Thursday, June 5, 2014

Not Come to Destroy, But to Save

Life of Christ 96

          We find ourselves, today, just about halfway through our study of the life of Christ. We are substantially more than halfway through Jesus' earthly career, but this is because the Gospels devote about half of their space to the first two and half years of Jesus' ministry, and about half of their space to the last six months. Thus, the second half of this blog series will focus on the last six months of Jesus' life, plus the Resurrection and then Ascension.
          This six month period is noticeably divided by Jesus' attendance at three separate feasts in Jerusalem. The first, which usually takes place in October, was the Feast of Tabernacles. It celebrates the successful Jewish exodus from Egypt, and involved the Jews building and living in temporary booths. It lasted a week. The second, what we know of as Hanukkah, is called in the Bible the Feast of Dedication. It takes place, as you know, over an eight day period in December, and commemorates the cleansing and restoring of the Temple under the Maccabees. This feast was not called for in the Torah, as the other two were, but was widely observed in Jesus' own lifetime and that has continued down to ours. The third feast, commonly called Passover, commemorates the Jews deliverance from the death angel sent to punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians. This takes place over seven days sometime around April.
          We have seen, recently, that Jesus has avoided Judea and Galilee so as not to provoke an early confrontation with Israel's political and religious leadership. Thus, He spent large portions of His last summer traveling outside of Israel, and training the Apostles to lead the infant Church after He was gone. Over these last six months, though, He will reverse course, and insert Himself directly and repeatedly and openly into the very center of Jewish religious life. He will give His last witness to His own claims, and this will result inevitably in His own death.
          Leaving Galilee, Jesus and His Apostles now head toward Jerusalem in October for the Feast of Tabernacles. Most of the time, out of ethnic prejudice, the Jews in Galilee traveled the long way around Samaria on their way to Jerusalem, but Jesus had delayed His departure (John 7.2-10), and now He needed to take the direct route through Samaria. Wisely, He sent someone on ahead of the group to prepare for the night's lodgings (Luke 9.51-52). Unfortunately, the Samaritans in this particular village refused to extend their hospitality (Luke 9.53), rudely leaving Him and His entourage literally out in the cold.
        James and John, the fiery brothers that Jesus had previously nicknamed the Sons of Thunder, respond to this slight with the nuclear option. 'And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?' (Luke 9.54). Maybe they were in a bad mood. Maybe they were mad that Jesus was being disrespected. Maybe they were fired up after seeing Elijah himself in the flesh on the Mount of Transfiguration recently. Who knows? But Jesus' reaction to this awful idea is, of course, to completely shoot it down. 'But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village' (Luke 9.55-56).
          There is lurking in this little known story some wonderful truths about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. First, I see that a spirit which delights in judgment is not a Christ like spirit. Judgment follows sin as surely as night follows day (Psalm 9.16), but the fact of and the coming of this judgment is a sobering thing. It isn't to be one in which we take delight, or are eager to see come to pass. The classic example of this, in our day, is the Westboro Baptist Church. They take great delight in hurling epithets of hatred and in calling for more death and destruction. The truth is that my God, even my Old Testament God, delighted in mercy (Micah 7.18).
          The streets of my city are filled with tens of thousands of gang members. These thuggish punks think nothing of meting out violence to all and sundry in their pursuit of money, respect, and fame. Judgment will come on such violent men, but when it does, and they die in a hail of bullets from a passing car, we as God's people are to take no delight in that. That tatted up Latin King or Black Gangsta Disciple, who now lays prostrate on the pavement and soaked in his own blood, was somebody's son. Somewhere, a mother weeps tonight. Somewhere, another soul has been deeply stained with murder. And, even more tragically, 'in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments' (Luke 16.23). We ought to long for, pray for, work for, and look for repentance and mercy, not condemnation and judgment.
          Secondly, when Jesus comes, He doesn't destroy your life; He rescues it.
          One of the reasons that people reject Jesus Christ is they are afraid that He will change their life. And they like their life. They like their bar hopping, pub crawling, liquor drinking, dope smoking, porn watching, partying, fornicating, me-first live how I want to live lifestyle. They like their rock concerts on Friday night, and their weekends at the beach. They like their Mardi Gras parades and the French Quarter in New Orleans. They like their quick trips to Vegas, their blackjack at Harrah's, and the floor shows with the naked ladies. They like their Sunday's on the golf course, and a round of beers in the club house afterwards while the dirty jokes fly. They like their sports leagues, their bowling leagues, their impeccably groomed lawns, and their book clubs discussing Fifty Shades of Grey. They like their season tickets, their booze-soaked tailgates, and gawking at the Dallas Cowgirls. They like their happy hours, their wine tastings, and their night caps. They like their big cigars, their hard lemonade, and their Saturday nights with pay-per-view. They like their karaoke, their pretzel nuts, and their hail-hail-the-gangs-all-here. They like their conspicuous consumption, their walk in closets, and their personal shopping assistants. In short, they like their sin-infested, decadent lifestyle and they think Jesus is going to destroy their life if they yield to His claims.
          The truth is that Jesus doesn't destroy anybody's life. He saves it. 'The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly' (John 10.10).

        Yes, when Jesus comes in, you find yourself trading in your tobacco, your alcohol, your gambling, your hedonism, your foul language, your dope, your fornication, your country, rock, and hip hop, your ungodly friends, and your selfish, pleasure mad, money wasting existence for a King James Bible, a fistful of tracts, thirty minutes a day with God, saying Amen during the preaching, modest dress, tithes and offerings, Bible studies, pot luck dinners, tears at the altar, hours of volunteer work, and a church family full of old ladies, crying babies, and snot nosed kids - and you'll love it.
          You will look at your old life and see not fun, but heartache; not laughter, but sorrow; not real friends, but false ones; not the good life, but a living death. You will see wasted time, wasted opportunities, wasted treasure, and a wasted life. You will see a desperate loneliness, a suicidal sadness, an aimless existence, and a bitter resentment badly covered up by a lust for wine, women, and song. You will look at that, and shake your head in disbelief that you ever thought that was where true happiness was.
          You will look at your new life, filled to the brim with the abundant blessings of joy, peace, gratitude, love, companionship, family, forgiveness, comfort, happiness, purpose, care, faith, friendship, gentleness, goodness, meekness, grace, mercy, and meaning and marvel at just how wonderfully Jesus saved your life.
          'He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it' (Matthew 10.39). Jesus didn't come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.

          Did the father destroy the prodigal son's life when he welcomed him back home? No, he saved him, in every wonderful sense of the word. Don't run from Him into a selfish pleasure-mad existence. You can't get no satisfaction there. Turn toward Him, yield to Him, and let His eternal life bring to you the abundant life. 

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