Sunday, April 18, 2010

Killed by Kindness

Matthew 21:31
Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.’"

Love is kind. But there is a type of popular Christianity in the world today that is ironically cruel in its kindness. Not the generous and gracious kindness that looks out for the well-being of others, but rather a fiendish sort of friendliness which spares your feelings but forfeits your soul. It is a selfish kindness of sorts that avoids awkward confrontation because it abhors the unpleasant experience of being uncomfortable, even for a moment. This type of religion would never dare to openly offend. Its preaching is always pleasing; its atmosphere is always approving. It grants you not merely the right to your opinions, but the rightness of all opinions, so long as they are sincere. It is a sort of be-cordial-at-all-costs religion. Simply put, this religion tells no one they’re wrong.

Now whatever you wish to call this faith, it is certainly not Christian and it is certainly not kind. It may boast the same Bible, it may tout the same traditions, but it certainly cannot claim the same Christ. In the text above our Lord was exposing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He told them a story of two sons. One said he would not obey the father, but afterwards repented and did. The second said he would obey, but afterwards did not. These Pharisees were like the second son. And just in case the story was not clear enough, Jesus looked these religious leaders in the eyes and said “tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” Before YOU! It would be hard to imagine words more calculated to offend and upset.

O my soul, do you understand what you have read? The point of this parable is plain. Our minds miss the message because it is too painful to ponder. Let me state it bluntly: Heaven is for bad people who repent, hell is for “good” people who won’t. Do you think yourself a good person? So did these Pharisees. Are you basically kind, generous, and good to others? Hell is filled with similar folks whose lives were far too respectable to merit repentance in their eyes. Do you have a certain moral standard you try to model, a personal code of conduct as your creed, a list of do’s and don’ts by which you measure yourselves and others? Who doesn’t measure up in your mind? He or she, if they repent, enters heaven before you. “Tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.

Dear reader, are you bad enough to be a Christian? Or are you too good for the gospel? The only place men get to on the basis of good behavior is Hell. Heaven is for sinners who repent. I may not have spared your feelings, but I hope to save your soul. You may count me unkind. So be it. Better to be accounted cruel for telling the truth than to kill you with kindness. Better the somewhat bitter boldness of Christ than the sweet lies being served and swallowed in so many sermons today. Unless we repent, we cannot be saved. Continue just as you are, go on in the way you’ve been going, be true to yourself…but know this…“tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.”

Allow me another moment for 4 brief points of application:

1. Is it not clear that you and I have failed to divide this world up the way God does? We tend to split mankind into the blameless and the bad, the worthy and the wicked, the saint and the sinner. Christ says that the real difference is between those who repent and those who do not. The gospel does not call upon men to be nice; it calls all mankind to repent. C.S. Lewis once put it this way “We must not suppose that if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world." The religion of our culture calls all men to be kind. The religion of the cross calls all men to repent.

2. Is it not clear that there exists a wide and comfortable road that goes straight to Hell, made up of good people? This crowded course permits men and women from various religions to travel together, differing in their opinions of each other, but quite uniform in their opinions of themselves. On this path the moralist blissfully meanders and the righteous ramble along. Here the church goes chugs, proud of his churchly ways. Here the spiritual independent strolls, equally pleased that she can be just as good without it. Here the atheist gleefully glides, calmly convinced he can be quite good without God. All are Pharisees in their own way. None are particularly prone to repent. Each one is happily on their way to Hell. William Secker, Puritan pastor and author once characterized such travelers in this way “Many have passed the rocks of gross sins – who have suffered shipwreck upon the sands of self-righteousness.”

3. Is it not clear, dear reader, that there is still time to repent? Jesus’ words may have stung the self-righteous Pharisees, but it was a sting designed to drive them to repent. What about you? Have these words spoken to your soul? At the end of this chapter we read of the chief priests and the Pharisees that “they perceived that He was speaking of them (Matthew 21:45).” Is He speaking of you? Is He speaking to me? There is still time to repent. This will not always be the case. A hundred years from now the case will be settled forever. A thousand years from now it will be clear how important this moment was. In a million years will Christ’s words be crying out to your condemned conscience “tax collectors and harlots HAVE entered the kingdom of God before ME?

4. Finally, is it not abundantly clear that Christ came for sinners like us? Drink for the thirsty, food for the hungry, and Christ for sinners like you and I! Great sinners have already entered and more are yet to come. Christ Himself has said so. “Assuredly” He said “tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” They enter…they enter!! Oh dear reader, will you not repent and believe the gospel and enter also? You can never be too bad to be saved, but you may sadly be too good. Are you bad enough to be a Christian? J.C. Ryle said this “Let it be a settled principle in our Christianity that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is infinitely willing to receive penitent sinners.”