Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Stricken Sheep

“Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, ‘Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done?’ ”

People who are characteristically righteous always have an outsized sense of their own relative culpability. That is probably a good thing. A tender conscience toward sin and a heart which always looks to get right with God are qualities to be valued and pursued. God is often more generous with his assessment of righteous men and women than they are with themselves.

But a preoccupation with our own personal responsibility can also be a bit like wearing blinders.

An Off-Base Protest

In this case, David’s protest was way off base. Those “sheep” he was so eager to protect, and whose punishment he was willing to take on himself, were being stricken for a reason. We have no idea what that reason was, and it is not necessary that we have all the gory details. Scripture simply says, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.” That will do fine. This was not the first time the behavior of God’s people had provoked him, and it would not be the last. David’s imprudent actions in numbering the people were used by God to bring appropriate and necessary judgment on his repeatedly-erring nation.

Throughout the lengthy history of the children of Israel chronicled for us in the word of God, we often find wicked people with godly leaders. God is gracious, and often raises up courageous men who stand in stark contrast to those around them, drawing men and women back to God. Moses. David. Hezekiah. Josiah. Elijah. John the Baptist. Each went hard against the cultural zeitgeist of his day. The spirit of the age had no claim on them.

Golden Calves and the Yoke of Caesar

The reverse situation is far less likely. Until we come to the Church Age, we rarely find large numbers of genuinely innocent people suffering under wicked authority figures. A few outspoken prophets, sure. But that scenario of flocks of guiltless, oppressed “sheep” contemplated by David is all but absent from scripture.

When Ahab and Jezebel were running Israel into the ground, its people were gleefully worshiping golden calves at Dan and Beersheba. When Manasseh led the people of Judah astray, it was because “they did not listen”. Judah was deaf to the voice of God, and it got the leadership it richly deserved. And the very same first century Judaeans who complained about the yoke of Caesar were called to account by John the Baptist for all manner of injustice, selfishness and evil-doing in their personal and business lives.

The same principle is in evidence all over today’s political landscape. When Canadians rejected Prime Minister Stephen Harper in favor of Justin Trudeau, they selected a man after their own hearts. Few leaders more effectively represent the character of their nations. The stifling political correctness, omni-tolerance of evil, intellectual incoherence and historically-ignorant globalist utopianism of modern Canadian society could not possibly be more perfectly epitomized than in Pierre Trudeau’s firstborn son. We got the leadership we deserve, and then some.

Another Jezebel

It should therefore not surprise us at all to find a similar scenario playing out in local churches everywhere. Churches have good leaders and bad ones, but the bad ones rarely oppress wise, biblically knowledgeable, loving congregations. Rather, bad leaders — be they pastors, elders, or those possessing any of the many inappropriate and unbiblical titles extant in Christendom — come to their positions of authority because they are perfectly acceptable to the vast majority of congregants they purport to serve.

The New Testament “prophetess” Jezebel held sway in the church at Thyatira because a significant number of its members were overly tolerant. Diotrephes — who rejected apostolic authority, refused to welcome believers into the church, and excommunicated those who disagreed with him — dominated his local church because nobody there was up to contending with his “wicked nonsense”. Only John was apparently prepared to come and do so.

Sheep That Love Being Sheep

If you are concerned about the direction your local church leadership is currently taking, and see major problems on the horizon, you have probably noticed those leaders are not without some measurable level of congregational support. If you are listening to the same hired “pastor” week after week after endless week, it is usually because the men in your church are happier paying someone to do the job than doing it themselves. If you constantly hear messages that sound like empty fluff, it is because a significant number of your fellow believers are spiritual lightweights, and they are getting exactly what they are asking for. If the “worship team” bombards you with modern noise with nonsense lyrics on a Sunday morning, it is because that’s what your fellow Christians listen to at home. If you are finding yourself averting your eyes from inept and bizarre displays of liturgical dance, it is because a non-trivial number of your fellow believers consider that sort of craziness acceptable. We get what we are willing to put up with, and we all too easily become what we tolerate.

“What have these sheep done?” asks David. Well, to start with, they probably love being sheep. That’s a major problem.

A church with systemic issues leaves its members without a whole lot of options. Often you will hear other Christians advise you to leave where you are if you don’t like the way they teach or practice the word of God. But if there were a thriving, growing, biblical alternative right around the corner, you would probably have heard of it by now. The reason you are still where you are is that everywhere else you have looked into has the same problems or others of comparable magnitude.

Welcome to Laodicea

Welcome to Laodicea, folks. In a spiritual sense, it probably looks a lot like Samaria prior to the Assyrian captivity, or maybe Judah just prior to Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. Maybe it even looks a bit like first century Judaism: so blind, corrupt and compromised that Christ himself could walk into it and be summarily shown the door. We need to take off David’s blinders, and recognize that the church is where it is today because the vast majority of so-called Christians are perfectly happy with it that way. Be advised that one day soon Christ will act in judgment not just on the false shepherds, but on the apathetic, overly tolerant, lukewarm sheep. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Things will not be this way forever.

In the meantime, where is the serious Christian to find strength, hope and direction in an age of compromise and spiritual blindness? In personal fellowship with the risen Christ. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

If we cannot change the condition of our fellow sheep, at least we can attend to our own. If our Lord and Savior is not consistently welcome in his own congregation, let him always be welcome in our hearts.

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