Editorial – One? Really?

Divided we stand… Defending the truth – or just our pride?

…that we may be fellow workers for the truth (3 John 1:8)

The first Christians and their missionary Church received their education from the “apostles’ doctrine”. Two millennia later, the unified teaching of these same men is the unshakeable support of our faith. Now that’s a miracle! Let our amazement focus on the word ‘unified’. Besides their three years of ‘alpha-dog’ jostling for status, Peter’s impatience, Thomas’s dithering and the ‘let’s burn the Samaritans’ anger of James and John, often they just didn’t ‘get’ Jesus and sometimes even became the devil’s mouthpiece! The Twelve apostles could so easily have become the Twelve Factions! How did these unlikely servants qualify to teach unity to us unlikely servants today?

Judas, of course, did not qualify – but his three years with Jesus are deeply instructive… Let’s consider why Judas answered the call of Jesus. Remember, ‘they did not choose him, He chose them’. He called and they responded. Why did Judas follow Jesus – and why did he stay to the very bitter end? We could factor in his penchant for fiscal fiddling and put it down to greed. But at the outset, Jesus had no wealthy supporters and none of the trappings of money – quite the opposite. No, our answer will not be found in Judas, but in the One who called him. Given that Jesus knew he would prove a traitor, what would Judas have seen when his eyes met Jesus’ – disgust? anger? suspicion? condemnation? None of these. He was looking into the eyes of the Friend of sinners, himself included. Without doubt, Judas answered the same love that had drawn all the others.

Jesus could have denounced Judas at any time over the three years, but He didn’t. Peter severed the ear of a man who came to arrest Jesus – what might he have done to Judas? Jesus commissioned and sent out the “Twelve” (including “Judas Iscariot who betrayed him”) to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons”. (Matthew 10:1, 4, 8) What heady power to delegate to a man who would see every good deed – every miracle especially – with an invoice attached! But not more so than to a group of competitive men with burning questions about their own future status! Perhaps the first straw was the last for Judas when Jesus forbad them to take any financial gain from their ministry. (Matthew 10: 9-10)

Not clean… but washed!

Fast forward to Jesus’ final night on earth. Has Jesus’ love for the traitor cooled? Not by a single degree: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:1-5)

Let’s not skim over a crucial detail: “Then he… began to wash [Judas’] feet…”! This love makes no exceptions – it has no cooling point. The reason is theologically simple: “God is love” – He is never ‘less love’ – and Jesus is God in human flesh. He’s planning to die in the sinner’s place, why would he not wash his feet?

Since “His love has no limits…” “He giveth and giveth and giveth again”. At this point Judas’ conscience must still be capable of some feeling – the foot washing was intended to pull his darkened soul back towards the light: “not all of you are clean”, Jesus had said. That moment may have abruptly ended three years of self-delusion for Judas – he had fooled his peers, but not the Master. If his hypocrisy is now unsettled, another compassionate assault is only moments away. Imagine his astonishment when Jesus seats him in the place of honour close to Him at the table! We know his ‘table setting’ because of what Jesus does next…

While they are trying to process their Servant King’s frontal assault on pride, Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 to explain the strange events of the evening – which are about to get stranger still: “the one who eats my food has turned against me”. Suddenly emotional, Jesus announces that the traitor is right in their midst. The disciples are thrown into a perplexed melee of speculation about who might be the traitor. Judas is in the seat of honour, so it’s unlikely to be him… Perhaps only John, whose record this is, actually hears Jesus’s answer: “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas.” (John 13:26) This also is a recognised gesture of honour! This is not theatre. This is breathtaking mercy! “Love never fails”

When Judas finally left “…and it was night” he must have wrapped himself in darkness, relieved to have escaped love’s terrible spotlight on his dark soul…

Do we begin to see why the Twelve apostles never became the Twelve Factions? This extraordinary love of Jesus was like a spiritual force of gravity that held these difficult men in the peaceable orbit of Heaven. The Eleven would all forsake Him and flee. Peter would deny Him out of fear – but these all had belonged to Jesus since their eyes first met His. When many were troubled by His teaching and ‘turned back’ the Eleven stayed in His orbit: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. When He rose from the dead, they returned safely from their temporary darkness – and never left again. They were His glad captives. His selfless love was their only compulsion.

This is why – 2000 years later – these unlikely servants have the authority to teach us unlikely servants about unity. We who believe are the fruit of those branches who learned to abide in the True Vine. His love gave them unity. His life guaranteed their fruit. The unity of the Vine is determined by the rootstock, not the branches.

Mersey, not mercy

Unity will be a much more compelling issue for Christians in the near future because of developments in our society. We are watching the rise of a new secular religion. It’s where political correctness was always headed, but most of us were laughing at the more ridiculous early expressions of ‘PC’ when we should have been weeping, praying and preparing to proclaim Christ in a time of persecution. Francis Schaeffer recognised its deceptive ‘tolerance’: “There is a sad myth going around today – the myth of neutrality. According to this myth, the secular world gives every point of view an equal chance to be heard. And it works fairly well – unless you are a Christian.” The great tragedy of most of today’s western church is that, instead of preparing to be faithful in persecution, she is preparing to avoid it. Schaeffer saw this also: “tell me what the world is saying today and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying in seven years”. At present acceleration this could be revised to seven hours. This means that where faithful believers see the hypocrisy and the dark agenda behind so-called ‘hate crimes’ legislation, many other Christians will readily support it and condemn brothers and sisters who refuse.

It is essential that we understand unity in the light of John 15. Sadly, we have a track-record of trying to ‘fix’ disunity from the wrong end. As a young pastor I was much involved in ecumenism. This 1910 movement that was intended to address our fractured credibility in foreign mission fields sadly became ‘another gospel’ as liberal churches rushed to jettison Gospel truth that was deemed an obstacle to ‘unity’ and found their favoured memory verse on Merseyside: “All you need is love”. John 17:22 “that they may be one” was often quoted as a sort of charter document – ripped, of course, out of context to justify the mad scramble to graft two sick plants together in the vain hope of producing one healthy one. In context, Jesus was referring to unity with himself – as He was one with the Father. The Apostles were, by nature and disposition, incompatible. Only as they were each rightly joined to the Vine could they be unified – contrary to nature – for fruit bearing. When health breaks down it’s not the Vine that’s sick. When we can’t agree, it’s not the truth we need to jettison, it’s our pride! Somewhere one or both of the protagonists needs to see and admit error in the light of God’s Word. Instead of trying to defend our trenches we need to have the humility and the courage to ask the Lord if we’re really defending the truth or just… a trench!

As often turns out, the liberal view is nearly right. “Love is [NOT] all you need” – but don’t expect to make progress without it! To state it more constructively: Expect progress where the Love that compels our mission also compels our humility and respect towards each other. One sure way to grieve the Spirit of Jesus: win the argument – and lose a friend. I’m surrounded all the time by people who just don’t ‘get it’. They don’t get it about Israel. Some don’t get free will, others don’t get predestination. Some don’t get in-depth study of the Bible (“OTT, they whisper”). Many would never dream of turning up for a prayer meeting – and, if they think about it, they could probably draw up a similar list about me… One of us is wrong. Are we prepared to come before God with humility and teachable hearts or do we pray with our minds made up? Do we pray?

This does not mean that everything is up for grabs. Some things are not negotiable. The Bible has stood the test of time and historical record and eyewitness testimony and archaeology and ridicule and persecution and countless martyrs – but can we be graciously stubborn, respectfully right, humbly hated? Very soon, our godless society will give us plenty of opportunity to love our enemies – but should we not first love our brothers and sisters?

You’re right… I’m wrong. It can’t be done. Jesus’ love has set the bar too high. My love comes with conditions. Actually, we’re both wrong: “…you will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8) Lord, may we be humble enough to be exalted, weak enough to glorify Jesus and may His love be our only compulsion!

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