My Musings – “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
What indeed? I’ve done it. Maybe you have too. The stranded motorist all alone. Well, who doesn’t have a cell phone these days? They can call someone. It’s a busy road, someone is bound to stop. I’m running late, I can’t be bothered this time, I’ll get the next one. What if it’s a ruse, I could be putting myself in real danger. On the other hand, what if they don’t have a cell phone? Would it be a bother even if I did have the time? What if it’s a not to well-traveled road? What if I don’t stop to help, they could be left in real danger?
How about the shabbily-dressed person on the corner with the crudely lettered sign “any amount will help?” They’re probably running a scam. They’ll probably use it for drugs or alcohol. Why don’t they go out and look for a job? What if they’ve tried it all and just want to feed their family just for this day?
Without getting too political (too late), what about the refugee seeking a better life? They’re probably here for free benefits. They just want to come here and change things to the same as what they left. What if they belong to some sleeper cell? Why don’t they just come here legally? What if they really did flee a life and death situation?
Maybe some of the concerns and objections above are legitimate. After all, there will always be those looking to take advantage. Many of the situations we face will be tough calls. But do we really want to turn a “blind-eye” to those who might be truly in need because we are afraid of what might happen to us or skeptical hat their needs are genuine? While we need to be wise and wary, at the end of the day we are responsible for our hearts and actions and not the other person’s motives.
My Advice – We all know that immediately after the above question “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. Isn’t it interesting that the two in the parable most likely to lend a hand did not (maybe they used some of the above rationalizations), and the one least likely to care at all (the “hated” Samaritan) cared enough to act. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37, NIV 1984).
Maybe the ones we find in apparently needy situations are our “hated” Samaritans. Should it make a difference? The point of the parable is no. They are just as much our neighbor as the ones we visit with over the white picket fence.
My Musings – It’s easy to dump on the Pharisees. After all, their name has become synonymous with self-righteous hypocrisy making them easy marks for criticism and condemnation. But what if we substituted the word Pharisee in the above verses with the word Christian? Is that how the world sees many of us? Are they justified in seeing us that way? We want to scream that they are way off base. That we are under attack and being unjustly persecuted. But we need to be very careful before we dismiss it outright. For you see, “the problem with self righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin. but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because you see, grace is only for sinners.” ― Jerry Bridges, evangelical Christian author, speaker and staff member of The Navigators.
We might think, why should we care what the world thinks of us? Well, if they are wrong, and perhaps they are in most cases, we need not care. Jesus did say, after all that in this world we will have persecution, and that if the world hated Him, we should not be surprised if they hate us too. But if they are right, even about a minority, we should care very much. For Jesus also said they (the world), will know we are His followers if we have love for one another. And if they do not see His love in us and from us, then the truth that we are proclaiming will not seem very much like the truth.
Another reason we should care is because Jesus cares. He had nothing but condemnation and anger (yes, anger) for the teachers, scribes and teachers of the law that exhibited such self-piety and hypocrisy. His attitude was not a casual “well actually,” but a very much heated “woe to you!“…”You snakes! You brood of vipers!” Whoa. Let’s take a closer look at these “woes” from Matthew 23, NIV 1984, and learn from them. We do not want to become 21st century Pharisees.
- Hypocrites – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.“
Sons of Hell – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.“
Blind Guides – “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?”
Neglectful – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.“
Greedy and Self-Indulgent – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.“
Whitewashed Tombs, Dead Men’s Bones – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.“
Full Measured Sinners – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!“
My Advice – I am sure that the vast majority of Christians are not this way, or at least not blatantly. But are there times we “deny” God’s grace to those whose sins seem greater than our own? On occasion, is the way we behave on the outside inconsistent with how we are on the inside? Do we overly focus on certain evils (“strain out a gnat“), to the exclusion of others (“swallow a camel”)? Are we so self-absorbed by the “injustices” that we must endure that show no mercy to others? Let’s just say whoa to woe.
My Musings – Wow! Talk about being intolerant, insensitive, and lacking political correctness. Paul goes on to say, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:1-5). In other words, it is grace alone through faith in Christ alone. Any variation from this is a perversion of the Gospel. It is, in fact, no gospel at all. This message was not an invention of Paul. Jesus Himself said that He was the only way. Other “gospels” and religions may seem attractive, “shiny” and have a form of Godliness, but in the end lead to eternal death. “Not all that glitters is gold.”
But why would Paul, or any other Christian be so harsh. Notice that Paul is not expressing these sentiments to people who hear and reject the Gospel of Christ. For them he has pity and sorrow. But to those who try to lead others astray, he has no such feelings. It is one thing to be responsible for our own poor choices and decisions that affect only our soul, it is quite another to lead other souls astray. Paul allows no quarter for them.
My Advice – I know this post will not be popular with a great many. They might even make the same claims against Christianity. But if Paul was right, if Jesus was right, the stakes are high. If they were wrong, there are no stakes at all. Those are the only two possibilities – they were either right or they were wrong. You owe it to yourself to investigate the claims for yourself and make your own judgment. In the end, the decision is yours. But let it be an informed decision.
My Musings – Lest we think that being more righteous than most, or that our “righteous” acts will outweigh the rest, and will be sufficient to gain us entry to Heaven, this verse assures us that these will not save us. It is not because of our righteousness, it is in spite of our unrighteousness. If not for God’s mercy, there would be no salvation for anyone. Furthermore, mercy is not an obligation (as if we earned it), it is wholly unmerited, and undeserving.
My Advice – Seek His mercy, because you cannot achieve salvation any other way.
My Musing – In English, the word love can be a bit ambiguous. I love chocolate. I love my mate. I love my child. Same word, different types/degrees of love. In this text, Paul chose one of the four Greek words that are all translated love in English. He used the word agape, which is a selfless, self-giving and unmerited love that God shows to humankind in sending his son as a suffering redeemer. (Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., p. 14). San Francisco: Harper & Row.).
Selfless – “God demonstrates His own love for us.” Demonstrate means to show or express (a feeling or quality) by one’s actions. He was under no obligation to do so other than His character and being demanded it.
Self-giving – “Christ died for us.” It doesn’t get more self-giving than that. It doesn’t get more demonstrative than that.
Unmerited – “While we were still sinners.” Rebellious offenders (sinners) of what God demands (sinlessness) merit nothing but judgment. Yet God offers forgiveness. It was not if you do this (clean up your act) for me, then I will do this (offer forgiveness and salvation) for you. That would not be a demonstration of love, it would be a demonstration of justice. Through the sacrificial death of His Son, God found a way to simultaneously demonstrate both His “agape” love and His righteous justice in one act of grace. “You see, at just the right time [while we were still sinners?], when we were still powerless [unable to do anything to change our sinfulness], Christ died for the ungodly [deserving eternal separation from God].” (Romans 5:6, NIV 1984).
My Advice – Show our appreciation by accepting this free gift.
My Musings – Perhaps the most universally known Bible verse (at least by football fans) of all time.
He loved – before we loved Him. No guarantee we ever would. Him knowing that many never would.
He gave – at the greatest cost imaginable. While we were still sinners. No fine print. No purchase required.
Whoever – no one is disqualified. Not just the elite. No exclusions apply. That means you and me.
Believes – that’s all there is to it. Pure grace. Maybe it’s because the offer is so unbelievable that so many will not believe, will not accept. Maybe it’s because we think that free is actually too costly – we don’t have to pay anything for it. But we must be willing to give some things up (our sinful lifestyle). Yes, that is part of believing, but look what we get in the exchange.
Eternal life – That’s forever. Heaven. With God. Pure bliss.
My Advice – Believe. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” (Jim Elliot)
My Musings – If God is a just god, . . . [fill in the blanks]? There was a time when this sentence did not start with the word if. It was readily accepted that God is just. Times have changed, but God has not. Actually, the sentence should begin with the word since. Since God is a just God, . . . [fill in the blanks]?
Since God is a just God, He has (Jesus on the cross) and will (the Last Judgment) deal with sin and injustice that has occurred in the world.
For those who have accepted Christ’s atoning death, sin and injustice has already been dealt with, and He will (in the life to come) make up for all the suffering that they have had to endure.
For those who do not accept Christ’s atoning death, sin and injustice will be dealt with at the Last Judgment, and the suffering that they have endured in this life will pale in comparison.
Lest one should dare to say that God is unjust, it need not end that way. Each and every one of us has the opportunity to avoid such a fate, only because God provided a remedy that is open to all. He was not obligated to do so, after all, we were the ones that chose to go our own way in the first place. But He chose to.
But if one still wants to begin the sentence with if, the blanks should be filled in like this: If God is a just God, why would He ever offer us grace? Because justice and mercy intersected at the cross.
My Advice – Think about it. Once we do think about it, it is indeed “unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.” God did not do wrong, He became “wrong” in our place in the person of HIs Son Jesus Christ on the cross. God did not pervert justice, He perfected justice.