One of the important lessons that Christians must learn in the face of sin and failure is honest confession and repentance. This means naming sins biblically. Confession literally means to “agree with God.” This must be done simply, straightforwardly, and cheerfully. At the same time, one of the other lessons that must be remembered is that the enemies of the gospel love to exploit Christian repentance for their own purposes. And the enemies of the gospel have no sense of proportion. They know that Christians must be sorry for sin, confess it, and turn from it. Most importantly they know that Christians tend to be very tender and therefore easily manipulated when they are down. Sometimes this is calculated, but sometimes it’s the sum total of a culture’s apostasy leaning heavy on a situation even through the good intentions of good people.
So when good men are accused of sin or failure in some fashion, thoughtful Christians need to examine the whole situation carefully. Part of this examination should include the integrity of the accusers. Another part of the examination needs to be the context of the story we’re in. And there’s a great episode in the gospel that helps illustrate this point. On one Sabbath while Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain field, his disciples picked some heads of grain, rubbed them together in their hands, and ate it. Apparently some of the Pharisees were close at hand, army-crawling through the bushes with binoculars and night vision goggles, and when they saw this scandalous miscarriage of justice, they called in the SWAT teams and bellowed through their bullhorns, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” (Lk. 6:2). Jesus refers the Pharisees to the story of David and his men eating the showbread from the tabernacle at Nod, recorded in 1 Samuel 21. There’s a pile of interesting things to notice in the story, but for now I only want to point out three things. First, notice that Jesus was the kind of threat that inspired such lugubrious scrutiny. When you and your ministry are under the microscope of the world, welcome to following Jesus. Surely some of the disciples were dismayed and discouraged at this state of affairs and decided to find a new rabbi when they realized it was going to be this kind of fun. Some folks still think that they can follow Jesus and not be harassed by Pharisees, but rearranging the furniture can’t fix this. Second, notice that the Pharisees were wrong about Jesus and his disciples despite whatever rules and regulations they had cooked up in their traditional Sabbath guidelines manual. Just because somebody accuses a Christian of something super-duper, double-whammy bad, doesn’t mean it really is. And sometimes it may be a careless mistake but it isn’t the screaming goat scandal they want to make it out to be. And third, the Pharisees’ hyper scrutiny lines up with a character named Doeg the Edomite who turns out to be a spy in Saul’s service who ultimately leads the execution of all the priests of Nob and their families: men, women, and children (1 Sam. 21:7, 22:18-19). Jesus is not only exonerating his men, he is also implying that the Pharisees are evil spies, scrutinizing Jesus and his men like a Doeg in the service of some new Saul.
And let me back up and make one more global point. Bad guys don’t wake up one day and decide to be bad guys. The Pharisees didn’t wake up one day and decide that Jesus needed to be killed. Injustice builds momentum. Mobs are avalanches that begin with trickles of dishonesty. It’s easy to read a Bible story like the one about Doeg or the Pharisees and just imagine them dressed in black with fierce snarls permanently etched on their faces. But they were just people, like us. They had families. They had hobbies. And they got caught up in their circumstances. The logic of their actions and arguments caught them and pulled them to places and events that they probably would have never dreamed. And the same thing still happens today. Words and actions have consequences. Because we are made in the image of God, our words are magic; they have gravity and they pull us in particular directions. They create momentum. And this brings us full circle to the necessity of honesty in confession and repentance.
Our culture has completely abandoned all pretense of Biblical fidelity. We have enshrined in our highest law codes a belligerent defiance of the God who made this world and His Word and His Messiah. We have covenantally defied the God of Heaven. We have taunted Him and dared Him to come down. We have done this by our blatant disregard for His Word, His justice, His truth. And in its place, we have proclaimed ourselves gods. We have insisted that God has not made us, and therefore we are not His. We have made ourselves, and therefore we belong to ourselves. Thus, men can be women, and women can be men. And marriage is whatever we want. But this means simultaneously that we are also demanding the right to proclaim what is evil and what is sinful. Ethics always works this way. There is a corresponding evil for every enshrined virtue. You can’t push the lever at the top and require it not to move at the bottom. It’s all connected. If you insist that it is righteous for two men to defile one another, then you must also outlaw those who say it is evil. But at the same time, this lever that we are brandishing is nothing more than our whims. The sum total of all of this results in a corporate judicial blindness and confusion. We have no way to measure proportions. We have no way of dealing out biblical justice. We have thrown out the scales, and now we will inexorably find ourselves at the mercy of the mob.
This has resulted in a situation where despite our demands for unlimited sex with anyone anywhere at anytime, we still have an irrational demand for pedophiles to be burned at the stake. Whether this can hold now that old men can insist that they are actually young girls remains to be seen. One of the only other unforgivable sins in our culture is academic fraud. And don’t get me wrong: pedophilia and dishonesty and theft are all evil in God’s sight. But justice is concerned with making things right, and actually putting things right. This is what repentance and restitution are all about. But if we will not listen to God’s word, we will be left to the mercy of the mob. What do they demand? We are back to the capricious blood lusts of the pagan deities of old. The high priests of the holy shrines will run our questions through the entrails of aborted babies and let us know what the gods demand. If we do not submit to the God of Heaven, we will find ourselves at the whims of the gods of the earth.
This is all to say that Christians have a grave duty in the face of this kind of chaos and confusion not to be swayed and manipulated by the demands of the mobs. We must own our sins. We must confess them. But this means that we must agree with God about them and not their idols. We must apply His justice and His blood to them, and we must not give into their demands to let them medicate us with their witchdoctor tomfoolery. Where God gives us principles of restitution we must apply them fearlessly. But this is the thing: despite all the shrieks we routinely hear from our enemies that the God of the Bible is so mean and petty and bloody, it is simply not true. The picture that emerges as we search the Scriptures is actually a God who limits the bloodshed, who insists that you may only take one eye for one eye and no more. And if you have taken something, you must give it back and pay for any damages. And if you accidentally damaged something you must merely replace it. What we find is a remarkably gracious God. It is the Baals and Asherahs that demand blood for everything. They demand disfigurement for theft. They demand a pound of flesh for accidents.
But we will not serve their gods. We will not bow to the shrines of their deities. We are Christians. We were bought with the precious blood of Jesus. And it is precious. And therefore we will not be moved by demands for more blood. Because the good news is that it is finished.