Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sunday Leftovers (5/11/08)

A few thoughts about various items in Sunday's sermon —

Ransom is release from sin. And I need release from sin (though you and I are both want to admit it).
In a recent blog post on Desiring God, Abraham Piper helped me think clearly about this issue. We usually think ourselves to be more righteous than others who have more obvious demonstrations of inherent unrighteousness. But, reflecting on the story of the woman caught in adultery, Piper notes,

[Jesus] seems to have two categories in this story: perfect and not perfect. So what Jesus really suggests is, if you are in the latter category, what in the world do you think you’re doing judging other people who are also imperfect just like you?

The fact that I’m imperfect in a different way—that I don’t sin the same as the guy who gave me the old highway salute—is totally irrelevant to Jesus. As long as I’m any kind of sinner, no matter how benign my faults might seem, I am still just that—a sinner, the same as an adulteress or a gesticulatively angry driver.

There is only one place I belong, and it’s not standing with stones in my fists, threatening someone else in the “not perfect” category. No, the only place I belong is crouching in hope at the feet of Jesus with the adulteress, and hopefully, with that other guy on the interstate, too.

Jesus is right: worldly leadership is proud, authoritative and "tyrannical," and not servant-hearted. I thought much about verse 42 in this passage, and thought about numerous secular books on leadership that often tout something akin to what we would recognize as servant leadership. Is Jesus' statement accurate?, I wondered. Then I thought of the implications of the words are recognized and lord it over them and great men and exercise authority. What Jesus is pointing to is the issue of pride and self-exaltation (and not Christ-exaltation) and self-dependence (and not Christ-dependence).

And then I thought of a book written 20 years ago by historian Paul Johnson, in which he sought to examine the personal lives of those who have significantly influenced intellectual thought in Western culture. He examined the lives of men like Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Tolstoy, Hemingway and Sartre, asking the question, "How did they run their own lives? With what degree of rectitude did they behave to family, friends, and associates? Were they just in their sexual and financial dealings? Did they tell, and write, the truth? And how have their systems stood up to the test of time and praxis?"

This is how he concludes The Intellectuals:

What conclusions should be drawn? Readers will judge for themselves. But I think I detect today a certain public scepticism when intellectuals stand up to preach to us…The belief seems to be spreading that intellectuals are no wiser as mentors, or worthier as exemplars, than the witch doctors or priests of old. I share that scepticism. A dozen people picked at random on the street are at least as likely to offer sensible views on moral and political matters as a cross-section of the intelligentsia. But I would go further. One of the principal lessons of our tragic century, which has seen so many millions of innocent lives sacrificed in schemes to improve the lot of humanity, is — beware intellectuals. Not merely should they be kept well away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of particular suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice. Beware committees conferences and leagues of intellectuals. Distrust public statements issued from their serried ranks. Discount their verdicts on political leaders and important events. For intellectuals, far from being highly individualistic and non-conformist people, follow certain regular patterns of behaviour. Taken as a group, they are often ultra-conformist within the circles formed by those whose approval they seek and value. That is what makes them, en masse, so dangerous, for it enables them to create climates of opinion and prevailing orthodoxies, which themselves often generate irrational and destructive courses of action. Above all, we must at all times remember what intellectuals habitually forget: that people matter more than concepts and must come first. The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas. [my emphasis]

Those who serve as worldly leaders — those who are esteemed as "great men" — are, in fact, unworthy as leaders because they are unworthy servants. Just as Jesus said.

Because Christ paid such a great price to redeem us from sin, our hearts should abhor that sin. Yet so often we are inclined to and even love the very thing Christ has redeemed us from. Spurgeon said it well —

Do you roll sin under your tongue as a sweet morsel and then come to God's house on Sunday morning and think to worship Him? Worship Him! Worship Him, with sin indulged in your life! If I had a dear brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I valued the knife that had been crimsoned with his blood?...Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the incarnate God; can you love it? Oh, that there was an abyss as deep as Christ's misery, that I might at once hurl this dagger of sin into its depths, whence it might never be brought to light again! Begone, 0 sin! You are banished from the heart where Jesus reigns!

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