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Category: Law

Jesus is the problem

Over the years, I have seen t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., which express a simple thought about Jesus in order to appeal to the un-churched.  One of them goes like this; ‘Jesus is the answer’.

While I don’t disagree with this statement, it doesn’t do too much to connect everyday people with their Savior.  Most people probably read this and then go about their day.

Let me offer an alternative, ‘Jesus is the problem’.

At first blush, this looks blasphemous.  Yet, let’s consider how Jesus was received by the Pharisees of his time:

 10Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9, NASB).

They had a problem with Jesus.  He wasn’t holding to the Law in the way that they were.  They were holding Him to a standard that focused on outward righteousness and adherence to the Law.  They expected Him to be ‘squeaky clean’.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Jesus touched the sick.  This was enough to make a person unclean!  An unclean rabbi?!! Perish the thought!  Jesus was their problem.

The Pharisees were caught up in their own righteousness defined by external law-keeping.  Instead of leading them to Christ, they were offended, no, scandalized by Jesus.  They couldn’t conceive of a God-man who was able to infect the sick with health, infect the blind with sight, infect the dead with life.

Their Law-observance led them away from the God who gave them the Law.  Law observance leads to two main directions: 1. Self-righteousness and unwillingness to become unclean, or 2. Despair and rejection of God’s Law (rebellion).  It lead the Pharisees to condemn Jesus and plot how they might destroy Him.  That’s one way to get rid of the problem!

You would think His disciples were better at understanding who Jesus was.  But, they were constantly jockeying for position:

35James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory” (Mark 10, NASB).

They believed Jesus would enter Jerusalem and fulfill the ascension Psalms (1 and 2).  They were about to have a great king, and they were on the inside!

So, Jesus corrected their thinking with the Servant Songs from the last portion of Isaiah (just read Isaiah 53).  Jesus had to become the scapegoat for human sin before He ascended to the throne.  Jesus was their problem.

Both the Pharisees and the disciples were Theologians of Glory.  The Pharisees were invested in their self-righteousness, position and power to be pleasing to God.  The disciples were invested in their sacrifice and in the ‘big pay off’ from following Jesus.

But, Jesus introduced a new Theology into the world.  Jesus was THE Theology of the Cross.  His death meant the end of the Law because He fulfilled the Law and swallowed the consequences for law-breakers.  The Pharisees who had believed that they were ‘pulling it off’ could now find the consequence to their behavior on the Cross that Jesus hung on.

The disciples, hopelessly defeated at Jesus’ death would find out that the truth was much deeper and greater than their own ambitions.  Jesus’ resurrection was the demonstration of the power of God.  It also meant that they lived in the reality of a new life; a new creation.  And, as the Spirit was poured on to them, they experienced the beginning of this new creation.  They became self-less, pouring out their lives in true sacrifice, rather than self-serving ambition.

We don’t want to think about this.  Christians don’t want to believe that they have a problem.  They’d rather go to their Christian chiropractor, their Christian dentist, and their Christian plumber and keep clean.  This is much easier than finding our righteousness was never ours from the start.  So, we return to our own vomit.

That’s why Jesus gets in the way of the things we really want to believe.  He gets in the way of what we really want to do.  All of the religious observance meant to earn God’s favor.  All of the brown-nosing ambition.  It’s all rooted in the same beetle-ridden dead tree; the self.

So, Jesus came.  The only way to end our self-idolatry was to die for it.  And in His death, at His cross, He frees us from bondage to law-keeping and selfish ambition.    He did this by becoming sin, being crucified and crushed for your sin and mine by God the Father.  He buries you with Him in Baptism.  And, the coup de grace was that he was justifying you in His resurrection.  He has made you a new creation through this work.

Therefore, there is no reason to return to the Law for righteousness.  Christ, Himself is your righteousness.  Live in the light of the Son of God who gave Himself for you.  The problem has become the answer.

Amen

 

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Bound or free?

Why do I do what I do?

Over the short course of my career as a bi-vocational pastor, my eyes have been opened to the nature of sin.  It is not that I am pre-occupied by it.  The Lord made me in such a way to desire more than the simple answer.  I always want to know the answer to “why?”

It might go something like this; I see someone gossiping.  I understand that gossip is a sin, but if you simply address the surface-level sin, then you are treating the symptom, not the illness.  Other pastors might say, “Well, the root is sinfulness!”  That is true, too, but this statement doesn’t address the issue.

In my experience, it is helpful to consider the factors which lead someone to behave in this way.  I want to understand human behavior.  Buried under the human psyche, the surface sin might be emanating from something much deeper.  Maybe some kind of pain or trauma that the person has had.  Maybe a feeling of vulnerability that lies just beneath the surface.

So, whatever the case, I have come to realize that a person who spends their time gossiping is in bondage.  Just as a person who rebels against God’s Law is not free, but in bondage.  Just as another who judges their fellow man is in bondage.

A person can recognize that they are bound; they can clearly see their own issue(s).  They can even feel guilty or convicted by their behavior.  Yet, they are unable to change their behavior.  They are slaves of sin.  This understanding helps me to be compassionate towards the person.

Hiding from ourselves

It would be easy to separate and divide others outside the church from those inside the church.  We could say, “Yeah, but look at what they do!  They’re much worse than I am!”  Religiosity blinds us from the fact that “YOU are the man!”  We don’t want to admit that we Christians are the ones who need to be set free from the “law (read rule) of sin and death”.

In order to do this, we set up complex structures of excuses, justifications or claims of ignorance.  Sometimes, we just don’t want to see our sin.  To be honest with you, it’s because the old Adam (or Eve) in us doesn’t want to be seen for who he/she is.

We are so bound by desire to preserve the old Adam , that we will pretend to be faithful on the outside just so the old Adam never gets exposed from the inside.  Let’s face it, the old Adam is good at hiding.

As sons and daughters of Adam, we hide behind piety which keep us in control.  Instead of letting God have His way with us, we have strengthened ourselves against the God who would save us from sin.  In reading the Gospels, you will find that it was the religious leaders, so invested in their own piety, who resisted the free Gospel of Jesus Christ.

No Surprise

It comes as no surprise, then, that the most Christian among us display these ‘cracks in their armor’.  Why?  Because they are not cracks at all.  Gossipers, rebels, the judgmental all see themselves as righteous, not really needing God at all.  All of these manifestations of sin are the evidence of bondage to sin.

This principle can be applied to nearly anyone who displays gross sin.  Please understand, I am not saying that we are excused from sin because we are enslaved by it.  All of these behaviors emanate from our own hearts, not someone else’s.  The devil didn’t make me do it.  It’s in my blood and in yours.

Our hope isn’t in our piety or religious observance, in fact, these are contributing to the problem.  You and I are tempted to overcome sin by behaving in a “Christian” way.  It won’t work.  Our good behavior cannot end our bad behavior.  It simply keeps the old Adam in control.  Instead, we need to find outside help.

“Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death?”

Paul the apostle writes the above in Romans 7:24.  In fact, He uses the present tense verb, am in the phrase, “wretched man that I am!”  Paul is describing his present condition in relation to the law.  What is this Holy Apostle to do?

He writes this, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”.  Paul has abandoned himself (and his impeccable reputation) in light of his awareness of depth of sin.  He looks to the outside savior.  He looks not to the old Adam for overcoming sin that he sees in himself.  Instead, He looks to the New Adam, who overcame sin for him.

The experience Paul writes about is meant to help his readers identify with his plight and his salvation.  We are inside the struggling heart and mind of Paul, the Apostle.  And, he is not too proud to share his struggle with us.

His salvation came from the outside.  His Savior came from the outside.  Your Savior is completely outside of you, too.  He is on the cross dying for all of your sin and mine.  He is the only sacrifice for sin.

The church is where the outside work of Jesus makes a difference on our insides.  Not because we are religious or faithful, but because He is faithful to come to us in the proclamation of His Gospel.  He is faithful to be present in, with, and under the bread and wine (or, grape juice).  He is both the author and perfecter of our faith.  His forgiveness is a living forgiveness that is distributed by both word and sacrament.

Start new again.  In fact, start new every week.  Come wicked sinners.  Because, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15).  And, in the end, He will have His way with you anyhow (Forde).

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

How to bind a human conscience

For all the pastors trying to get people to do what they should, here is an easy set of directions to follow;

Preparation:

In order to be truly effective, you must gloss over any scripture that speaks of the finality of Christ’s work, or the continued unconditional work of Jesus Christ in the life of the believer.  If you let them know this, what will be the motivation for sanctification?  For example, where it is written Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2), add the idea ‘if you follow His commands faithfully’.  This will give you the entry to dictate what application points the congregation needs today.

Method:

1. Assume that All of Scripture has application points for believers.  They want something to do, and your job is to make the action points crystal-clear.  If you have difficulty finding application points, expand the amount of scripture you’re covering until you find some

2. Separate verses from their context to emphasize their importance.  James 1:22 reads, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  This is ready for your application points to the congregation.  Don’t forget that these need to be tangible actions they can follow

3. Other verses don’t seem to be ripe for application, but you can overcome that if they are general.  1 Pet. 1:16 states, “Be holy for I am Holy”.  “Being” isn’t really doing, but you can expound on this verse and explain that this verse means we have to keep clean from sin.  Then, you can give them 5 or 6 ways to do this.  Philippians 2:12 states, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”.  Ignore the fact that this is written to a group (your is in the plural) and move right into private morality.

3. Do NOT preach out of the Old Testament!  Although there are many good rules to follow in the Old Testament, that part of the Bible does not apply to Christians

4. Give your sermon a catchy name like, The seven steps to a better prayer life, or Nine ways to overcome sin.  When people read the title, they know they are going to get some practical instruction.  This empowers them to believe they can do it

5. Remember, people are sheep.  They need to be directed at every turn.  Without the guidelines you give, they will end up outside the sheep pen

©John Dostal 2016

It’s about relationship, not relgion (?)

Spiritual, but not religious

20140913_095005(0)[Grapes becoming raisins]

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious”? Maybe they said it to you after you invited them to come to church.  How did you respond?  What did you think?  Were you thrown off-guard and feel that you were being judged because you are “religious”?

Many in the church have accepted this form of thinking. They say things like, “It’s a relationship not a religion” to distinguish how they worship God.  But, why the distinction?

Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller explains that many evangelicals are adopting this phrase because they see religion as law, and relationship as gospel[1].  In other words, religion is the repetitive, meaningless, impersonal and somewhat legalistic practices of a church without God.  It’s empty and hollow at best.  At its worse, it prevents one from having a real relationship with God.  It’s deadly.

He goes on to explain that relationship is gospel to those who embrace this thinking.  It is free, flexible, personal, and liberating.  To a culture that is bound in so many ways (work, children’s activities, commitments at home, etc.), this personal spirituality is preferable to formal corporate worship.  Our problem, then, is a lack of direct contact with Jesus.  Relationship is life-giving.

To be honest, life-giving sounds a whole lot more positive than religion.  I can throw off all my cares and simply relate to God.  And modern evangelicals are right to point out the need for a Christian to read the Bible on a daily basis as a part of this relationship.  A poll taken in 2012, though, shows that Christians in America aren’t doing this across the board[2].  Less than 20% read the Bible daily.  Despite all the English versions, despite colorful covers, despite cross-referenced Bibles with color maps and concordances, Bibles are gathering dust on Christian nightstands.

Modern American Christians do read, however. We read books on spirituality, recovery, self-esteem, end-times drama and even weight-loss from the Christian bookstore.  Because, let’s face it, the Bible is a challenging book to read.

It is a sad state of affairs. Martin Luther, who was a Bible scholar commented, “For some years now I have read through the Bible twice every year (emphasis mine). If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.”[3]

It is here that many of us (if not all) would admit that we don’t read the Bible as much as we should. We’ve, “gotten behind” in our readings.  And, maybe you are feeling a bit guilty right now as a result.  Who would want to continue a relationship where guilt and shame has poisoned the waters?  “I don’t want to feel condemned”, we might say to ourselves.  It’s easier to bury it under the busy-ness of our lives.  And thus, the relationship stops growing.  It goes dormant.  Eventually, it dies.

Now what? Some people decide that they will do a ‘Bible reading plan’.  They will re-commit themselves to their daily ‘quiet time’ and “really do it this time!” They are willing to set aside friends and family for this personal devotion.  And, by force of will, they push through for the first few weeks, but then, life starts to encroach.  Billy gets sick and needs to be taken to urgent care.  There’s a sale at the store, and we need to stock up on food.  My boss has called me in to work late again.

Or, we start to lose interest. The stories in Genesis (not fiction) give way to laws.  Laws give way to endless genealogies.  The walk through Scripture reading becomes a burden.  So much for the gospel of relationship!  Mid-way through Leviticus you think, “Can I get through this?  Maybe I could skip ahead.  Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.  I’ll skip to the Psalms and come back later.”

Eventually, you have skipped over half the Bible and realize that you’ve cheated. Now, you’re feeling guilty again.  “I just can’t do it.  I give up”.

And this is where many people end up after years of trying. They decide it’s futile.

The problem for the church is that it has made Bible reading into what Confessional Evangelicals call Law. That is, it is a demand and a requirement that God places upon you.  If you do this, you will have a relationship.  If not, you need to re-commit your life to Jesus.

The Christian is in a cycle of hopelessness. Despair for failing to fulfill the requirements of this relationship overwhelms the individual and they suffer in silence.  They are forced to cover over their relationship in fear of judgment from fellow believers.

Now, something spiritual is taking place.  The heart (deceitfully wicked as it is[4]) condemns the believer; they become bound by condemnation.  Instead of promised freedom, liberation and hope, despair, guilt and shame rule over you.

And that, my friends, is the Devil’s work. Making something that God meant for refreshment and encouragement into something oppressive and enslaving is clearly the theology of the devil worked into the church.  So, God must rescue us from this body of sin and death!

He does this by starting with … Scripture. Hear the following truth; 1 ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8).  And, 3 ‘For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.’

God did it! He has set you free in this relationship.  He doesn’t condemn you when you haven’t read your Bible in a while.  Instead, He beckons you to hear His Word of forgiveness and grace.

You see, the problem is not that we don’t have a relationship with God, it is that we have a law-based relationship with God. In verse 2 above, it is better read, “… through Christ Jesus the rule of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the rule of sin and death.”  You are no longer under the rule and dominion of the devil and the heart.  Christ has set you free.

But, how can I learn about this true freedom? You can hear about it in the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel given in church.  You can read about it in His Word.  You can find out more through the small catechism and the confessions of our church.

The Son of God hasn’t come as a new Moses, giving new and better laws. Nor has He come to give less laws or easier laws.  Jesus Christ has come to fufill the Law[5].  And, He has already done it!  All of the Holy requirements for Spiritual perfection have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

Additionally, we are called to go to Him when we feel any kind of condemnation for our relational shortcomings: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). John continues in this letter: 19 ‘By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything’ (1 John 3, ESV).

Our relationship with Jesus began when we were buried with Him in baptism and raised through the very same waters as mentioned in Colossians 2:

6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

See, you just read a bunch of Scripture! That didn’t hurt a bit, did it?  And, if you don’t like to read, just find the Bible on C.D. somewhere.  You can listen in your car or at home.  It’s God’s gift to you.  It’s not a ladder of perfection that you have to climb.  It is God’s word of promise (Old Testament) fulfilled in Jesus (New Testament) for you.  Now that’s a good relationship!

And now, may the grace of God keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,

Amen.

Pastor John

[1] http://issuesetc.org/2015/02/17/2-responding-to-evangelical-proof-texts-christianity-is-a-relationship-not-a-religion-pr-bryan-wolfmueller-21715/

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/september/new-research-less-than-20-of-churchgoers-read-bible-daily.html

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works Vol. 54, 165

[4] Jeremiah 17:9, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (NIV)

[5] Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (ESV; Jesus speaking).

Rotted roots

Everyone who has ever read the Bible has come to it with a prior belief about it (presupposition).  Those who say, “I just believe what the Bible says”, live in denial.  The fact is that everyone comes to the Bible with a point of view on what it is for.

Here is a brief analysis of a couple:

Moralists: This sect reads the Bible literalistically.  That is, they read the Bible and reduce it to achievable works.  Confessional Evangelicals see them as anti-nomians, because they minimize the impact of the law.  They tame the lion and make it a kitty.

Mystics: This group reads the Bible analogically.  That is, even portions of Scripture that are not written as analogies are analogized.  The following is a good explanation of this error:

http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/revelation/introduction/the-rise-of-allegorical-interpretation.html

In both of the above errors, the belief is that the scripture serves as a means to receive God’s approval or have an ecstatic connection with God.

Confessional Evangelical: Not to be confused with Modern Evangelical.  The assumption is that Scripture is about Jesus.  This is founded in Jesus speaking to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), and Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).  In these two sections of Scripture, the Old Testament is interpreted through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.  That is to say, the Bible is not about you, it’s not about God, it’s about God the Son saving sinners.  The second Adam has come to reverse the curse of the first Adam.  Seeing Scripture as primarily about Jesus is truly evangelical doctrine.

Unwilling

Tullian Tchividjian wrote a book called, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”. I have taken a look at it on Amazon to see if it would be an interesting read. I began to look at the comments to see what others said about this book.

I looked at the lowest scores and saw that my former pastor, Michael Fabarez had critiqued the book. His criticism was a clear example of conflicting theologies. His comments attacked the type of sanctification Tullian proposed. Pastor Fabarez employed scriptural ‘proof texts’ to refute the non-‘biblical’ view of sanctification that Tullian was supporting.

To understand why Pastor Fabarez did this, one needs to explore the foundation of his thinking. He is completely invested in Lordship Salvation theology.

Lordship Salvation theology teaches that from beginning to end, our faith works synergistically with God’s grace in obedience so that we can be Holy Christians. The presupposition is that we have enough good in us to say yes to God by making a decision for Him. Our will has the ability to say yes to God. In fact, the human will is seen as a sort of ‘neutral agent’ or even a positive, sinless agent in relation to God. Thus, the synergy of human will and God’s demands in Scripture continues throughout the Christian life.

The reformers of the 16th century dealt with similar theologies. Luther used the term ‘Semi-Pelagian’ to characterize the Roman Catholics who held this view. Calvinists had to confront Arminians who held to the synergistic model, as well. Lordship Salvation may appear to be evangelical, but this is an illusion.  It is nothing more than a re-hash of the medieval ‘divine spark’ theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

With such a strong faith in human will, it is also a rejection of the biblical concept of total depravity as seen in the letters Paul wrote to the Colossians and Ephesians. What can this mean, ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1) or, ‘And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses’ (Colossians 2:13). Neither of these verses supports the idea that we have the smallest ability to ‘repent and believe’ by an act of will.

The other significant issue is that of sanctification. This is where Lordship Salvation proponents really dig in their heels. Sanctification is a matter of total surrender and obedience to the commands in Scripture. The Reformed call these ‘imperatives’. These imperatives fit into a model of biblical interpretation.

Lordship Salvation adherents interpret their Bibles more than literally, however, they interpret their Bibles literalistic-ally. That is, everything, even poetry, analogies, metaphors and parables are bent into shapes they were never meant to hold. Anything that is not a command or directive is seen as secondary to the life of the believer.

Scripture is used aggressively within the church and against those outside of Lordship Salvation. Instead of examining the hermeneutics one uses, adherents simply assert, “the Bible says it”. Context, original purpose, audience, and the overall narrative of Scripture are minimized for the argument one makes from a single verse.

And, the overall narrative is misunderstood, as well. It is a narrative of Law as lord. It is important to remember that there was a 400+ year span between Abraham (faithful) and Moses (thus, the giving of the Law) when faithful people had no Law.

It is also lost in the discussion that Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law for you. Instead, the emphasis is on the ability one has to repent, believe, and obey. In short, Lordship Salvation is an invitation to centering your belief on … yourself. The reformers called it, ‘incurvitas en se’, or ‘being curved in on oneself’. It is the perfect theology for the self-centered people of our present-day culture. You are still in control. No need to be crucified and resurrected, just dusted off and shined up a little. No need for Jesus, just a strict moral adherence which will make you right as rain. The ultimate goal is the binding of the will to God’s commands.

The Law is not used properly in such a hermeneutic. Instead of being a mirror by which one sees his/her own sin, the Law is tailored and pacified into achievable goals to live by, instead of the raging lion that reveals our total sinfulness.

Contrary to Lordship Salvation’s foundational belief about the human will, the will is neither neutral nor good. Jesus says so in Matthew 23:37 and in John 5:40. Contextually, the latter verse is addressed to the ‘religious’ people of Jesus’ day (read Pharisees) who “… search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life …” However, they missed the point, “… and it is these that bear witness of me” (emphasis mine).

To believe that the will is somehow entirely sanctified after one repents and believes is to deny the reality of sinfulness. It is to say that when we sin, it is not sin, but just a mistake.

It is no wonder Pastor Fabarez must aggressively attack Pastor Tchividjian’s book. He isn’t just fighting for his ideas, he’s fighting to keep the Old Man (read ‘Old Adam’) in control. He’s fighting to keep the Old Adam alive. He’s fighting to keep the Holy Spirit’s work of magnifying Christ out of his church. He’s fighting to continue being god, as are all those who hold to Lordship Salvation.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This message of compassion toward immigrants to the United States can be found at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  It bears a striking resemblance to a statement Jesus made as recorded in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Emma Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” and donated it for the building of the pedestal for the statue of Liberty.  Her family had been immigrants from Portugal and were Sephardic Jews.  The complete poem reads thus:

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, 1883
As I continue working with immigrants from all over the world, I am moved by stories of escape from political persecution, poverty, lack of opportunity and religious persecution.  Many of my recent students are Christians who have left Syria to escape the violence that has killed many of their own.
When they arrive in the United States, they come to a land of peace.  They come to a land of hope and promise.  They come to a land of freedom and liberty.  That’s not to say the U.S. doesn’t have it’s issues, but it’s a far cry from the everyday stresses of survival that they have had to live with.  Most people are grateful to come here.
After Jesus spoke about the Judgment of the cities of Israel who rejected Him, He offered this,
28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Christian, is your soul burdened by the guilt, shame and hopelessness your pastor has heaped upon you?  Have the “biblical principles” told you that you need to be “squeaky clean” in order to come to God?  Do you fear that, despite all of your best efforts to hold to the demands of the the law, you are falling behind and cannot make up the ground?  Do you feel hopelessness, despair, and defeat?
Then, Christ welcomes you to come to Him.  He doesn’t ask that you clean yourself up, because that is His job.  He simply wants you to come.  It wasn’t ever-cleaning Martha who did the right thing by sitting at the feet of Jesus, but Mary who gave up on her own effort to please God and see that Jesus pleased God for her.
Jesus welcome you now by saying, “Come to me…”  He doesn’t say this to the perfectionistic, self-absorbed, self-righteous, self-cleaning and holier than thou church member.  He says this to those who see their failures, weaknesses and willful sinfulness.  He says this to those who despair of their own ability to keep the “application points” their pastor gives them every week.  Jesus says this to you and me.
And, He continues to say this.  “Come to me …. and I will give you rest”.  This rest is not just for the now.  It’s not just in this place, but He has gone before you to set up a place in Heaven for you to live with Him forever in eternal peace, rest and glory.
The welcome mat is laid out for us, and that welcome mat is the broken body of Jesus given for you.
Now and forever,
Amen
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