Flutes and Funerals

a002b97f9c06b49145b2f77cd05086beLuke 7:31–35 (NKJV) — 31 And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying:

‘We played the flute for you,

And you did not dance;

We mourned to you,

And you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 But wisdom is justified by all her children.”

A group of children are sitting in the public marketplaces and calling to other children who are obstinate and unwilling to play games with them.  One game involves a happy event like a wedding.  Another involves a time of lament like a funeral.  But the onlooking companions refuse to participate in either game.

The wedding speaks to the ministry of our Lord Jesus.  The funeral speaks to that of John the Baptist.  One group of children represents both of the contrasting roles of Jesus and John, our Lord’s forerunner.  The second, non-participating of group of children represents the unresponsive, hardened Pharisees and the Jews who follow them.  The non-participants reject both games.  Even so, the Pharisees rejected both ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist.

The Pharisees seek to temper John’s stern preaching.  They don’t like their hypocrisy being put on public display.  As Herod proves when he takes the life of John the Baptist to satiate the bloodlust of his wife.  At the same time, they seek to impose strict legalism upon what they see as Jesus’ permissive ministry.  There is a great tension in this parable between legalism and licentiousness.

  1. Jesus’ message of forgiveness shouldn’t be dampened by legalistic restrictions.  Instead, it should be freely celebrated.
  2. John’s message of repentance shouldn’t be ignored.  Instead, it should be soberly measured.
  3. The truth of this tension between legalism and licentiousness is justified by those who hold to it.

The Pharisees are stubborn children.  They cannot be brought from the sidelines to play nice with the other children.  Flutes and dancing represent the joy of a wedding and the joy of mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Mourning and weeping represent the sober reality of sin’s just penalty:  death and the funeral.  But the Pharisees will not play that game either.

Jesus and the Good News Ministry

John the Baptist is the last of a long line of OT prophets who spoke of a time when the Messiah would come.  Prophets speak of what is to come.  But now the Bridegroom has come.  The best man takes a backseat.  John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord Jesus.  He is the forerunner of the Messiah who would preach the Good News of the glorious gospel.  Jesus confirmed His own preaching ministry with the miracles prophesied of in the OT by prophets like the Baptist.  He also gave the apostles the ability to work miracles to confirm their teaching ministry.  All was in place.  Nothing should have hindered the reception of the Bridegroom or His joyful message of forgiveness.

The Rejection of the Good News

However, that message was not heeded.  The Pharisees and those who followed them loved the letter of the Law but hated the spirit of it.  They were fine with the shadow but rejected the substance.  The road is indeed narrow which leads to righteousness.  Broad is the path to destruction.  The majority fill the broad way; the minority tread the narrow.

It shouldn’t be surprising that few receive the Good News today.  It’s the way it has always been.  A population tends to waver between legalism and licentiousness.  But that whole population is still on the broad way.  A lot of people think that they are Christians, but they don’t rejoice in forgiveness or repent in the face of serious sin.  Wedding or funeral – it makes little difference to them.  They won’t come out and play.  Believers say with the prophet Isaiah, ”Lord, who has believed our report?”

But recall that John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus were very convincing and powerful preachers.  A lot of people wouldn’t hear them.  Someone weird like John doesn’t really deserve a hearing from the Pharisees’ perspective.  The guy eats locusts and wild honey.  He lives an isolated life wearing camel’s hair.  He doesn’t have fun at all.  He doesn’t eat bread or drink wine.  He must have a demon.  He’s just so austere.  We can’t relate to him.  And Jesus is way too friendly.  Eating and drinking with anybody and everybody.  He’s a glutton and a drunkard.  There’s got to be something wrong with anyone who spends time as a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Some people hate the glorious message of grace and forgiveness because of their legalistic sin nature.  Others hate it because of the way it cramps their style, calling them to Spirit transformation rather than world conformation.  They wouldn’t mind a Christ to save them, but they don’t want a Lord to master them.

Others don’t like a faith-only message.  “After all, what incentive would there be for righteous living,” they ask.  They are so works-oriented that they drive themselves and other to despair.  Their proselytes are two-fold the children of Hell.  They need a written set of laws and codes to live life by.  Anyone who preaches “by grace through faith” is offensive to these religious, constraining types.  To them, it’s a religion not a relationship.  It is indeed a way to control the masses.

These are hardened, stubborn children.  We look at the Pharisees and the Jews who followed them as being so foolish and churlish.  But we don’t see the legalism working within us that worked within them.  We don’t like it when our legalism is showing.  We like to justify it, but wisdom only is justified by all her children.

The Gospel is free …grace is free.  It’s too humiliating for some people to admit that.  They are too proud to receive it or believe it.  Self-righteousness and self-denial seems to make more sense.  But we have no righteousness of our own, and self-denial turns to self-indulgence in no time without Christ.  Even if we get to the point that we know the Gospel is true, we cannot get to the point that we are to blame for rejecting it.  We blame the messenger …we condemn the Gospel’s preachers in order to justify ourselves.

But the real problem is that we love darkness rather than light.  If Jesus’ message came to us from Him directly, we’d do the same thing the Pharisees did.  We would balk and act wounded and offended.  We’d use that as the reason to reject Him and His message.  But wisdom is justified by all her children.

Civil Rights Commission

img_0205The United States Commission on Civil Rights has released a report which is at odds with our religious liberties.  The findings and recommendations came out earlier this month. An executive summary of the report is titled Peaceful Coexistence. The USCCR has found that civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination as embodied in the Constitution, laws, and policies are of preeminent importance. While we as Christians would agree with this, the USCCR elaborated by saying that “religious exemptions to protections of civil rights based upon classifications such …sexual orientation and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon… civil rights (PC, 25).

The USCCR was founded in to fight Jim Crow laws which enforced racial segregation in the 1960s. But sexual orientation and gender identity are not civil rights issues. Homosexuality and transgenderism are sin issues. Nevertheless, the report made five alarming recommendations:

  1. Overly-broad religious exemptions unduly burden nondiscrimination laws and policies.
  2. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects only religious practitioners’ First Amendment free exercise rights, and it does not limit others’ freedom from government-imposed religious limitations under the Establishment Clause.
  3. Recognition of religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws and policies should be made in such a way that religious beliefs and not conduct are protected.
  4. Federal legislation should be considered in order to clarify that RFRA creates rights only for individuals and religious institutions and only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination.
  5. States with RFRA-style laws should amend those statutes to clarify that RFRA creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights only for individual and religious institutions. States with laws modeled after RFRA must guarantee that those statutes do not unduly burden civil liberties with status-based discrimination.

This report equates our support for religious liberty with hate. It is a huge threat to religious liberty. We have the right to believe, but not the right to act on those beliefs, especially when it comes to homosexuality and transgenderism. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday of last week. He said the report had a “disturbingly low view of our First Freedoms.” Note the following observations from Senator Sasse:

  • Our national identity is based upon our religious freedoms.
  • Our Founders believed God created people with dignity and we have rights via nature.
    No king, no Congress, no Commission gives us our rights. Government is not the author or source of our freedom.
  • We have rights because we’re people, created with dignity and government is our shared project to secure those rights. And so, “We the People” give the government authorities; the government doesn’t give us us rights.
  • The Commission’s report is titled “Peaceful Coexistence.” But this profession of “Peaceful Coexistence” is meant to quietly euthanize “religious liberty” because Washington lawyers find it convenient to do so.
  • It must never be used to chip away at our most fundamental freedom.
  • It must never undermine the essence of what it means to be human.

The USCCR report undermines the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty. It claims to protect American ideals while subtly attacking them. Our ministry is against all forms of hate. However, right is right and wrong is wrong. We must not tolerate sin in our society. We must be allowed to say what God says about it. I must have the freedom to hire teachers and accept students who are not homosexuals or confused about their God-given identity. I am certain I can do this without hating people in spite of the report’s findings.

The Peril of Prosperity

There is a danger that we all face as Christians.  This danger is intensified when God tangibly displays His mercy in our lives.  The danger is that we might magnify the gift and forget the Giver.  As believers, there is great blessing in the gifts God gives us, but we must evaluate the real worth of such gifts.  The gift must draw us closer to the Giver.  We must magnify Ghannahod …make Him big.  The gift is a vehicle to do just that.

Hannah is an Old Testament example of just this (1 Samuel 1-2).  Hannah looked upon the gift of a son as an opportunity to magnify her God.  What can we learn from Hannah’s words recorded in 1 Samuel 2.1-10?

When we receive great gifts from God, it is because He is a great God.  There is none like Him (1 Samuel 2.2a-b).  There is no one as powerful as He is (2.2c).  There is no one who knows what He knows (3c).  There is no one who is just as He is (3d).  God is able to bring to bear a great reversal in our lives.  He gives great strength in our great weakness (4b).  The full are hungry (5a) and the hungry are fed (5b).  The barren woman has many children and the mother who has many children becomes feeble (5c-d).  The poor are made rich and the low are exalted (7-8).

God alone takes a life in judgment.  He kills but does not murder.  This is His sovereign prerogative (6).  He guards the feet of the saints or those set apart as His children (9).  But those who reject His King and Anointed One, the Lord Jesus Christ, are silent in eternal darkness.  By self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, or self-dependence, no man prevails.  Strength is found in Christ and in Him alone.  Don’t look at the gift but at the Giver.  Look to…

  1. God’s power and holiness brought to bear in the lives of those who trust in Him
  2. God’s wisdom and justice as comforts when inequity abounds
  3. God’s grace found in the benefits of prayer and His full revelation in the Scriptures

All benefits and blessings in this life point up the character of the God we claim to serve.  If these gifts from God become a means to an end, then we have practiced a very subtle form of idolatry.  We have vaunted up creation above the Creator.  If we do this as children of God, we may expect God to bring chastening instead of prosperity.

If you are like me, you’d rather have all of your needs met right away.  But it seems that we are inclined to stop trusting in God when this happens.  Prosperity is a place of peril for many in our country.  We fall into the delusion that our own hand has provided us with these things.

Our families must understand that suffering, difficult people and circumstances, and the crucible of a trial have the potential to be wonderful messengers declaring the glory of God.  Hannah’s great trial was a barren womb.  She pleaded for a child.  God gave her a baby boy.  She called him Samuel.  Samuel’s name means “asked of YHWH”.  When God grants her request, Hannah has the spiritual depth to magnify God and not the fact that she was no longer barren.

Who or what is magnified when God blesses you?  The answer to this question reveals how spiritual we truly are.