Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A “Fool” By Any Other Name…

Biblegems #299

Question: Why does Jesus say that calling someone a fool puts the name-caller in danger of hell, even though Jesus does so Himself, as does the book of Proverbs?

Jesus’ actual words are: “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matt. 5:22c). Later, Jesus refers to a fictitious man who built his house upon sand as “foolish” (Matt. 7:26). Proverbs also gives numerous examples of fools:
         Prov. 10:18  Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.

So why this stern admonition from Jesus?

First, it is a warning, not a command. Jesus is saying, ‘If you are going to call someone a fool, make sure you use the term appropriately—otherwise, you “will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

“Hell” (Gk. gehenna) is the “lake of fire” reserved for those not found in the “book of life” at the Final Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). That should be sufficient warning by itself to give anyone pause before calling someone a fool. To do so is literally playing with fire—only this “fire never goes out” (Mk. 9:33)!

Second, the context makes it clear that Jesus is addressing the attitude of the person using the term, not the term itself. There is no power associated with the word “fool,” as if it were some kind of incantation. This is a heart issue, not a vocabulary issue.

Jesus had just finished explaining that entering the kingdom of heaven hinges on a right heart towards God, not on external behavior:
         Matt. 5:20  “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

To make His point clear, Jesus gives three examples (vv. 21-22), including the matter of calling someone a fool. All three examples contrast the courtrooms of human justice with the courtroom of God’s justice. Human courts can only condemn a person to punishment based upon behavior, whereas God judges the attitude of the heart. At God’s judgment seat, anger that could lead to murder is enough to make that person “subject to judgment” (Matt. 5:22a). The same is true with an attitude of contempt towards another human being (Matt. 5:22b-c). It’s not just the insulting words, such as “raca” (Aramaic: “empty-headed”) or “mora” (Gk.: “fool,” “stupid,” or “imbecile”); it’s the condescending attitude behind the words.

Jesus’ point is that a contemptuous, judgmental attitude has no place in the kingdom of heaven. God knows the heart.

We are all quite capable of doing and saying foolish things. It is possible to name a person “a fool” as a matter of description without a condescending attitude. A fool is as a fool does. Even so, we are seldom the best judges of our own true motives and attitudes. When tempted to call someone a fool it is far better to say instead only that which builds a person up.
         Eph. 4:29  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Did God Forsake Jesus?

Biblegems #298

Pixabay: Public Domain

Question: In Matthew 27:46 Jesus is quoted as saying from the cross, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" If Jesus is God, how can God forsake himself?

Even though the question itself is rhetorical, the fact remains that this quote from Jesus is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted verses in Scripture.

Matthew 27:26 reads:
“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema  sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).”

Jesus was only minutes—perhaps seconds—away from death (v.50), yet He had the presence of mind to quote Psalm 22:1 in His native tongue of Aramaic. Why this Psalm? Why this verse?

Psalm 22 was written as a song by king David for already existing music (Ps. 22:0). In this song David describes his own feeling of rejection by God (vv.1-5), as well as rejection and ridicule by his own people (vv. 6-8). He had been raised from birth to trust God (vv. 9-10). To suddenly be deserted by God, and by God’s people, left him so emotionally and spiritually drained that he felt as if his heart was being drained from his body like melting wax. His mouth got so dry he could barely speak (vv. 14-17). All the while, his enemies gloated over him:
         Ps. 22:17-18  “…All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

David’s agonizing experience foreshadowed what Jesus would experience centuries later on far greater scale upon the cross. Yet even in the midst of his feeling of abandonment David did not give up calling upon God to rescue him (vv. 19-21). In fact, he fully expected to be delivered by God; and he fully expected one day to personally and publically praise God for his deliverance (vv.22-25). David knew, even in the midst of personal agony and feeling forsaken by God that God would one day work out all things for good (vv. 29-31).

For Jesus’ followers and family at the foot of the cross to hear “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…” coming from Jesus’ parched, dying lips, the words would have sounded very familiar—much the same as “Jesus loves me, this I know…” would sound to us today, bringing to mind the entire song and its reminder of God’s faithfulness and promised salvation.

Jesus, who never sinned, needed to experience separation from God that sin caused—the greatest depth of human weakness—on a personal level:
         Heb. 4:15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

It is ironic that Jesus, who was fully human, yet “being in very nature God” (Phil 2:6), demonstrated His Divine nature by not taking advantage of it. Instead, taking the sin of the human race and the separation from God it caused, Jesus willingly “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8b)!

Hallelujah! What a savior!