Summary: In God's kindness, we see the light that exposes our sin not as some glaring, off-putting intrusion but as the grace and mercy that it is.
First Presbyterian Church
Wichita Falls, Texas
June 26, 2011
GETTING PAST THE OFFENSE
OF THE GOSPEL
Matthew 10:40-42 (NIV)
40 “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
There is something about the gospel that is inherently offensive. I don’t like saying that, and you may not like hearing it. But it is incontestable. The gospel puts some people off.
Take David and Roland, two high school friends of mine. David was what you might call a nominal Christian, by which I mean he was a Christian in name only. He and his family belonged to a church, but you wouldn’t exactly call it the church they went to. It was more like the church they stayed away from. One time, just to get David to go to his own church, I went with him. For him, the faith was inessential, at best a nicety. If he ever even thought about what churches are for, he might have said, as others have, that they’re there simply to ‘hatch, match, and dispatch.’ The church is nothing more than a place to get baptized, married, and buried.
My other friend, Roland, was not nearly so amicable in his estimation of the faith. He considered himself an agnostic, and not only did he think that religion was inessential; he considered it to be dangerous. For him, the faith was intellectually indefensible. He could see very little evidence for the existence of God and much evidence against it. I spent I-don’t-know-how-many evenings composing letters that I would give to Roland the next morning, in hopes that I could persuade him of the truth of the gospel. I never did.
Both David and Roland found the gospel to be offensive. For David, Christianity was simply inconvenient. It seemed much too restrictive in its demands. It was an irritant that threatened his independence. It was a commitment too costly to make. It was an uninviting path. For Roland, the offense was different. Christianity was philosophically inconsistent. He couldn’t match up its claims with his coveted rationality. He found the Bible and it system of beliefs to be beneath him intellectually. I was unable to persuade either David or Roland of the truth of the church’s creed. Like many others before and after them, they found the gospel to be offensive. And they rejected it.
Over the centuries, the church has replied to this rejection in a variety of ways. Two of the most common are accommodation and withdrawal. When the surrounding culture has been unreceptive to the gospel, the church has sometimes tried to take the offense out of its message. It has ‘watered down’ the truth in an attempt to make it more palatable. To some extent, that’s what Friedrich Schleiermacher attempted in the eighteenth century with his book, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers.
At other times, the church has said to society, ‘I’ll just take my marbles and go home.’ It has chosen to withdraw into the safety of its own isolation. Fearing that too much of the world’s ‘water’ is getting into the proverbial boat, it simply seeks safe harbor and goes into dry dock. Or, it may be that the rejection is too painful, or the claims of Christianity too embarrassing, or the effort to tell the story too costly. And what do we do? We retreat. We fold. We give up.
Neither accommodation nor withdrawal, though, seems to be the faithful response to rejection. The passage we read today from Matthew, chapter 10, of course, talks more about those who receive our message than it does those who reject it. But when we look at the context of the passage, we see that it is part of a larger whole. And that larger whole is made up of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples before he sends them out on their first mission. And if we read Jesus’ words in their entirety, what we see is that Jesus is pretty ‘street smart.’ He gives ample indication that not everyone will receive the well-intended ministry of the disciples. They are being sent ‘to heal every disease and sickness’ (v. 1) and to announce that ‘the kingdom of heaven is near’ (v. 7). But not everyone will be glad to see them.
In verse 14, Jesus says, ‘If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave.’ In verse 17, he says, ‘Be on your guard…. [Some people] will hand you over to the local councils and flog you….’ And in verse 22 he says, ‘All men will hate you because of me.’ Think about it: This is the very first mission trip ever! And it is no Sunday School party. It is fraught with danger. ‘I am sending you out,’ Jesus says, ‘like sheep among wolves’ (v. 16).