Bonus Content from February 10th

Bonus Content from February 10th (“Extending Grace,” Luke 9:51-56)

The following questions were raised after Sunday’s sermon.
 
1)  Someone says, “That is good for you and I am happy for you, but I have my own [beliefs].” They are implying, “Your way is no better than mine, so don’t criticize.” There are so many ways to reject. What is our next possible response in love but truth? Can we have a class on how to share the gospel?
 
We’ve all probably had a conversation like this! Thank you for raising these very practical questions.
 
I’ll answer the last question first: you’re in luck! Starting next Sunday (2/24), Pastoral Intern Brandon Harris will be teaching a class on how to share the gospel! Keep your eyes on the Adults page on our website for more information upcoming, but his class will be called “Tactics” and will give us practical work on how to share the gospel in situations just like the one you’ve laid out here.
 
As for the first question of how to respond in love but truth to the person who thinks that no way is better than any other way, I have been influenced by Randy Newman’s book Questioning Evangelism to respond with questions whenever possible. In the situation you shared, the dialogue might go something like this:
 
Friend: “What works for you works for you; I’m happy for you.”
Me: “Have you heard the story of the blind men and the elephant? Each of the blind men feels a different part of the elephant and draws different conclusions based on what part of the elephant’s body they had approached – to one it was a wall; to another, a spear or a snake or a tree.”
Friend: “Yes! That’s a perfect description of what I believe about religions. They all provide insight about one aspect of reality, but no one religion has a claim on the whole truth.”
Me: “So how do we know that the blind men were all touching the same thing, and that the thing they were all touching was an elephant?”
Friend: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Doesn’t someone have to be able to see the whole picture in order to summarize that each blind man was actually touching a different part of an elephant?”
Friend: “I guess so. What are you getting at?”
Me: “I guess that’s my problem with the blind men and the elephant story. It is used to criticize religious people for being arrogant (for saying ‘we have the truth!’), but the nonreligious person ends up making the same claim! After all, the one telling the story is claiming to have the truth as he or she asserts that there is in fact an elephant and that the blind men are in fact touching different parts of the elephant and drawing incomplete conclusions.”
Friend: “I never thought of it that way.”
 
This is one way to help our friends see that somebody’s ideas have to be better than somebody else’s. We’re all making absolute truth claims – even those of us most opposed to absolute truth claims make the absolute truth claim that it’s wrong to make absolute truth claims! The question then becomes, “Which of these truth claims best explains reality?”
 
2)  As a believer, it is often harder to extend grace to fellow believers when they sin against us than it is when we are rejected by the world. What should this Mark of a Disciple look like in this type of situation?

 

When we have a particularly hard time extending grace to anyone (believer or unbeliever), it is important to examine why this specific situation is so difficult. When we find it hard to extend grace to a fellow believer, it may be so challenging because of our expectations for them. For example, we might think, “He’s a believer; he should know better!” or “We were supposed to be on the same team!” We expect a degree of rejection from the world; we don’t expect it to come from within the church.
However, the New Testament doesn’t paint such a rosy view of the church. Paul is constantly grieving rejection, abandonment, and slander from fellow believers whom he considered friends. The letters to the New Testament churches are filled with rebukes for heinous sins – sins taking place among Christians! When we are saved, it doesn’t automatically make us perfect. Believers can have major blind spots in their discipleship.
 
For that reason, one part of the answer to this question might be, “Work toward more realistic expectations for fellow believers.” We ought not be surprised when fellow believers reject us or mistreat us; in fact, a read-through of the New Testament should make it more surprising when fellow believers don’t mistreat us. And most importantly, we need to grow more aware of our own sin – both potential and actual. The more we believe just how capable we are of mistreating our own brothers and sisters in the faith, the quicker we will be to extend grace to them when they do the same to us. When we think we’re above that sort of sin is when we have the hardest time extending grace.

 

3)  Can you explain more thoroughly what Luke means when he says that Jesus “set his face” toward Jerusalem? Why does he use that language?
 
Jesus isn’t the first one in scripture to “set his face” somewhere. There’s actually a history of this phrase being used in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets often set their faces in one direction or another, and interestingly, it almost always was to pronounce judgment on a particular city or a particular people group. You can see it in Isaiah 50, Jeremiah 21, and multiple places in Ezekiel. God will say, “Set your face toward such and such a group and prophesy against them.”
 
When you read the following chapters in Luke’s gospel, you can see why Luke uses the “setting his face” language. He’s doing it to connect Jesus to the prophets of old who called down judgment, because on Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem, he talks a lot about judgment, too – the judgment that is coming on God’s own people. He warns over and over again that destruction is coming to Jerusalem once the Jewish people reject Him.
 
And of course, that’s not a popular message. The prophets were rejected for proclaiming those warnings of impending judgment, and Jesus is going to be rejected for this message of judgment, too. Nevertheless, Jesus sets his face toward the place where He will be rejected once and for all – not that he actually made a certain face or that he took the straight line, shortest path possible to get to Jerusalem, but rather that in all of Jesus’s words and actions from here on out, he’s advancing the mission that will take him to the place of His rejection and death, and he won’t let anyone stand in His way.
 
The fact that “setting one’s face” carries such connotations of pronouncing judgment makes it even more striking that Jesus refrains from pronouncing judgment on the Samaritan village at this point. His harshest words during this phase of his ministry are reserved for Jerusalem and especially the Jewish leadership there.