Questions, Simply Questions
by James Madden
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish My course. Nevertheless, I must go on My way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
Luke 13:31–33; Matthew 23:29–36
"Well that’s not very nice, Jesus! Go to Your room and think about how mean and hurtful these words are! If You don’t have anything nice to say…”
...And so the saying goes; Every Thought Captive often abounds with well articulated, tightly woven, and actionable exhortations to help us grow into conformity to the image of Christ. Today's devotion begins and ends with ellipses, for I am not sure how to exhort the Christian into Christ-like conformity today. I cannot articulate today's brewing kulturkampf, nor what historical tune we are raving to. But we are raging; make no mistake. And so I’m unsure of how we are to bring the Gospel and Jesus’s Kingdom to Dallas.
I know there was confusion within Jesus moment. There was dissension within the establishment of the religious and political quarters of Israel. Within 40 years, the temple would be destroyed and Jerusalem would be razed to the ground. Now to state the obvious concerning today: we are witnessing and participating in a time of political, spiritual, and social upheaval. Not-so-friendly friendly fire surrounds us as cultural institutions crumble. There is neither the space nor competency (from yours truly) to detail which institutions are falling and why, other than to say it appears we are living in the ruins, and therefore we must love in the ruins, as Walker Percy would proffer.
Political insurgents speak against the establishment. Former establishmentarians become insurgents; insurgents join the establishment. God is invoked. God is neglected. God is trumpeted. God is rejected. Unlikely alliances and bedfellows meet and nasty divorces ensue. What's going on? I don’t know.
So let’s start with what we know. Without naming heroes and villains, what can we assert with confidence that is good, true, and beautiful? Let’s begin with the beginning, middle, and end of it all. Jesus Christ is the Way, Truth, and Life. By His death on the cross, subsequent resurrection, and ascension into heaven, we know that our human story concludes with a happy ending, one where justice and love reign, embodied in the presence of Father, Son and, Holy Spirit dwelling with us in the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21). Two, only one “human institution” will last for eternity: the church. Three, the United States is not the Church. Four, we don’t know where we are in our own national story; the difference between the turning point and the denouement in any narrative is only decided by either the author or reader, not the characters. So, enough of the apocalyptic talk.
We do know that there is one true story, the redemptive arc leading Jesus from Galilee to the cross in Jerusalem (Luke 13:32). It must then inform both the perspective and tacit orientation to how we process and interact with one another. This storyline promises conflict, dissension, and even death. Yet it also allows for mercy, forgiveness, and new life. Jesus spoke harsh, harsh words to those “inside” the Jewish assembly (see Matthew 23) and “outside” to the king (Luke 13). He condemned the political establishment, and He condemned the religious establishment. So our way forward must not be to simply keep quiet, to not say anything nice if we have nothing to say at all. Dallas Willard once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Jesus stands with the truth.” Jesus is the Truth, but the truth of where we are and what direction we should march onwards is unclear at the moment. I know one thing for sure: I don’t want to align with the Pharisees, and I don’t want to align with Herod. I’m not sure who Herod or Caiaphus is/are today or whom the establishment(s) is/are. Maybe there aren’t any. If anyone is sure and can offer an understandable, relatively cogent picture, please give me a shout (I’m serious).
Questions, simply questions. Thanks be to God for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Take heart, for He has overcome the world. And pray. And pray some more. This is a time for prayer, wisdom, and then bold words and actions adorned in truth and love. We must stand with the Truth. We must love in the ruins. To do so is un-Christian and ultimately destructive. Now come, Lord Jesus...