Every now and then, 10 minutes in the bible will wreck me for about an hour. Sometimes it makes me wish I had not even opened that sacred book at that particular moment. Occasionally it helps me discover that I am not always in the mood for God to arrest my attention in the middle of what was supposed to be a quick-stop in the good-book. On a recent morning, God grabbed my heart and squeezed it until I felt like running out of the place where I was praying and reading. It likely won’t impact you the way it did me but I thought I would risk sharing it anyway. If you have today, or have had in the past someone who messed you up, cut you deeply, or bruised you to the bone, then you may not want to read any further in today’s post. You see, I read Matthew, Chapter 23 three times in a row on that particular morning and I just couldn’t stop the tears. Give me a minute and I will surprise you with the explanation of why I ended up blubbering in my bible.
Matthew 23 is, arguably, the account of the harshest words ever recorded from Jesus Christ while He walked earth. He pronounced seven intense “woes” upon the religious leaders of His day, and there was not a shred of diplomacy, respect or political correctness in His words. He blistered those blind legalists and, if I understand Him properly, He told them that they were going to Hell when they died. Read it yourself. Here’s the summary I typed out on my phone as I read that chapter for the third time:
They were utterly inconsistent in their testimonies (3)
They placed extreme burdens upon others (4)
They served God for man’s applause (5)
They were presumptuous and self-honoring (6)
They elevated themselves (10-12)
They actually kept people out of the Kingdom (13-15)
They prioritized the immediate above the eternal (16-22)
They did not cultivate spiritual character consistent with the kindness & goodness of God (23-24)
They were meticulous in the outward appearance and negligent about the inward reality (25-26)
Their manufactured an appearance of righteousness as they masked hearts full of hypocrisy and rebellion (27-28)
They were the hostile enemies of the true Kingdom message and faithful messengers of Christ (29-36)
They refused to repent and run to Jesus and were thus left to their condemnation (37-39)
It is extremely uncomfortable to acknowledge, but this was the summary from Jesus concerning the very people whom everyone thought to be the spiritual pillars among the people of God. The men who thought they were at the top were revealed by the son of God to be at the bottom. The best I can tell, Jesus declared all of this about them in front of the people whose admiration they were trying to gain. Jesus publicly called them out and pulled off their masks. He leveled the legalists. But His indictment of them was not what initiated my tears. It was what He said in verse 37 that initiated my personal waterworks:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Jesus told them the hardcore truth about their nasty hearts, their sinful ways, their hypocritical methods… and then He said with an admixture of compassion and sorrow, “I could have helped you and rescued you and protected you if you had just come to Me.”
Jesus didn’t do what I would have done. Jesus did not tell them, “Good riddance!” Jesus ended His fiery words with statements that revealed that He looked at the failure of the leaders and the cost to the people who followed them through the lens of what it was costing them, not Him. Jesus was primarily concerned with what His enemies were going to experience because of their self-induced spiritual blindness. He did not focus on the injustice being done to Him, even though they were rejecting Him and plotting against Him. He did not make His rejection to be about His loss. His focus concerning the matter was upon their missing the opportunity to experience His ability to do good unto them which, in essence, was their unspeakable loss. Jesus grieved over what their sin and rebellion cost them, not Him.
How you and I think and feel about those who oppose us is a reflection of where we are on our maturity spectrum with Jesus. You have known the pain of being fought by others. You have been mistreated at times. Someone spoke ill of you, misrepresented you, lied to you and took from you. All the ugly facts are on your side. You have the gavel in your hand and you posses an iron-clad indictment. They did wrongly and you suffered for it. But what will you do as you stand in the broken shards of this reality? The telling issue is how we respond to those who have harmed us. Jesus actually grieved because the ignorance and folly of His enemies cost them dearly. He hurt because they would not allow Him to be good to them. His sense of loss arose from their refusal to let Him bless them. He actually experienced a double-pain – their rejection of Him, and then He purposefully took on the pain of what it would cost them. Jesus made it all about them. He seems to always do that – making it about the other person. Why don’t we?
So I sat in that room and wept after the third reading of Matthew 23. It was embarrassing because about 30 other people were in there also. I cried because I want so much to be like Jesus, but am aware of the distance between His selfless ways and mine. I don’t have the degree of enemies that Jesus had. I don’t have the degree of selflessness that He had either. Call me weak, call me wimpy, call me dramatic because I’m still cut to the heart on this. Call me any of those things if you desire, but I call myself a not-yet-complete disciple who cannot rest in my current state of follow-ship. He told me to love my enemies and the truth is that I continue to miss that mark. Matthew 23 contains the harshest words of Jesus in Scripture. Matthew 23 also seems to contain the most amazing revelation of His merciful heart. We can have all the truth on our side… but still not be owned by His mercy in our heart.
How can any of us we rest until we are there?