Martin Luther taught us that salvation was by “faith alone”. He said this because the Church was selling salvation. The Church said that a sinner could do some act of penance and be forgiven. That included giving money to the Church. It included buying indulgences.
Jesus never asked for “penance”. When He cured someone, He sometimes asked them to follow Jewish Law and present themselves to the priest in the Temple. Usually, He said that He did not condemn the sinner and asked them to “go and sin no more.” There may be a Biblical model for penance, I do not know. The historical accounts are clear about one thing:
The Church forgot the model of the Servant.
If you have not read that part of the Bible that some call the “Apocrypha” I highly recommend that you do. Especially the historical books like the Maccabees. In these books you will find the beginnings of the thought process that became the way the Pharisees and Sadducees thought.
Jesus constantly pointed out the problem. They overreacted. God had told them to obey the Law. Not that the Law was holy, but as a guide for obedience to Him. Today, some of us can read the Torah and see what we think should have been obvious to them. But we have “20/20 hindsight” and see the Truth because Jesus told us.
Christians in the Twenty-First century are still overreacting to the Reformation. We know that we are to help the poor and visit those in prison. So we do that. Not, however, out of obedience born of Love. We know that Martin Luther was right and that salvation is by “faith alone”. So we work hard on our faith. We struggle to believe.
Jesus said that the yoke He gives us is “easy” and the burden He gives us is “light”. How many Christians feel that the burden of Christianity is easy and light? The proof is in the fact that many Pagans see Christianity as ‘giving up good things’ for the burden of God. We present Mother Theresa and almost all the “Saints” as the true examples of Christians. Think about it a moment. Are they the best examples of Christian Life?
Who was the “greatest preacher” in the Old Testament? It was a man who tried to run away from God. But he preached a revival unlike any other preacher. Not even the Apostles were able to convert a whole city, much less one the size of Nineveh. Yes, it’s Jonah.
Today, when we read his story, we laugh. It is funny. That’s because we identify with Jonah. We know that we are like him. And so we laugh. Not so much at Jonah, but at ourselves.
But it is an uneasy laughter. That’s why preachers rarely talk about him. And when they do, they tread carefully. Because we, in the congregation, can be easily offended by this story. Sometimes we really do not want to laugh at ourselves.
Who would you say is a “great example of Christian living” and why do you say so?
Some Christians have a problem with my story about my brother. Did you understand that he did not accept Jesus until Jesus stood at the foot of his bed? And that he died a few weeks later? Did you get that he recognized the “dysfunction” in the Church very early in his life?
I am going to tell you something that some of you won’t like. It’s the thing the Pharisees and Sadducees hated. It’s the motive behind selling indulgences and making “faith” a burden. It’s the thing that Jesus told Thomas in the Upper Room after His resurrection. It’s the thing that Jesus told Peter on the shore of Galilee after His resurrection: when measured by human standards God is not Fair.
But, when it comes to you, the unfairness of God is a fabulous blessing. It is Grace.
Please take several minutes to meditate on this.
John 20:24-29 Thomas
John 21 Peter
John 13: 1-17 Servant
Luke 15: 25-30 Prodigal’s Brother.
Matthew 11:30 Yoke is Easy & Light
Matthew 20: 1-16 First will be Last.
Genesis 50: 19-20 Joseph’s words to his brothers.