by Mike Ratliff
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:1-8 ESV)
I usually read two to three books at a time. No, not at the same time, but I will have those books in process all at the same time. One of these books I am reading now is the biography of William Tyndale by David Daniell. I read it over a year ago, but I am re-reading it. I wanted to go over again the condition of the visible Church at the time of the Reformation that God used to inspire men to be willing to be burned alive at the stake because they dared to put the word of God into the vernacular so common people could read it.
Fallen man is enslaved to the flesh. When God regenerates and justifies sinners, saving them unto eternal life in Christ, the flesh remains. When we are born our pride and flesh are the main vehicles that we use in order to seek fulfillment. Our salvation does not eradicate this. Since discipleship in our churches is so shallow we do not learn that the most fulfilling place is to be humbly before the throne of grace seeking our Lord’s glory in all we do. Unfortunately, most do not learn or know this. Why? We learn this when we understand that none of us deserve salvation and that without God’s grace we would be on our way to Hell. We are all sinners.
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. (Matthew 21:28-31 ESV)
The Jews our Lord was addressing as he spoke the parable above were the ones who were questioning where our Lord got the authority to clean the temple of moneychangers and merchants. When they refused to answer Him about the veracity of the baptism of John the Baptist He spoke this parable which describes the difference between sinners saved by grace and the self-righrteous who claim salvation, but are far from the Kingdom of God.
The two sons in vv28-31 represent respectively sinners who repent and self-righteous people who think they need no repentance. Tax collectors and prostitutes would have been viewed by these Jewish leaders as the scum of the earth yet our Lord says they will enter the Kingdom “before” them. Our Lord is not saying that these dregs of society will go first then these Jewish leaders, but that they would find salvation while these accusing Him would not. Let’s use an analogy for this from our time.
Think of a large wealthy church full of the pillars of the community. They sit in their pews every Sunday hearing sermons about moralism. These messages are designed to make them feel good about their own outward morality. They never hear sermons about the fact that they are sinners. They don’t hear sermons about repentance. No, instead they are absolutely sure that they are not sinners at all. In fact, when they hear the word sinner they think of those people in the state penitentiary and the prostitutes over on the other side of town.
Now, think of the local rescue mission and half-way house and the maximum security prison in your town and state. Here we see the people that those in that large wealthy church call losers and sinners. However, there are chapel services for these people in these institutions where the the clear message of the Gospel is preached. There are convicted criminals who have committed heinous crimes on the front row. There are drug dealers and users. There are child abusers. There are prostitutes. However, as they hear the gospel they sit with tears in their eyes as they hear of the cross and realize their sins have been forgiven. They are saved because they believe these words. No where is it found in scripture a hard word against a poor sinner stripped of self-righteousness. Think of the prostitute who wept on Jesus’ feet and washing them with her tears, wiping them away with her hair. Our Lord told her that her sins were forgiven, Go and sin no more.
Which group enters into the Kingdom of God? It is the second group not the first. The first group will end up plunging into everlasting darkness if they do not repent. Now do you see how radical the message of the Gospel really is? What each of us must do is determine what group we are in. My brethren, we are all sinners and none of us deserve salvation. This view must be foremost in our hearts until we go home to be with our Lord. If not then we will take our salvation for granted and become self-righteous.
This is why it is vital that we seek to appropriate the Gospel every day. I mean, we must mourn our sins and rejoice because our Lord took them upon Himself at the cross. Then we will experience the joy of forgiveness and acceptance afresh. We learn to live and walk in His all-sufficient, finished work.
I have become convinced that the barrenness of the visible Church in our day is as the day prior to the Reformation. There is little knowledge of the Bible. Many in “ministry” are so shallow in their understanding of scripture that they have no idea how to rightly divide the Word of truth. It was as I re-read that part of Tyndale’s biography dealing with the outright persecution of the Word of God being available to the common people that I recognized that this is exactly what our enemy has been doing since the fall in Genesis 3. He knows that we must have God’s Word in order to know God. We can only be the Christians God desires for us to be as we get His Word in us. Therefore, our enemy does all He can to separate us from the Word of God. One of the tactics in our time is the liberalization of the Church. This takes many forms. This is why we must continue to see ourselves as sinners who desperately need the grace of God all of the time. When we see ourselves any other way then we will fall for the lies that liberalize the church and bring the darkness of apostasy. Let us never forget that God is not really after pew sitters. No, He wants us to know Him and live out our lives fully dependent upon Him for our all. Do the self-righteous do this? Nope, so let us continue to mourn for our sins and rejoice in the cross as we remain in God’s Word until He takes us Home.
Soli Deo Gloria!