Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Greatest of All Sins

I am about 3/4 through Frank Viola's book - From Eternity To Here. I loved this excerpt on pages 85-87

A careful survey of the Gospels will reveal this one penetrating truth: Jesus Christ was the friend and defender of sinners. It was the tax collectors, the thieves, the prostitutes, and the adulterers that He welcomed into His kingdom. And it was to the highly religious, the self-righteous, and the morally upright (and uptight) that He leveled His severest criticisms. For such had disqualified themselves from the kingdom of God.

Your Lord was a specialist at inducing the fury of the self-righteous, religious elite. Presumably, this is the reason why the stories in the Gospels (let alone the Old Testament) are not peopled with the morally upright. We're quite hard-pressed to find moral heroes in most of them.

Now let's put a modern Christian in that room with Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Pharisees. A self-righteous Christian, mind you.

"Um [cough] ... Lord Jesus, did she ask You to forgive her? I didn't hear her say she was sorry for living as a prostitute. How do we know if she has really repented, Lord? Do You mind if I interrogate her for a bit, please?"

Such is the spirit of a Pharisee. And we have not so learned Jesus Christ.

Repeat: The greatest sins above all else are self-righteousness and judgmentalism. These will bar one from entrance into the kingdom.

In this connection, there is only one person in the universe who has the right to be self-righteous. It is Jesus Christ. And there is no such spirit within Him. Thank God that our Lord is not self-righteous. For if He were, none of us would have any hope.

I am deeply impressed that the Lord demanded nothing of Mary. Instead, He received her shameless act as proof of her love for Him. Mary loved Jesus at great cost. She loved Him in the presence of judgmental Pharisees, in their home, uninvited.

She "pressed into the kingdom of God violently" and loved her Lord unabashedly and without shame (Matt. 11:12; Luke 16:16). But what I find even more jolting is that Mary was completely confident that Jesus would receive her act of adoration. She had no fear of Him, only love. This observation alone is quite telling.

Luke closes the curtains on this scene with the Lord saying to Mary, "Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Throughout the many years that I have been a Christian, I have made the following observation: You'll never know if self-righteousness is in your heart until something tragic happens to a fellow Christian that you know. When somebody you know (or know of) falls short, makes a mistake, or is the subject of an ugly rumor, it is at that moment that a self-righteous spirit - if it exists - will rear its head.

To be self-righteous and judgmental is to disqualify yourself from the kingdom of God. It is to deny the fact that you are a sinner who is hanging by a cobweb of grace, just like the rest of us. If you get in touch with your humanity, you will make an important discovery: You are just as fallen as everyone else and just as undeserving of God's mercy as everyone else. Such a revelation should remove any judgmental bone in your body.

I find this story so very encouraging on many levels. But the point that I am most impressed with is in who Mary Magdalene was. To my mind, she embodies the very depths of the fall. She was a harlot, sold into sin, possessed by seven devils. Yet despite all of that, she was chosen to be part of the spotless bride of Christ.

Even more startling, despite her tragic condition, she believed that she was worthy to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Somehow, Mary touched His grace. Somehow, she saw in His eyes the love He had for her. And with an unbridled audacity, she accepted His forgiveness and she loved Him with a blind passion.

Mary's love for her Lord was but a reflection of His unconditional love for her.

The story ends with the Lord telling her to "go in peace." And in peace she went. In fact, she followed the incarnation of peace for the rest of her life (Eph. 2:14). For she became one of the Lord's most faithful disciples (Luke 8:1-3).



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