Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Radical Gospel of Jesus Christ

But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  –Matthew 9:13 (KJV)

“Better watch what you say, they’ll be calling you a radical, a liberal, fanatical, criminal.”  As I reflect on the words to this popular song from the 1970’s, I have to consider how accurately it depicts what people thought about Jesus and the good He was doing in the world. 

Jesus’ teachings were radical.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  This is as radical today as it was in Jesus’ time.  Human nature leads us to love those who love us and hate those who hate us.  Jesus’  radical teachings on love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness turn such attitudes upside down.  The grace of God, which functions in us through faith in Christ, empowers us to be unshackled from the chains of hatred and vengeance.  Such negative forces will only weigh us down.  Jesus Christ frees us from the powers of darkness, which so often hold us back.

The Pharisees accused Jesus of being liberal.  Jesus was not averse to reaching out to people regardless of who they were, and this was a liberal way of thinking for the time.  “And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?  (Matthew 9:10, 11).” Jesus went on to remind them that healthy people do not need a doctor, for only sick people need medical attention.  Indeed, if sin is the sickness, Jesus Christ’s mercy and grace are the cure.  

The Pharisees accused Jesus of being fanatical.  How interesting the same people who accused Jesus of being liberal had also accused Him of being fanatical.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, focused as they were on keeping the letter of the law, forgot the greater issues of mercy, love, grace, and compassion.  On one occasion, Jesus told them they were willing to strain out a gnat, yet swallow a camel (Matthew 23:23, 24).  This earthy illustration perfectly depicts the problem of self-righteousness.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world to save sinners and offer forgiveness.  However, when Jesus did this, the Pharisees accused Him of fanaticism and blasphemy.  “And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.  And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth (Matthew 9:2, 3).”

The Pharisees accused Jesus of being criminal.  When Jesus broke the Sabbath regulations in favor of meeting human need, the Pharisees accused Him of being a lawbreaker.  “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day (Matthew 12:1, 2).” Jesus always placed human need over the letter of the law.

Let us always follow Jesus’ example of reaching out to others in grace and compassion.  The love of Jesus will shine from us when we go and do likewise as Jesus said.  Do not fear being accused of being fanatics or whatever else the world throws at us, for the Lord is right and His Word will prevail.

God bless you today.