one last opportunity.
          When I was a boy a nationally known evangelist conducted a city wide crusade in Youngstown, Ohio. Prior to his arrival he sent a man ahead of him to help to prepare the meeting, and to coordinate the work of the 35 or so churches that were cooperating together in the meeting. That man was known in the trade as an advance man. The advance man was not The Guy, but he was the guy who went ahead of The Guy in order to prepare everything for The Guy's arrival, so to speak.
          In a similar sense, Jesus, in preparing for His preaching tour around Judea, sends out a group of men to prepare the way for Him ahead of time. 'After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come' (Luke 10.1). In our story today (Luke 10.1-24) Jesus gives them some specific instructions about what and what not to do on this preparatory preaching trip, and then deals with their reaction to their reception on their return to Him some days later.
          It is important to remember the context of these specific instructions has to do with a specific trip over a short period of time to a specific region by a limited number of men. This isn't a list of instructions for all of God's preachers in every dispensation and circumstance. But having said that, I do think there are some broader principles that are taught here that do apply to us today. In other words, these instructions are not hard and fast rules that apply to us in every detail today but we do find in them a revelation of what is important to Christ in how His preachers conduct themselves.
          Among these I find the following: Jesus wants us to be after people with the Gospel (Luke 10.2), we are to be gracious, thankful, and flexible with what God provides for us along the way (Luke 10.7-8), we are to help people (Luke 10.9), we are to urge people to accept Christ while there is still time (Luke 10.9), we are to let God handle the judgment on those who reject our message (Luke 10.14), and we are to remember that they aren't rejecting us, instead they are actually rejecting Him (Luke 10.16).
          Armed with this set of instructions the seventy men scattered all over Judea, preaching the Gospel, and preparing the towns and villages for Jesus' coming preaching trip. On their return a day or two later, something exceedingly interesting happens. 'And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name' (Luke 10.17). In other words, they were most excited about the fact that on this trip they had experienced the spiritual power to cast demons out of people.
          Jesus' reaction, curiously enough, was not to share in their joy over such victories. Instead, He told them that they were getting joy from the wrong thing. 'Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven' (Luke 10.20).
          One of the great mistakes of 21st century American Christianity is that it is overly enamored with spiritual gifts. I am a cessationist. This means that I don't believe the gifts of tongues, healings, visions, prophecies, etc. is active for us today. But even if I'm wrong, and those gifts are active for the Church today, I'm not wrong that entire branches of Christianity are way too focused upon them.
          Paul, in I Corinthians, was careful to instruct a highly gifted church (I Corinthians 1.7) that the proper order was to emphasize preaching first and the gifts of tongues last (I Corinthians 12.28-31). What happens when you get the emphasis reversed? Well, crowds flock by the hundreds of thousands to see a charlatan like Benny Hinn, but let a guy announce he is going to preach verse by verse through Galatians and everybody yawns. Let us beware an over-emphasis on spiritual gifts.
          In fact, if we are going to be preoccupied with something, let it be with salvation (Luke 10.20). This keeps me humble. This keeps my focus on Him. This keeps me conscious of the souls in the great harvest all around me. It certainly isn't wrong to be excited about something other than salvation, or to praise the Lord for any good gift, but when our focus gets off of the finished work of Christ, Who He is, and what He purchased freely for us, and the need of the world around us for that gift of salvation, then we have become unbalanced Christians.
I cannot tell you exactly where that line is. I can tell you that there is a line, and I can show you what crossing it heedlessly becomes (see the aforementioned Benny Hinn and all of his wretched prosperity gospel cronies). I can also tell you that we are to be more enamored with Christ and our salvation than we are with what amazing things we can accomplish with our spiritual gifts.

The Giver, not the gifts, is the point.

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