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As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him.


And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."


A Daring Faith

Thursday of Pentecost 8

23 July 2015

It has again become popular to deny the existence of hell and divine punishment for sinners. Rob Bell's 2012 book, Love Wins, which denies the existence of hell, started a firestorm of discussion and a flurry of responses, some of book length. This is hardly a new idea. People who confuse law and gospel have long denied that God would be capable of punishing if He is gracious. The church in all generations has had to fight this battle. We are no exception. In the late fourth century of our era, this very idea was being bruited about by people who called themselves Christians. John Chrysostom takes a bold approach to this problem by pointing out that God's mercy must rescue from something quite real. To deny hell makes a mockery of the salvation of God: "Saved from what?" God has done all for us to rescue both from something and for something. He wants to rescue us from the clutches of the adversary, snatching us from the fire. He wants to save us for perfect fellowship with Him, that we might now be at peace with Him, and according to His gospel-Word fear neither death nor hell.


The earnest cry of the sinner in need of forgiveness, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner' (Mt 18:13) is a cry that presumes the need for rescue from something. There is no fear of facing God's judgment, the fullness of His punishment, because He has promised to save by His righteousness those who undergo the power of His righteous judgment. Divine rescue is a real relief when there is a true threat, especially one that originates with God. It reminds me of the old story about the man that dies in a flood created by a hurricane, who arrives in the presence of God. Immediately, he begins by complaining to God, "The National Guard tried to evacuate me, but I wouldn't go with them, because I told them that you, God, would save me and I didn't need them. When a boat came to take me away from the rising waters, I rejected their help telling them that You, Father, would take care of me. When a helicopter tried to lift me off the roof of his home, I waved them off because I didn't doubt that You would save me. Why didn't you rescue me?" God replied, "I tried. I sent the National Guard, the boat, and the helicopter to save you." If we face a grave threat we should be delighted to receive the rescue in whatever form God sends it, even and especially if God is the source of the threat. According to the law, God is our implacable enemy. According to the gospel, He is our self-sacrificing friend.


God remains a threat to us sinners. I love the little phrase about Aslan in C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia, that arises repeatedly: "He's not a tame lion, you know." God cannot be reduced to an indulgent old gentleman. By contrast, how daring it is to say that God is a true threat to us capable of overwhelming wrath, so that those who experience it will "say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us'" (Lk 23:30). The law may not be tamed, because it is the voice of God. It is one thing to be sure of rescue from an external threat, it is another thing to be sure of rescue from the source of the threat Himself. When God is our enemy we need an all the more daring faith that is completely confident of rescue from God in Christ. I will not be defeated by the threat of God's wrath because I have God's grace in Christ.


John Chrysostom


"Why would you think it not right that you should be punished for sinning? Has God not told you all beforehand? Has He not threatened you? Has He not come to your aid? Has he not done innumerable things for your salvation? Has He not given you the font of regeneration and forgiven all your former sins? Has He not, after this forgiveness and the font, also given you the succor of repentance, if you sin? And even after all this, has He not made the way to forgiveness of sins easy to you? Hear then what He has directed: 'If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Mt 6:14).  What hardship is there in this? He says, 'Bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.  "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool"' (Is 1:17-18). What labor is there here? "Tell your sins that you might be justified" (Is 43:26 LXX). What hardship is there in this? 'Break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed' (Dan 4:27). What toil is there in this? The tax collector said, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' and 'went down to his house justified' (Lk 18:13-14). What labor is it to imitate the tax collector?


"Will you not be persuaded even after this that there is punishment and vengeance? At that rate you will even deny that the devil is punished. For Christ says, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels' (Mt 25:41). Now if there is no hell, then neither is the devil punished. But if he is punished, it is plain that we shall also be. For we alsohave disobeyed, even if not in the same way. Why are you afraid to speak such daring things? For you say, 'God is merciful, and does not punish. If He should punish me, he will be found in my case no longer to be merciful.' See then to what language the devil leads you!" 

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 25

O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist.  Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and the love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


For Pastor Joseph Randrianasolo, that the Lord Jesus might strengthen him as he testifies to the truth of God's Word


For all pastors that they might be rescued from Satan's onslaughts


For the gift of rain, that we would rejoice in the blessing of precipitation
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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