"... a date which will live in infamy..." (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, December 8, 1941).
President Roosevelt's phrase is one of the most widely known phrases spoken by any American president. However, for a follower of Jesus there are many other days "which will live in infamy" and these are far more widely known than the bombing of Pearl Harbor. One of those infamous events, of course, was the Judas kiss given by one of Jesus' apostles to betray the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. That day of infamy occurred at the end of Jesus' earthly life.
An equally wicked day "which will live in infamy" occurred at the beginning of Jesus' earthly life. Herod the Great tried to determine where Jesus was to be born so he could murder the child Jesus. Herod detested anyone who could possibly rival his claim as king. His solution was to murder them — even if they were his own children! Magi from the East had come looking for the one who was born "King of the Jews," so Herod set out to get rid of this rival. He instead murdered the innocent boys under two years old in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-18).
Two statements made about this incident should send waves of terror through the soul of every true believer:
- When King Herod heard this ("Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?") he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written..." (Matthew 2:3-5).
- Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him" (Matthew 2:7-8 emphasis added).
Why should this send a wave of terror through the soul of every true believer?
Herod first used Scripture as a means for determining where Jesus was to be born so he could murder him! See how easily Scripture can be perverted when we use it to justify, protect, and empower ourselves against our rivals? Isn't that humbling and horrifying — using Scripture to commit genocide!
Herod wanted to use the pretext of worship as a way to commit murder. The Magi came to worship the new King because of a celestial event. Herod wanted to twist their desire to worship Jesus into a way to kill Jesus. When it didn't work, he murdered other children in an attempt to murder Jesus anyway. Isn't that humbling and horrifying — using worship to commit genocide!
If Scripture and worship can so easily be perverted to commit such an awful crime, how much more easily can we use them to commit more socially acceptable or doctrinally acceptable or institutionally acceptable crimes against people that love Jesus?
We have spent two months focused upon building a culture of honor.* Ironically, I occasionally get asked why I would feel a need to write or preach or teach on this subject. After all, isn't the church a culture of honor?
The short answer to that question is this:
Yes, the church can be a culture of honor when those who claim to be Jesus' disciples live to see God's will done here on earth just as it is in heaven — when they live by Kingdom principles. Unfortunately, church doesn't always equal kingdom because all too often, we do not do the will of the Father. Instead, we look out for ourselves — our positions, our power bases, our coalitions, and our way.
So we don't just hand the Bible to folks and say, "Go build a culture of honor. You will learn how by reading the Bible and watching church people." Deep in our memory we know that there have been way too many days "which have lived in infamy" because church people, religious leaders, and people with religious authority have used Scripture and the pretext of worship to commit spiritual and emotional harm.
We have to have a filter to help us strain out our own self-interest when we read Scripture. We have to have a holy fear of manipulating Scripture to justify what we want at the harm of others. We have to be humbled at the prospect of feigning worship to gossip, label, ostracize, or wound a fellow brother or sister in Christ.
And that, dear friend in Christ, is just one of many reasons why God sent his Son to us. We needed a filter so we could know what the words of Scripture really mean and what the will of God is actually calling us to live. "For God so loved the world" he didn't send a book (John 3:16). Instead, God climbed into human flesh, into the womb of Mary, and revealed himself to us in Jesus of Nazareth, our Savior, Christ the Lord.
This Jesus is God's ultimate message to us (John 1:1-18).
This Jesus is the exact representation of who God is and how God wants us to live (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Faith in this Jesus is the key to unlocking Scripture so that it is not only useful, but it also leads us to salvation (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
All of God's promises find their "Yes!" in this Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).
And this Jesus is the goal of the Holy Spirit's work in us (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So as we seek to build a culture of honor in our families, our churches, our organizations, or our businesses, we must know this one truth: Any demand from Scripture, any requirement of our group, any expectation placed on someone seeking to follow Jesus, must be filtered through the teaching and example of Jesus. If our teaching doesn't match what Jesus taught or if it doesn't represent the way that Jesus dealt with people, then something is wrong with our understanding of the Scripture. Yes, we must tell the truth. Yes, we must lovingly confront those who have wandered away or are caught in sin. Jesus did these things and he shows how and why they are necessary. So, we must do them as Jesus did them!
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:34-35 NLT).
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
For more on the series, Building a Culture of Honor see the following posts: