We Need A Better Scapegoat Than Matt Lauer


There is a fairly common human impulse to find a scapegoat.  

We will put forth a person who has done some evil deed, and our righteous anger at him is supposed to absolve us of any of our own moral guilt.  And his punishment is supposed to be enough to lower the cosmic justice deficit so that our punishment just gets graciously overlooked, like a first time $40 overdraft fee (he said with experience).  

We collectively put forward someone we all agree did something truly hideous to be our divine judgment-bearer (because even those who don’t believe in god believe in God).  

“This one.  Take him as our offering.  He has _________.  We are all outraged (and secretly grateful it wasn’t us who was put forth for our sins).  We have banished him from the good graces of our society.  Please look away from us, now.”

But even righteous outrage won’t make a man righteous.  And another person who deserves punishment getting punished doesn’t make me any less deserving of mine.  I need more than just a pointed finger and another sinner getting his just desserts.  

I need a truly righteous man to give me his righteousness.  And then I need him to take my punishment for me.  

Now, there was actually a time in the reign of King David when God punished the land for the sin of a man long dead, but allowed for an imperfect human scapegoat to bring a temporary end to His judgment.  

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year.  And David sought the face of the Lord.  And the Lord said, ‘There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.’  So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them.  Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites.  Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.  And David said to the Gibeonites, ‘What shall I do for you?  And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?’  The Gibeonites said to him, ‘It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.’  And he said, ‘What do you say that I shall do for you?’  They said to the king, ‘The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.’  And the king said, ‘I will give them.’  But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.  The king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; and he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together.  They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.

2 Samuel 21:1-9

God allowed the deaths of these men, with their bodies hung up for all to see, to be His people’s scapegoat.  He allowed them to be put forth as the people’s representatives.  

But this was all foreshadowing the Great Scapegoat to come once and for all 1,000 years later.  His body, hung for all to see on another mount (but before the same Lord), would appease a far more terrifying judgment.  And it would bring a far greater healing than an end to a famine.  

If I may repeat myself:  This is a very basic human impulse, this desire to put someone else forward as the evil one.  After all, we each know we’ve sinned, and we know what the penalty for sin is.  So what hope is there but a scapegoat?  But being outraged about Matt Lauer or Russell Simmons won’t save you.  And they cannot be your scapegoat (or mine).  We should hate sin, both our own and that of others, but we cannot expiate our own individual guilt by trying to put forward a famous person with his own deviant sexual sins to answer for.  He won’t do.  

We need a better scapegoat.  We need, in fact, the best one.  

We need the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of His Cross.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

2 Corinthians 5:21

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Happy Reformation Day!

Just wanted to take a second and commemorate Reformation Day.  500 years ago Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a door in Wittenberg, and a Reformation ensued.  That Reformation centered on what the Gospel really was.  

So today I thank God for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which has always and will always be the only way of salvation for sinners.  Any teaching which contradicts that Gospel is a spiritual poison.  And I hope someday our fellow souls in the Roman Catholic communion will teach only and purely the Word of God, and not the commandments of men.  

If anyone says that by faith alone the impious are justified (that nothing else is required to obtain justification and that it is not necessary to use one’s own will), let him be anathema.

Roman Catholic Council of Trent, 1545-1563.  

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 

Romans 3:28

Faith alone in Christ alone is what saves a man.  We cannot be made right with God by any other means.  

So today I thank God for the Gospel, and I also thank Him for all the men and women who have stood on God’s Word and faithfully proclaimed that Gospel, Martin Luther among them.  The Gospel, that God justifies sinners through faith in Jesus Christ, is what the world needs.  

Happy Reformation Day, all.  And to Him be the glory! 

To the Lost and Abused


You are not forgotten. 

You are not irrelevant.  

This world of sin and sinners is often a place where young girls are sexually abused.  Where little boys are ignored by their fathers or beaten by their fists.  Where the small or disadvantaged are trampled by the anger or selfishness of warped men with warped hearts.  

Creation groans under sin.  

And Satan delights in it.  

He hates truth, hates Jesus, and loves pain.  

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?

Genesis 3:5

And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.  She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your disability.’  And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.  But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There are six days in which work ought to be done.  Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’  Then the Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites!  Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?’  As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. 

Like 13:11-17

This is a world where Satan often whispers a violent and treasonous song over the most helpless of people, and then dances to their fear and their pain and their bewilderment.  And it is a world where others join his twisted song.  

But it is not his world.  

Hear me.  

Let Hell and death and sin clamor for your soul.  Let them.  But their loudest ragings will not prevail if you will despair of all other hopes and instead call out to Jesus, like a lost and helpless child.  

Let your anxieties and all your most jagged memories creep up on you like old ghosts with sharp teeth.  They will not get to claim you if you are ransomed by the King of Kings.  

Let pain be pain and fear be fear.  Neither will have the last word if you will believe in Jesus.  

I know you have been wounded to the bone.  

You don’t trust people.  You don’t trust God. And you don’t trust “the world,” by which you probably mean people and God.  

You have heard that God is different from the one who abused you, but you don’t believe it.  

Believe.  

The one who violated you?  I know he used you.  But this is a God who was obliterated to bless people just like you.  

He lied to you.  But this is a God who speaks only truth; He can do no other.  

He promised to change, to be better, only to hurt you time and time and time and time again.  But this is a God who endured Hell and shame and death and agony to keep His promises. 

This God is different from the one who hated and harmed you.  Unimaginably different.  This Jesus will never leave, never forsake, never forget you.  He would rather die than lose those He claims, and the Cross stands as a vertical proof of it.  This is a Lord with a heart for the lowly and the bruised, and who breaks all the violent who refuse to repent. 

You have suffered.  

So has He.  

And at the place your suffering and His meet, namely your faith, a new song starts.  One that sin and death and Satan hate to the core.  

And one that is no whisper, no lie, and that never, ever ends.  

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 

1 Peter 5:8-9

The Thing Politics and Rallies Can’t Do


I find politics interesting.  I have for almost as long as I can remember.  And I find cultural trends and movements interesting, too.  But what I get reminded of from time to time is that even my particular political philosophy, and that even the best of social causes, simply cannot get to the root of any society’s deepest issues.

And the Gospel can.  

The reason why the Gospel has a better solution to a nation’s poverty, violoence, and family breakdown than either mere laissez faire economics or mere social justice movements is that the Gospel does 2 things the others don’t:

  1. Correctly tells men what they are.
  2. Then offers to make them something else.  

You see, neither supply side economics nor a graduated tax system, neither the Temperance Movement nor Black Lives Matter, fully deals with what is causing poverty, hate, and death.  We can debate the wisdom of each of these ideaologies, but each (and many other similar economic paradigms and social movements) stops short of identifying the root cause:  The sin in every living human heart.  And none, even the wisest and best, political or social ideology can change those hearts.  
Enter our Gospel.  

The Gospel offers to break a man’s knees in repentance and then to rebuild him into an eternal son who can withstand the assault of sin, Satan, and death.  

The Gospel shows a man what he really is, and the role that he has played in the evil, oppression, selfishness, and idolatry in the society (and wider world) around him, and then tells him how all can be made well.  

The drumbeat and rallying cry of many of these political and social movements is “They are the problem, you are the solution.”  The message of God in His Gospel, however, is “You are the problem, I am the solution.”

I believe limited government and free market economics are good.  And I sympathize with what I take to be the central theme of the Black Lives Matter movement (that the lives of black Americans have been historically and even presently discounted).  But neither conservatism nor the Black Lives Matter movement will fix the fundamental cause of poverty and hatred:  Sin.  Which doesn’t mean these or other movements should automatically be dropped, but simply that we cannot expect them to be a silver bullet.  Jesus said that the poor would always be with us, and the reason is that until He returns there will always be sin with us. 

The good news is that wherever the Gospel is preached and then believed, sin’s grip weakens, and there we can see a measure of supernatural victory over all of sin’s symptoms.  

The Bible lays a out a principle:  What you worship produces what you do.  And since we are born worshiping ourselves and false other created things, our greed and unforgiveness and hatred of whoever keeps us from getting what our idolatrous hearts want churn out more pain in a world already with and groaning under sin.  And so we can’t expect politics or revolutions or rallies to do what’s necessary to truly subdue greed or violence or hatred:  Changing what people worship.  

So I want the Gospel to be the first message that leaves my lips out there in the bruised and bruising world.  The message that God made a good world, then we ushered in sin and death by disobeying Him, that we deserve to die and receive eternal judgment for it, that Jesus took on that death and judgment for all who truly believe in Him, that He has sent His Holy Spirit to empower His people and make them more like Him, and that He is returning to judge the living and the dead and reign for eternity with all His people.  That is the power of God for everyone who believes.  That is what can save and change men to their cores.    

The Gospel can do what nothing else can.  

I Know Someone Who Can Kill Your Racism


I write as a Christian, here.  And the Christian has a unique calling in the face of things like Charlottesville, because the Christian has something that can truly dismantle these evils.  

 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. 

Galatians 3:27-29

There is nothing in the universe that can unify human beings with more power and more permanence than the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth.  Where the Gospel is believed and lived out, racial hatred cannot long live.  There is no Jew nor Greek among His people.  

But let me put the disease under the microscope for a second.  Pride is at the heart of what we call “racism.”  And pride divides.  Now, the Gospel divides, too, but in a very different way.  Where pride seeks to exalt the self by demeaning some other person or group, the Gospel divides the redeemed, those made meek and holy by the Father, Son, and Spirit, from the hardeharted and impenitent.  Pride divides by breaking an island off from a continent; the Gospel divides by chiseling off a family from a mob.  And pride produces men who hate those from whom they’ve divided.  The Gospel produces men who pity those still in the mob.  

Now let me step away from the microscope and use what we just saw to form a hypothesis:  If you let the racially proud have their way, if you gave them a country made up of people who only share their skin color, it would only take about 10 years before they would start turning on each other for some other reason.  They would find a new way to identify the “pure” or the “fit,” and of course in each individual’s case that ideal citizen would always be someone just like himself.  Because pride always exalts the self, and thus it always produces factions.  Proud people always end up with smaller and smaller circles, because they always want to be the one at the center of those circles.  And a circle can only have one center.  

Allow me an athletic metaphor:  Pride always ends up being a solo sport.

But now back to the Gospel.  The Gospel sets a man’s sight on the One who is truly the center of the universe.  It takes a man out of himself.  It makes him hate who he was and love who his neighbors are.  It does to pride what RoundUp does to weeds.  And so here we as Christians stand with something, and truth be told it’s the only thing, that can kill what’s killing people.  The only thing that can destroy racial hatred and its cause.  Here we have something that can bring men and women of all shades and all cultures together forever in the face of a sin that pits one violent heart against another.  We have the power of the living, triune God:  His Gospel.  The Good News of the Christ who died to save sinners through faith in His Name.  This thing does what no law nor education nor mere moral reform can:  It kills old men and brings forth new ones.  It slays proud men and resurrects them humble ones.  We stand in a world of divided people, and we have something that doesn’t merely force black and white, old and young, city and rural people to tolerate each other; it changes them into men and women who want to die for each other.  

We have a power, here Christian.  

So, I know someone who can kill your racism.  

He is the maker of all men, the King of all cultures, and the Savior of people from every tribe and tongue.  

He is the God of the Gospel.  

He is Jesus the Christ.  

This Great Revolution


The greatest revolution in history is the revolt of the Kingdom of Jesus against the ruler of this dark air, against the principalities of self-love and pride and idolatry and greed that have set themselves up as “kings” in this world.  

The greatest revolt of all time is the one eternal light is mounting against these temporary shadows.  

The church, flawed though she is, is the instrument of that revolution.  She is the people of the coming victory.  

The church, the beloved wife of Jesus Christ, is a people of dangerous love.  She is a people of violent forgiveness.  Christians are a battering ram to the world’s worst lies, both the ones it’s told and the ones it’s been sold.  Our Christian kindness undermines the world’s bloody economy.  The church’s mercy upends this world’s dark systems.  

Our love of children assaults abortion.  Our care for the poor undercuts materialism.  Our promise-keeping in marriage takes a baseball bat to lust.  Our humble serving stands against belligerence and hate.  Christian kindness towards our enemies is an assault on everything Hell stands for.  We are fighting against something just by being children of God.  

We are ice cold water thrown into the face of a world stunned and punch drunk by bitterness and rivalries and selfishness.  We make war with hate by the audacious power of love.  We overcome evil with good.   

We are the people of the greatest revolution.  

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Romans 12:21

15 Seconds For the Bitter

  

Often, the chain that binds your heart to bitterness is self-righteousness.  It’s the controlling, constant belief that you did not deserve what was done to you.  And so you can’t forgive.  You can’t stop re-living it.  You can’t stop hating.  

If that’s you, let go of the illusion that you are intrinsically righteous, and you will find your heart freer to forgive.
In Christ, we can know that our sins against God are far more offensive than any sins committed against us.  And we are offered forgiveness by grace through faith in Him.  

Preaching this great Gospel to one’s self helps to foster forgiveness and kill bitterness.  Because no man is ready to forgive from the heart more than the one who knows how wicked he was before Christ.  

Where self-righteousness locks you to bitterness, the Gospel frees you to forgiveness.  

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

Matthew 6:14-15