Posted On April 11, 2022

The Gospel According to Sinners

by | Apr 11, 2022 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

We have all been troubled by stories from those who have been abused or betrayed by the church. Sometimes these anecdotes stymie us as we try to share the gospel.

When I hear these stories, a scene from the Bible reels through my mind:

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He healed someone. This took place moments after He saw His disciples snooze while He sweated blood. It’s one of my favorite healing narratives. Here’s the context from Luke 22:

On the Mount of Olives, a crowd of the high priest’s men came to arrest Jesus. 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

John 18:10 says it was Peter who lopped off the ear, and I see Peter here as the symbol and head of the nascent Church.  He begins a long tradition of clumsily whacking away at “enemies,” doing damage that Christ has to undo, making the first of many messes Christ has to clean up.

The word for “No more of this!”—Jesus’s response to Peter’s action—is not just a command—it’s used later in the New Testament to promise there will be no more tears, no more old-worldly world, no more darkness when Jesus brings His ultimate Kingdom. What grace and hope in this word that He uses in the tortured, torchlit Garden.

The Greek word hapto and its Hebrew counterpart, employed for saying that He touched the servant’s ear, is a vivid one: it is used for touching the wrestling Jacob in his hip, applying a burning ember to Isaiah’s lips, angelic propping up of Daniel, healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.  In fact, it is only used for supernatural, life-changing touch.

So I take hold of this Gethsemane image of Jesus touching the bleeding attacker, the injured unbeliever, and I pray this touch for the one who church leaders have damaged. I pray it also for those who have only heard the stories of damage since Jesus healed the man in his ear. Thus I pray that these people can hear rightly. And for my fellow Christians, I pray that the injuries from their –oops, sorry—our impulsive blunders continue “no more.”

Awhile back, I was interviewing a rather famous person, and I referred to her upbringing in the church. Asked if she still identified with the faith, she said, “Well, I can’t accept things that have been done in the name of Christianity. But I’m a very spiritual person.” I said, “I can understand disapproving of bad deeds. I guess the question that Jesus asks each of us is, ‘Who do you say that I am?’” She agreed and said, “Maybe I need to think about that some more.” The healing Jesus wants to perform does not involve turning people into our image but turning injured people to Himself.

It is tempting to distance ourselves from the church when people say things like this–even more tempting when they say, “You’re different from most of those judgemental Christians!” or “This church isn’t hypocritical {etc.] like most churches.” This is dangerous praise. The “Accuser of the brethren,” the spirit who really hates the church, wants to cut us from the fold and join that spirit in feeling superior. But in fact, the Church and the Holy Spirit work together to bring people to Christ. The Spirit and the Bride both say, “Come.” No one can come toward two different persons who are standing apart, beckoning the same person. The Bride must line up with the Spirit and point in the same direction. And the Bride has to stay unified.

Others say, “I’m not going to call myself a Christian; that term has too much baggage (after all, the Crusades just happened a minute ago). I’ll call myself a follower of Christ.” Understandable, but again, a dangerous attitude. Are you trying to sit at a different table from Luther, Mother Teresa, your grandparents, Billy Graham, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, your pastor, Amy Carmichael, and Augustine? Shall we just let them fend for themselves?

We do well to remember that “the accuser of the brethren” doesn’t just accuse us; he accuses our brothers and sisters in our ears. We need Jesus’ healing, too, so that the Body of Christ lives and evangelizes in unity.

Let’s not be silenced when it comes to the name of Jesus or of His people. When I feel tempted to disown the Body of Christ to convince someone of my bona fides, I have to remember that I am as much a sinner as the pastor who ran off with the organist. The sooner I let that be known to the one I am evangelizing, the better. Calling and redeeming a people for Himself are really His primary work on this earth, so we mustn’t think we can minimize that work and that identity.

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