I take my sin far too lightly.
As a result, I can be almost blasé about the gospel. I know it is good news, but I easily forget that it is staggeringly good news.
To reorient my heart, I have been asking God to show me my sin afresh.
He has. It’s been alarming. And I can only see the tiniest corner of it. I know that beneath my respectable exterior lies a tangle of questionable motives and thoughts.
In addition to being intentionally self-examining lately, in reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days, I have been struck by my similarity to the disciples. I can all-too-closely identify with their sin.
Like Peter I’m impulsive. I speak before I think and regret my rashness later. I have denied Christ in the company of non-Christians, wordlessly listening to their comments without mentioning my faith. ‘I want to be a silent witness,’ I rationalize, but the truth is I just want to be silent.
Like James and John, I want power and recognition. I may do it in a subtle, it doesn’t-matter-to me way (perhaps have my mother ask for me, as they did) but I love being recognized. I want to sit at Jesus’ right or left hand, but I am not willing to drink the cup that accompanies it.
Like Peter, James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane, my spirit may be willing, but my flesh is weak. I want to pray more fervently, evangelize more boldly and live more selflessly, yet I fail miserably. I give in to my natural tendencies in the same way the disciples gave in to sleep.
And I’m even like Judas, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. While I am appalled at Judas’ actions, he was a man who saw Jesus as a means to an end. Perhaps he thought following Jesus would result in money, or prestige, or power if Jesus overthrew the Roman government. Whatever it was, Judas didn’t get what he wanted from Jesus. He was following Jesus for what he could gain, not because of who Jesus was.
Paul Tripp recognizes this tendency in us as he asserts in his devotional, “Each of us wants God to sign the bottom of our personal wish list, and if he does, we celebrate his goodness. But if he doesn’t, we begin to wonder if it’s worth following him at all.”
I remember being surprised when my son was diagnosed with a heart problem. I was unconsciously operating on prosperity gospel principles – that financial blessing and physical healing are always God’s will for us. Well-meaning people around me reinforced that twisted theology, encouraging me to “claim the healing” I was entitled to. In that view, Jesus is more of a good luck charm or magic genie than a Savior, as he is supposed to fix up our lives, heal our diseases, and make us successful. Without God’s severe mercy, I might still believe that today.
I didn’t just see my how my sin was similar to the disciples’ sin; I saw myself in everyone who was responsible for Jesus’s death.
Pilate washed his hands and declared himself innocent as if it were that easy to remove his guilt. He knew that condemning Jesus to die was wrong, but he was so afraid of the people rioting that he did it anyway. I’m afraid of people too. I worry about what they’ll think of me. Taking an unpopular stand for what’s right is so much harder than making a safe consensus choice.
Then there was the crowd. Easily swayed. One moment they were laying their coats down and shouting “Hosanna” and the next minute they were shouting “crucify him.” When they saw that Jesus wasn’t the deliverer they thought he’d be, they all turned against him. I too have mentally turned against people who have disappointed me and unthinkingly followed the crowd as well.
And lastly there were the chief priests and Pharisees. They were the instigators of the plot to kill Jesus because they hated him. Surely, I couldn’t be like them.
But to my bitter regret, as I sat with Scripture, the Pharisees were the ones I most closely identified with.
The Pharisees appeared to do it all right. They tried to follow the law. They were teachers. They studied the Scriptures. They were well respected. They justified their behavior because Jesus was a rebel and, in their minds, had blasphemed against Yahweh.
And as I look at their sin, it’s frighteningly close to mine. They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. They did all their deeds to be seen by others. They loved the places of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
They were blind to their sin. They were meticulous about their actions yet unconcerned about their attitudes. Outwardly they appeared righteous, but inwardly they were full of hypocrisy. Their motivations were hidden, even from themselves.
These religious leaders, who look chillingly like me, were most harshly criticized by Jesus. He called them blind guides. Hypocrites. Whitewashed tombs. A brood of vipers.
This similarity is horrifying and profoundly humbling.
Peter, James and John were saved by God’s grace and they went on to turn the world upside down through the power of the Spirit. (Acts 17:6). It would have been better for Judas and those who crucified Jesus had they never been born. (Matthew 26:24).
But the difference between these two groups was not in their character. They were all unrighteous at the core. The difference was how they viewed Jesus.
To the Jews, Jesus was a threat to their way of life and an ungodly man. To the crowds, one moment Jesus was a prophet and another moment he was a criminal. To Pilate, Jesus was an innocent man caught in the political crossfire. To Judas, Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, a powerful man who was useful at one time, but he was never Lord. Even at the Last Supper, when the other disciples all called Jesus “Lord,” (Matt 26:22) Judas still called him “Rabbi.” (Matt 26:25).
To the disciples, Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God. He was their Savior and Lord and they spent their lives proclaiming the good news of what Jesus had done on the cross. For without the cross, even the disciples, his closest friends, would have been eternally separated from God.
So, this Easter I realize how much I need forgiveness. The Lord knows my heart. My motives. The unkind thoughts that I dare not voice. He knows the evil I am capable of, and on the cross, he forgave it all. I am not saved because I am good, but because he is good.
Because of his extravagant love and grace, despite my mixed motives and deceitful heart and my terrifying resemblance to those who crucified him, I will spend eternity with Jesus.
This. Is. The. Gospel.