So I've ruined my life by agreeing to a January Gospel Challenge with a friend of mine to read through The Gospels in the New Testament. We began in the book of Matthew, and in typical fashion, I started out assuming that I had read the book in its entirety before.
But I was wrong.
By the 5th chapter I was quickly beginning to realize that I had not read the book in bulk, which probably means I've just been jumping in and out of it like double dutch. But in doing that, I have been missing out on struggling with the tension of Jesus and His wide range of emotions. I'll explain.
As I was reading ALL the red lettering, naturally I'm a little bit more alert because "Shut up, the Son of God is talking." But the more I read the more I felt myself responding as if I was on the first day of school and the teacher was going over the syllabus and I'm thinking to myself, "This semester is about to be awful." That feeling of discomfort when you're seeing what's expected of you for the semester, and you sit there thinking about how I'll have no social life or fun or how dreary my life is going to be because I'll have to spend weekends studying while my friends are living these exciting lives. It almost feels that way in the Book of Matthew when Jesus is dishing out teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven and how we should treat each other. But I made the mistake and kept reading, wanting to be self disciplined since I had made a commitment, I stuck at it and the more I read the more I found myself asking the question....
What kind of man is this?
This guy doesn't sound like the man that is preached about in the average American church. Because as I was reading, I was nervous for my life! He didn't seem like this blonde haired beanie baby holding, coffee sipping man that was begging for me to choose Him. How I was reading it, to follow Jesus you have one option, to die. And that was either die to yourself, or die by yourself. There wasn't any discussion of whether to be Pentecostal or Baptist, Reformed or Dispensationalist, black church or white church, it was simply repent or suffer. Nothing else. No other options. No sweetened message that made us laugh and cry, it was Jesus Himself, speaking with the authority of God pronouncing death to the wicked, but promising redemption to the wicked that would choose to believe in Him.
And it completely ruined my life.
Interesting how the word of God can do that. Because I was seriously asking the question, "What kind of man is this? Like, what kind of man have I chosen to follow?" I don't think I can be the same Claude anymore. And surely that's what He intended. Because the Claude that came to Him with weeping eyes that salvation day signed on the dotted line, but He didn't count the cost. And I've been like Peter, wanting to be fully devoted to our King, but when the pressure gets tough would deny Him by our consistent inconsistencies. And many of us know how Peter's life ended up later. Jesus restored Him. Or its probably even safe to say Peter never failed Him, because He knows we're going to screw up.
What contrasting behavior. I mean here's a man that is speaking with authority, serious about the sins of the world. Serious about how we treat other people. Serious about how we live our lives. Serious about falling short of His standard and measuring the consequences. It was like reading about a drill sergeant turned soccer dad, one minute He's sternly speaking to His children, commanding repentance and obedience, and then He's concerned about whether we've had dinner yet. It was remarkable to deal with the tension. How He rebuked sin but invited the sinner into relationship with Him. What are we to do with that?
I think we struggle, just like with everything else. A consistent thing I'm seeing in churches is a very irregular balancing of the tension between the character of our Lord. We seem to have a hard time with balancing the wrath and the love of God, so typically preachers lean more heavily towards one of the other sides. Grace churches doesn't want to scare people into salvation, so they focus a lot of the love of God. And the wrath churches doesn't want to give people the impression that there's a license to sin because of how sufficient God's grace is. But guess what?
The tension is necessary for appropriate worship.
The Good News is not good if it doesn't invade bad spaces. That's where the kindness of the Lord is experienced. Not that He's a gentleman and jealous for us like a stalker boyfriend, but His kindness is that He should kill us because of our sin, but He doesn't because of His love. That tension of undeserving grace is necessary for appropriate worship. Because the wrath helps you understand how undeserving we are of the relationship. And I've experienced many wonderful times of worship when I've found myself grievious of my own actions and thoughts, and the truth of His covenant with me brings me to proper worship. So underserving. What kind of love is this?
What kind of man is this? That offers us such an unexplainable love? Justly judges the sinner, but lovingly redeems the sinner. Embrace the tension. And remember, to follow Jesus you only have one option....
Either die to yourself, or die by yourself.
Thank you Book of Matthew.