Meeting Jim Crow

Meeting Jim Crow

Like many Americans, I knew very little about the context of the civil rights era. I learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in elementary school, like everyone else. That’s about it, for me. As a Christian, of course I condemn slavery and racism as evils; a poisonous fruit of the Fall.

However, like so many others, I have recently been assaulted with anti-racism rhetoric that seemingly sprang forth from nowhere. This perspective often comes from Critical Race Theory (“CRT”), a new religion I began writing about a little while ago. I have encountered this anti-racism “training” at work in State government, peddled by unwitting Human Resource personnel so the agency can now say it’s “done something” in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death and the ensuing riots.

A host of revisionist Christian pastors, all darlings in the woker quarters of the evangellyfish pond, have sallied forth to denounce racism – often employing extra-biblical categories to push a watered-down CRT in the Church. One such well-known black pastor recently called for reparations from white Americans and foolishly cited Exodus 12:33-36 as support.

Well, I want to actually learn something about the civil rights era and its context. I don’t want it from woke Christian pastors, or by radical scholars pushing an agenda. I want it from responsible sources. My studies have only begun, but I wanted to pass along some excellent resources to better understand the context of Jim Crow laws and the civil rights era:

  1. The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward. This classic, endorsed by MLK, Jr., was written by the dean of Southern historians in the mid-1950s after Brown v. Board of Education, and revised three times (the last being in 1974). It advanced the so-called Woodward thesis, that Jim Crow laws did not follow immediately on the heels of the Civil War, but were a calculated step backward after Reconstruction that deliberately disenfranchised the entire black population and reversed racial progress. The thesis is much more nuanced than I’m presenting it (racial prejudice certainly still existed during Reconstruction). But, it’s a horrifying look at how a culture deliberately took a step back towards pure evil.
  2. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow by Richard Wormser. This is a short history of the entire Jim Crow era, with particular focus on eyewitness accounts. It is the most horrifying book I’ve ever read and literally changed my perspective forever. I will never think of my country the same way again. You wonder how the Nazis constructed concentration camps? Then, wonder how a “Christian” people did this to other human beings in America. Sin can warp the mind worse than anything else. Terrible. 
  3. Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King. Pulitzer Prize-winning account of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACPs legal strategy to destroy Jim Crow, using the Groveland Four case (from late 1940s Florida) as a foil. One of the most readable, enjoyable books I’ve ever read.
  4. Grand Expectations by James Patterson. Part of the Oxford History of the United States series, focusing on 1945-1974. Essential for capturing the greater context to understand the civil rights era.

I’m listening to the Oxford History entry on the Reconstruction era right now. I plan on listening to a detailed history of the pre-Civil War era slave issue (likely Impending Crisis, by Potter) after that. 

I Love Me …

I Love Me …

Carl Trueman’s forthcoming book will be required reading for any pastor (or, anybody, really) who is interested in a Christian explanation for the cult of self-worship in the West. He summarizes the issue in an article published today titled “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self … And How the Church Can Respond.”

Even if you aren’t a Christian, do you want to know what’s happened to the world? To people? Where did this “you do you!” ethos of self-worship come from? Why do people see their psychologized self-conception (which, tellingly today, almost always centers on sex) as the thing that defines them?

Trueman sums up the problem in the article:

… the idea that happiness is personal psychological satisfaction—“self-fulfillment”—is the staple of sitcoms, soap operas, movies, and even commercials. And this narrative, this illusion, has powerful implications. When the goal of human existence is personal psychological satisfaction, then all moral codes are merely instrumental, and therefore continually revisable, to this subjective, psychological end.

I’ve preached both a sermon that touched on this a BIT:

and one that touched on this a LOT:

and hopefully have an article forthcoming in a Christian magazine that lays some of this out. My latest article about the Bostock decision also noted that this lens of narcissism is behind SCOTUS’ redefinition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Trueman closes his article with this:

We have been here before—despised, considered immoral, standing on the margins. And we can learn lessons that will fortify us as we move into an uncertain future.

I’m looking forward to the book.

On Christian Civil Religion

On Christian Civil Religion

Christian Nationalism, the tendency to conflate American patriotism with the Christian faith and message, came into its modern form in the Eisenhower years. It did so largely as a civil religious bulwark in the context of the escalating Cold War and domestic “Red Scare.” It was deliberately fostered by President Eisenhower. It morphed into the political arena in a meaningful way from the 1980s to roughly 2004; the glory years of Moral Majority and, later, the Religious Right.

Frances Fitzgerald wrote about this in her book The Evangelicals (which I previously reviewed):

Eisenhower and Graham did not agree on theology or foreign policy, but they agreed on the place of religion in what both considered perilous times. They agreed that America was fighting atheistic Communism and that national survival rested on the belief of Americans in God.

“A spiritual awakening,” Graham said, “will restore our spiritual heritage, create moral stamina and consciousness, bring back the sanctity of the home . . . strengthen the bulwarks of freedom and bring integrity back to the people of the world.”

They agreed that patriotism and religious belief were synonymous and that America had a moral and spiritual mission to redeem the world. “If you would be a loyal American, then become a loyal Christian,” Graham said in one sermon, and in another, “We are created for a spiritual mission among the nations.”

Graham, of course, did not believe that just any religion would do. In a sermon titled “Satan’s Religion” he offered five ways Americans could “most effectively combat Communism.” The first was “by old-fashioned Americanism”; the second “by conservative and Evangelical Christianity”; the third by prayer; the fourth by spiritual revival; and the fifth “by personal Christian experience.” “The greatest and most effective weapon against Communism today is to be a born-again Christian,” he said.

Despite his sectarian perspective, Graham’s position was closer to Eisenhower’s than to that of liberal Protestant leaders, all of whom objected to the conflation of Christianity with Americanism, and some of whom had a disconcerting tendency to call for nuclear disarmament and talks with the Communist Chinese.

It was also closer to the majority position of the day. In 1949 Graham had styled himself as Amos, the prophet crying in the wilderness, but in four years he had become a pastor of the national civil religion.

The Evangelicals, pgs. 185-186.

This is why this article by Michael Svigel is so helpful. He offers up a third way for Christians to engage the world. A way that isn’t isolationism or a bad marriage to politicians and their all too often crocodile promises. It’s a way Svigel calls the “Conscience of the Kingdom” approach:

In this approach, Christians uncompromisingly commit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ with regard to their priorities and values, morals and message. They surrender none of these to any other lord or any other leader. The Church is the community of their primary allegiance, which they will share with no other party or political organization.

However, Conscience Christians view their relationship to the world as analogous to the conscience of an individual. On the basis of God’s Word and in allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians speak and act on behalf of righteousness.

Christians address political corruption, weigh in on social ills, take righteous action on behalf of truth, justice, and mercy, and do so in ways that refuse either to empower a “strongman” or take shelter in a bunker.

Svigel’s article provides a helpful corrective for Christians who may tend to conflate American nationalism with the Christian faith. They are very different. They should REMAIN very different. The hopes and dreams that fire a Christian’s heart and mind MUST come from Christ’s kingdom, not from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Read the whole article. Then, read Svigel’s wonderful book RetroChristianity.

Godspeed, Dr. Houghton!

Dr. Myron Houghton, longtime Chair of Theological Studies at Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Ankeny, IA, has passed away from complications from COVID-19.

Dr. Houghton was a legend in the more mature, balanced flavors of Baptist fundamentalism. His major written work was Law & Grace, which presented perhaps the most extensive and learned dispensational perspective on this issue yet in print. The publisher explains:

Law and Grace explores a misunderstood theological subject from several perspectives. After discussing Roman Catholic and Reformed views of law, gospel, and grace, the book uses an exposition of Romans to present a dispensational framework for distinguishing key theological concepts.

Pastors, church leaders, and ministry students will appreciate Myron Houghton’s thorough exegesis and practical applications, including practical advice on tithing, Sabbath keeping, and the believer’s responsibility to follow grace principles for godly living.

You can read several moving tributes to Dr. Houghton from former students and others:

I never met Dr. Houghton. I’ve read his Law & Grace twice, and need to read it again. I disagreed with it, and may well disagree again. However, his learned presentation of a dispensational view of the issue, and his more than fair representation of the other side, will likely never be equaled. In that respect, his work has and will continue to be rightly esteemed among dispensationalists like Alva McClain’s Greatness of the Kingdom.

I wish he’d written more. I wish I’d taken some theology classes with him.

Good advice from a guy who oughta know

William Still was pastor of the same church in Scotland for 52 years. He died in 1997. He wrote a little book titled The Work of the Pastor. In it, he wrote the following:

Make sure you are called to the ministry, because the world gets worse and worse, and if ever there was a day when an evangelical minister could become a conventional member of society and fulfil a merely social role or occupy an official status, it is not today.

In which land is the church not in a real missionary situation as pilgrims and strangers in an alien, enslaved world? Even places with a rich evangelical heritage can take nothing for granted. When the superficially evangelistic community exhausts the solid biblical capital it has inherited from its forefathers, what is there to fall back upon?

There is more likelihood that it will become increasingly worldly in ostensible attempts to maintain communication with the lost world than that it will be willing to be led back to a solid biblical diet by ministers called of God to give it what it needs and not what it wants.

You need to be called of God to stick out from a complacent, alien community like a sore thumb. Nor will you need to try to stick out. Just be faithful, and God will arrange it, and you will be the talk of the community, however self-effacing you try to be.

Work of the Pastor; Kindle Location 1164.

He also says this, which many American ministers who grotesquely marry a peculiar civil religion to the Word of God need to heed:

Because of the nationalisation of the church under Constantine, and the institutionalisation of it subsequently, she has failed to see that as a remnant church, gathering and building up a hidden Kingdom in an ever alien world, she is always in a missionary situation. The hope of the Christianisation of the state, or even the Christianisation of a complete community, is vain.

Work of the Pastor; Kindle Location 801.

1: Bad, bad news

Some quick thoughts about the Bostock v. Clayton County court decision that came out yesterday. The impetus for the case were three separate instances where employees were terminated for being either homosexual or transgender. The Court consolidated all three cases, and the question before it was whether the definition of “sex” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act included the concepts of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” The Court held that it did. My focus here is not the employee terminations; it’s the question before the Court and its decision to re-define “sex” in anti-discrimination law.

  1. Christians who have made an idol of supporting the Republican Party because of the alleged advantage of appointing “conservative justices” now have no leg to stand on. Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, and Chief Justice Roberts concurred.
  2. Christians may have little meaningful reason to continue to support the Republican Party, except perhaps as the alleged lesser of two evils. We will likely see a wide-scale capitulation to this newest phase of the social revolution. President Trump has already figuratively shrugged his shoulders about the decision.
  3. Republican does not equal Christian. This much should have been obvious for a long time, but now it is clear as day. Christians who have looked to the Republican Party as a vehicle for achieving social change should now see the bankruptcy of this tactic. The Religious Right is dead. This is a good thing. This entire endeavor of the Church’s political activism in the service of social reform was a mistake. I have believed this for a long time. Read Stanley Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens for a better strategy for the Church.
  4. The idea that “textualism” is a bulwark against bad legal interpretation is now dead forever. There is no way on earth legislators in 1964 would have understood “sex” to mean “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Yet, Justice Gorsuch wants us to read it in.
  5. Textualism is only as good as the document to which it pledges loyalty. Chief Justice Taney used “textualism” (an anachronism, I know – but it’s what he did) to defend his interpretation in Dred Scott v. Sanford. The only textualism that really matters is fidelity to scripture. Because our society no longer has any semblance of a Christian view of morality (see #7, below), textualism in service of the U.S. Constitution is not a strategy in which to place anything but deep skepticism.
  6. This decision will open a floodgate of unending litigation against every Christian institution in the country. The very concept of “sex” in the context of non-discrimination law has now been irrevocably altered. This has profound implications, because Christian universities, seminaries, organizations … and churches … will now be targeted by malicious actors. The very expression of reality in this country has now been changed.
  7. How you view the world determines how you think. The Judeo-Christian worldview used to be the philosophical foundation from which citizens understood moral values, even if wasn’t a self-conscious foundation. There used to be a residue of that worldview present in society. This Court decision signals that it is gone forever.
  8. Everybody has to identify some foundation for moral values. Once you cut yourself off from objective truth, you’re cast out onto the open sea of subjectivism. Sex means gender identity because … well, why not? Forget rationality. Forget history. Forget divine revelation. Forget biology. There are only our own subjective feelings, baptized in the laver of diagnoses from mental health professionals (the new secular priests, dispensing the sacrament on letterhead) by whose mystical incantations people are “declared” to suffer from gender dysphoria. People look to what they perceive to be an objective standard to make moral value judgments. Having rejected divine revelation, they’ll look elsewhere. Today, they often look to the sciences. The DSM-V is the Bible, and the mental health professional is the high priest dispensing pagan grace. With the diagnosis letter in hand, the doors are open to validating felt gender identity. Transgender is a valid paradigm. Why? The mental professional says! See, here’s the diagnosis letter …
  9. Employers will now have little recourse to curtail unprofessional and unacceptable workplace behavior. All the employee need do is to claim the behavior is an integral part of his “gender identity.” If you believe there will be “safeguards” in place for businesses to have reasonable leeway to enforce professional codes of conduct, you are very naive.
  10. Christians must figure out what they believe on the subjects of gender and sexual orientation. They must. There is nowhere to hide. Pastors who do not take a stand on this issue are cowards.
  11. Our nation is irrevocably broken. I am more and more inclined to advocate for the Church’s total withdrawal from public life, in the sense of political activism for the social good. The only role I now see for the Church in the public square is for evangelism. Again, see Resident Aliens and perhaps Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, though I have not yet read the latter.

I’m reading the Court documents, including the transcript of oral arguments and the decision itself, and will write up an analysis in the next month or so. I did the same for the Obergefell v. Hodges decision a few years back. It’ll be an analysis of the arguments and its implications from a Christian perspective. I hope to have it ready by late July.

Prophecy, Tongues and 1 Corinthians 14

Prophecy, Tongues and 1 Corinthians 14

This is a short exposition of 1 Corinthians 14. It’s based on notes I prepared for our adult bible study class. It doesn’t interact with the scholarly commentaries, and nobody will mistake it for a crushing blow that will lay Wayne Grudem low. Still, I believe it’s a faithful and accurate way to understand this difficult chapter. Perhaps some people will find it useful. 

Tongues are useless without an interpreter (1 Cor 14:1-5).

Paul wants Christians to cultivate love in their congregation (1 Cor 13), and to especially desire the ability to prophecy. I understand this to refer to direct revelation from God, in the Old Testament sense. Some believe it refers to general teaching or preaching. This view is possible, but I disagree.

I understand “tongues” to refer to intelligible, human language. I think this agrees with the evidence from Acts 2 and makes the best sense in this chapter. Paul doesn’t exactly denigrate tongues, but he remarks over and over that this gift has limited use in a church setting. Tongues is a gift for evangelism.

The one who speaks in a foreign language during a church meeting isn’t actually speaking to the congregation, but to God – because nobody but God understands what he’s saying (1 Cor 14:2)! Instead, he’s uttering mysteries by the Holy Spirit, who gives this miraculous gift. However, the person who speaks prophecy directly from God can be understood. He can encourage and build up the congregation. The man who speaks a foreign language can’t do any of that; nobody understands him (1 Cor 14:3). Instead, he builds and encourages himself. The man who prophesies builds up the congregation (1 Cor 14:4). This is why the gift of prophecy is better for the church than tongues, unless someone is available to interpret (1 Cor 14:5).

Build up the church, not yourself (1 Cor 14:6-12)

Paul asks an obvious question; how can you understand someone who speaks a foreign language unless an interpreter is present (1 Cor 14:6)!? You can’t, of course.

If a flute doesn’t sound a clear note, nobody can understand or appreciate it. If a bugle isn’t clear, nobody can obey the call. Likewise, if a foreign language isn’t interpreted, nobody will even know what’s being said! It’s like you’re speaking into the air (1 Cor 14:7-9).

There are lots of languages in the world, and they all mean something (1 Cor 14:10). But, if you don’t understand the language, the audience and the speaker will be foreigners to one another (1 Cor 14:11). So, Christians should focus on gifts that will actually build up the congregation (1 Cor 14:12). The gift of tongues won’t do that.

How to use the gift of languages (1 Cor 14:13-19)

This is why the person who has the gift of speaking in a foreign language should pray that he has the ability to interpret (1 Cor 14:13). This implies that some people could speak foreign languages, but didn’t even understand what they were saying! In this case, I assume the Christian is somehow a passive vehicle for communicating via the Spirit. This is strange, because Acts 2 suggests the Christians understood what they were saying to the Pentecost pilgrims. Whatever the situation was, Paul suggests they not be content with being passive actors.

Our minds must be engaged in worship (1 Cor 14:14-15). If you pray or speak in a foreign language, and you yourself don’t even understand what you’re saying, how can this build up anybody (1 Cor 14:16-17)? This is why Paul would rather instruct believers than speak 10,000 words in a foreign language that doesn’t do any good for anybody (1 Cor 14:19).

What tongues (“languages”) are for (1 Cor 14:20-25)

Paul suggests the Corinthians be mature as they think about this (1 Cor 14:20). Isaiah 28:11 suggests that, one day, Gentiles will come with strange languages and teach the Israelites about Yahweh (1 Cor 14:21). Paul takes this ironic situation and applies it to his own context – the gift to speak foreign languages isn’t for believers, but for unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22). Prophecy, on the other hand, is for believers (1 Cor 14:22).

This is why, if an outsider wanders into your assembly and sees everybody speaking foreign languages to one another, he’ll think you’re all insane (1 Cor 14:23)! But, if someone enters and hears prophecy direct from the Lord, he is convicted, he’s called to account, and he’ll worship God and confess that He’s present in the church (1 Cor 14:24-25). This is because prophecy can be understood by anybody, but tongues is for evangelism (cp. Acts 2).

Orderly worship (1 Cor 14:26-32)

So, prophecy and foreign language gifts should be done decently, in order, without chaos. Everything should be for edification (1 Cor 14:26).

If someone has the gift of languages, then have no more than two or three speak in turn, and someone must be there to interpret (1 Cor 14:27). If there isn’t an interpreter, nobody should speak (1 Cor 14:28).

For prophecy, let two or three speak and have others weigh what they say (1 Cor 14:29). If one person receives a revelation from God during the meeting, others should give way to let him speak (1 Cor 14:30). The prophets should speak one by one, so everyone in the congregation can be encouraged (1 Cor 14:31). The prophets are subject to one another, to critique and “check” one another (1 Cor 14:32).

Women and prophecy (1 Cor 14:33-36)

1 Cor 14:33-36: As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

This is the most difficult part of Paul’s letter. I believe Paul means that wives should keep silent (1 Cor 14:34) in the context of critiquing and “checking” their husbands, who have just uttered prophesies.[1] Paul can’t be saying women can’t ever speak in a public gathering, for several reasons:

  1. it would imply women are somehow structurally inferior; contra Gal 3:28
  2. it contradicts 1 Cor 11:5, which says women did regular prophesy in church services
  3. it would contradict Joel’s prophesy (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:18)
  4. it contradicts the prominent servant roles of Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2-3), Priscilla (Acts 18:2; Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19); Mary (Rom 16:6), Junia (Rom 16:7), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (Rom 16:12), Phoebe the deacon (Rom 16:1-2), Nympha who hosted a house church (Col 4:15)

The language of submission and shame suggest this is likely a case of women who are critiquing their husband’s prophesies during a church meeting. Indeed, Paul has just finished explaining how to handle prophecy during a church meeting, including critique or questioning afterwards. There is probably a local context to this controversy that we’ll never know. The data of other women performing prominent servant roles in various New Testament churches (see above) means this is likely a local command, for a local context, for a very specific situation.

I assume Corinth had a particular problem with some wives criticizing, critiquing or otherwise embarrassing their husbands during public church meetings. The overriding principle is that husbands and wives should not embarrass one another in public (cp. Eph 5:21ff). If the wife has concerns about her husband’s prophecy, she must ask at home – where there is no danger of embarrassment or shame.[2] In other words, rather than embarrass your husband in public, just ask in the car on the way home!

The reference “as the law also says” (1 Cor 14:34) is a general reference to the Old Covenant, likely to Gen 3:16 and the perpetual battle between the sexes in a marriage relationship in a post-fall context.

Wrapping up (1 Cor 14:36-40)

Paul concludes with some sharp, rhetorical arrows. The word of God didn’t just come to the church in Corinth, did it (1 Cor 14:36-37)!? Any true Christian should acknowledge Paul’s authority to speak on Yahweh’s behalf (1 Cor 14:37). If someone doesn’t acknowledge Paul’s authority, he shouldn’t be considered a Christian (1 Cor 14:38). Ask God for the ability to utter prophesies. Don’t forbid foreign languages in the church; just make sure everything is done decently and in order (1 Cor 14:39-40).


[1] I am following (1) David Garland, 1 Corinthians, in BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 664-673 and (2) Simon Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 510-515.

[2] “Paul disallows speech in the assembly that would suggest that a wife is being insubordinate toward her husband, whether it is an interruption or a challenge to a prophetic utterance. The delicate relationship between husband and wife is imperiled by the wife’s public questioning, correcting, or challenging,” (Garland, 1 Corinthians, 671).

Likewise, Kistemaker observes, “[t]he Corinthian women at worship are not told to be silent in respect to praying, prophesying, and singing psalms and hymns. They are, however, forbidden to speak when the prophesies of their husbands are discussed,” (1 Corinthians, 513).

Pray for Christians in China

The Chinese government continues to persecute religious groups, including Muslims and Christians. This is largely a policy by China’s President, Xi Jinping, who is attempting to construct a cult of personality around himself not seen since the days of Mao. Organized religion is an obvious roadblock to this goal; thus the systematic persecution. If you have a New York Times subscription (or some free articles remaining), see these background article on China’s attempts build a civil religion centered on the State: https://nyti.ms/2SCC5cO

An evangelical Chinese pastor was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for his refusal to lead his church to bow to persecution. For a latter-day example of Acts 4:23-31 in action, see the church’s statement on its pastor’s sentence, which includes the following:

Praise God for the faithful witness of our brother in Christ, whose reward is now great in heaven. May the Lord use Pastor Wang Yi’s imprisonment to draw many to himself and to bring glory to his name.

China’s mass imprisonment of Muslims in the Western portion of the country is likely the largest mass incarceration and round-up of an ethnic group since the Holocaust. For some context on the crackdown on Muslims, see https://bit.ly/2SQf4n9, and especially:

For news about the Christian persecution, see the articles here: https://bit.ly/39nOGqm.

Pray for the Christians in China!

Good Advice from a Dead Englishman

J.B. Phillips is best known for his translation of the New Testament, which he began during the War while he was a young Anglican vicar. He also wrote a number of small, practical books for “ordinary” believers. One of these was a little book titled New Testament Christianity, published in 1956.

I picked the book up on my annual pilgrimage to Powell’s Books, in downtown Portland. This is a great little book. I’ll write more on it in the coming weeks. For now, here’s a taster (pg. 99):

We may be full of joy, but we are not here for our amusement. We are here to be used as instruments in God’s purpose. It is a fine thing to know that we are ‘right with God,’ ‘converted,’ ‘born again,’ and all the rest of it, but after a while such experiences become stale an unsatisfying unless we are passing the Good News on to others, positively assisting the work of the Church, or definitely bringing to bear upon actual human situations the pattern of Christian living.

This means in effect that each Christian must ask himself, ‘Am I myself outward-looking in my Christian experience, or am I content to remain in a safe ‘Christian rut?’ The recovery of the Church’s power rests ultimately upon the individual Christian’s answer to such a question.

More to come later …

Grace

I adapted this article from a sermon I preached this past Sunday.

When you read the Gospels, and you get past Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and you read about the last week of His incarnation – how often do you wonder about how the absolute demoralization Jesus must be experiencing?

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him (Mk 14:10-11).

We often skip over Jesus’ feelings in our minds because we know He’s divine. We assume He’s just fine with treachery. We assume He can take betrayal. We assume He can deal with being double-crossed.

More than that, we can sometimes assume Jesus isn’t bothered by this; the worst kind of backstabbing imaginable. It’s almost as if we see Jesus as a stoic philosopher, a rock which can’t be moved. But, He was also human! In the incarnation, He added a human nature to His divine nature. He’s one divine Person, with two natures. And, because He’s a flesh and blood person, betrayal hurts; being stabbed in the back hurts; being forsaken by a guy you’ve trained for three years hurts.

Think about it.

Jesus left heaven to come here. He trained Judas for three years. He poured His heart and soul into him, all while knowing in advance Judas is going to betray Him to be killed. And, Jesus still sincerely trained this guy and all the others anyway. He didn’t go through the motions; He continued to preach, train and equip Judas and the others.

Jesus deliberately chose Judas, knowing what would happen (Mk 3:14; cf. Jn 2:24-25, 5:42, 6:64). Judas was one of the 12 who had divine power to heal the sick and conduct exorcisms – to have power over demons! Judas preached the Gospel with a partner throughout Galilee. Judas was one of the guys who came back from their mini-missionary tour in Galilee, excited, and telling Jesus everything that had happened (Mk 6:30)

Jesus has done so much for the 12. He picked each of these guys. He trained them. He taught them. He coached them. He corrected them. He rebuked them. He orchestrated the heavenly preview of the Kingdom at His transfiguration, complete with the Father speaking from heaven (Mk 9:1-9).

He let Lazarus die a terrible death on purpose, so He could go raise him from the dead (Jn 11:4, 11-14), so it could be another proof for the disciples that He was the divine Son of Man (Jn 11:41).

The disciples don’t even confess He’s the Messiah until Mk 8:27-30! Now, by the time Judas hatches his plot, it’s two days before the crucifixion and the disciples are still as clueless as can be, and one of the 12 has deliberately plotted to betray Him … and that has to hurt bad.

Jesus knew all this would happen, and He kept on keeping on. He even spoke about His struggles:

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again,” (Jn 12:27-28).

The Father spoke to reassure the Son, and to testify to the crowd who listened – but more to reassure Jesus. This is why Jesus can sympathize with you, because He understands what it’s like to be discouraged, abandoned, forsaken, betrayed, stabbed in the back, and even killed.

He understands injustice. He understands unfairness. He’s been there – and unlike you, He won’t let it cripple Him from doing God’s will.

But why, in the face of all this, did Jesus even bother? Why didn’t He pack His bags and go home? Why didn’t He “sense God calling Him elsewhere?” Why did Jesus know this was how it was going to end, and still come here anyway? Why does Jesus bother with people like us?

He did it because of grace:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa 53:3).

Jesus knew this would happen. Isaiah wrote all about it 700 years before, and Jesus still came to live and die for His people. As we move forward, to the account of the last supper, think about the grace and love inherent in Jesus’ actions, even as He knew how this night would end.

Judas, like a hungry dog, is actively looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus (Mk 14:11). Wherever it happens, it has to be somewhere out of the way and quiet. The Sanhedrin doesn’t want a disturbance at Passover. Judas is one of the 12 who come to Him, eager to figure out where they’ll celebrate Passover (Mk 14:12). As Jesus gives the answer, Judas is likely figuring out if this is a suitable ambush site.

The disciples prepare Passover meal (Mk 14:16). The location isn’t secluded enough for Judas’ purposes. So, still plotting, Judas actualy helps to prepare the Passover; perhaps the supreme irony. Passover celebrates God rescuing His people from slavery and bringing them to the promised land. Jesus is the “new Moses” (cf. Deut 18:15-19) who rescues His people from spiritual slavery and leads them to the figurative promised land in eternity (Heb 3-4). But Judas helps prepares the Passover, all while plotting to kill the prophet who inaugurates the New Covenant!

As they prepare to observe the festival, Jesus explains, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God,” (Lk 22:25-26). Jesus means this; it isn’t an act. Judas listens, perhaps even smiles and nods, and he’s probably already decided on Gethsemane as the ambush site.

Then, Jesus teaches a lesson on humility and service in the covenant community – and He washes Judas’ feet (Jn 13:10-11).

Jesus announces someone at the table is going to betray Him (Mk 14:18-19). They each (including Judas!) look at one another, astonished, and ask if they’re the culprit (cf. Mt 26:22; Jn 13:22)! Jesus explains He has to die, because Scripture prophesied His death. But, the man who betrays Him still bears personal responsibility.

Jesus then challenges Judas:

Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” (Jn 13:26-27).

I can picture them locking eyes. Jesus’ words are a direct challenge (“are we gonna do this, or not?”). They look at each other, as Judas holds the piece of bread on his hand . Then, Judas makes his decision; “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night,” (Jn 13:30).

Even though one his closest students, a guy He’s known for three years, has run out the door to betray Him – Jesus calmly continues the meal and explains why He came:

And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God,” (Mk 14:24-25).

The Old Covenant was inaugurated by blood; an object lesson that taught penal, substitutionary atonement. The New Covenant is inaugurated the same way; with Jesus’ blood. It’s a covenant that’s infinitely better, built on better promises. It’s efficacious to anyone who repents and believes the Gospel. Jesus’ remark about a future Kingdom reunion signals His death isn’t the end.  

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities (Isa 53:10-11).

I would have given up and walked out a long time ago, and so would you! Jesus stayed anyway, and He did it so that whoever believes in Him wouldn’t perish, but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16).

I’d be just as clueless as Peter, James and John, and so would you! Jesus knows all about your cluelessness and your sins. He even taught Judas, gave Him supernatural gifts, and commissioned him to preach the Gospel. He even washed Judas’ feet! He let Judas betray Him to be tortured and executed.

And He did all that, to rescue people from this present, evil age (Gal 1:4); people from every nation, culture and color. Jesus let Himself be abandoned, in order to save the people who betrayed Him. He didn’t simply die for “really bad” people like Nero, Hitler, Stalin or Caiaphas. He died for the sins of the very guys and gals who’ve followed Him around Galilee, Samaria and Judea for three years. He died to atone for my sins, and yours.

He died to atone for our sins; for Hitler, for Stalin, for Caiaphas, and for you. Let’s remember what Jesus endured for His people, and remember His grace that’s greater than all our sins.