This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.
The popular evangelical catch phrase, “What would Jesus do?” defines the evangelical doctrine of the nature of God. What would Jesus do? We are told that He would love. He would say soft, kind, words of compassion and mercy. He would tell you that He loves you. He would forgive. He would say things like, “My precious, precious child” and “Let me take you into my loving arms”. My premise is simple, the blue-eyed, lamb slung over His shoulders, warmly smiling Jesus of evangelicalism is an idol. He does not exist. Due entirely to the practice of the selective reading of Scripture, the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity has become corrupted and destroyed. Evangelicals have no idea what Jesus would do because they have no idea who the Jesus of the Bible really is. Their Jesus is the Jesus of paintings on the walls of the church, inscriptions on Christian trinkets, T-shirts and popular Christian slogans. The Jesus of the Bible is an entirely different God altogether; He is the true and living God.
In this section I am going to explain twenty different passages of Scripture wherein we see Jesus doing something. Eighteen of these passages are from the Gospel of Mark and two are from the Gospel of Matthew. I have elected to ignore most of the miracles of Jesus as well as the portions of the Gospels that deal with the Passion Week. (There are too many other theological issues related to the miracles that I do not want to deal with here and the Passion Week was entirely atypical of a normal day in the life of Jesus.) These twenty examples come from His day-to-day life and interactions with the people of the land. The examples will include some of His preaching, some of His teaching, and some of His social interactions at parties and religious gatherings. Most believers will have read these twenty passages many times in their lives without ever stopping to take a moment to consider what was really going on. In that sense, this is not strictly a case of selective biblicism. On the other hand, it is entirely possible to read a passage and, due to an overwhelming incorrect presupposition, come to an erroneous understanding of what the passage contains. In that sense, this is a dramatic illustration of selective biblicism. For example, when a believer assumes that God does not hate anyone and then reads the Bible passage that says, “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated”, what does he do? He says that God does not really hate Esau! That is selective biblicism, even though the passage was read, it was not understood nor was it believed. Because Jesus is presumed to be a lamb-carrying nice guy who is always going around telling us to love and forgive each other, a foundation has been established for erroneous interpretations of His words. The picture that is painted from these twenty passages is a very different one than the Jesus of evangelical idolatry. The answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” is very different than the answer offered up by evangelical teachers and preachers. The Second Person of the Trinity is not at all like most believers think He is.
Matthew 2: 13-18
The story of Joseph and Mary’s flight to Egypt with the newborn Messiah is a popular one. Verses 13-15 describe the event and point out that it was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Hosea. This passage makes for a pleasant Christmas Eve reading. There is certainly nothing objectionable in the passage and reading it would give no one cause for offense. That cannot be said for the three verses that follow the account.
Verses 16-18 recount the outrage of Herod at having been tricked by the magi. Herod, of course, was afraid of what was being said about the baby. People were saying that Jesus was the King of the Jews. Herod was an insecure king and he was not about to accept any challenger to his throne. He had hoped to trick the magi into betraying the baby into his murderous hands, but he had failed. As a result, he decided upon a more comprehensive course of annihilation. When Herod discovered that he had been tricked “he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.”
Most people never take the time to contemplate this horrific event. What is utterly fascinating about this story is that it records the first major consequence of the first coming of the Messiah. Although it is certainly the case that Jesus Himself was not the one who killed the male children of Bethlehem, they were nevertheless executed by Herod as a direct consequence of His appearance. It is not unfair to say that the first thing Jesus did, even while an infant baby, was bring about the death of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of “innocent” children! Even more, Matthew tells us that the slaughter of the infants was a direct fulfillment of a prophecy of Jeremiah. Jesus fulfilled a prophecy by coming to His people and, as a result, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of “innocent” baby children were killed.
God certainly did not have to do it this way. There were other options. Why did God not just kill Herod directly so as to avoid the slaughter of the babies? After all, Herod died shortly thereafter as a direct result of his pride and arrogance in allowing the people to call him a god. Why didn’t God just kill him off a little bit earlier? Why would God, the loving God of the New Testament, decree through the prophet Jeremiah that many babies would die as a direct result of the entrance of the Messiah into the world?
The answer, of course, is God did it exactly the way He wanted to and it is absolutely certain that the way Jesus came into this world maximized His glory. The fact that a few dozen “innocent” Jewish babies were killed is all part of the great plan to maximize the glory of God. Christians much prefer to quote the prophecies about the coming Messiah that describe Him as kind, compassionate, helping the weak, healing the sick, and not even bruising a bent reed. All of those are true. So to, are the prophecies that describe Him as coming to bring death and destruction to the Jews. The happy prophecies are read, the hard prophecies are ignored. But don’t just take my word for it. John the Baptist had some very interesting things to say about the coming Messiah.
Matthew 3: 11-12
John was baptizing in the wilderness and preaching to the Jews that they needed to repent of their sins because the Messiah was coming. When some Pharisees and Sadducees came to him to be baptized he greeted them in a most hostile fashion. He said, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (vs. 7) What “wrath to come” was John talking about? All we ever hear about in our churches is that Jesus came to save those who were lost. We never hear anything about Him coming to bring wrath upon anybody. Nevertheless, that is not what John preached.
John’s message was very simple. He said, “As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to remove His sandals; He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
We know that Jesus will gather His wheat (us) into His barn (heaven) but we know nothing about all this nasty business of burning up chaff (who could that be, doesn’t God love everybody?) with unquenchable fire (isn’t only Hitler in hell?). We have been very selective in what we read about the coming Messiah. The things that we like to read are those that make us feel good about ourselves. The things that allow us to tell everybody that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives, we believe. When it comes down to reading and believing the hard things about Jesus coming to separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the wolves, the elect from the reprobate, we choose to skip those difficult sections. Those sections just do not fit into our preconceived notions about whom God is and what He is supposed to be doing.
John made it very clear. One of the primary reasons the Messiah was coming was to judge His covenant people. The Jews were to be measured according to the terms of the covenant that God had made with them. They were going to be found to be covenant breakers. The Messiah was coming to sever His relationship with national Israel and establish a new and better covenant. The Jews erroneously believed that they had earned the eternal favor of God. John made it very clear that they had not. He said, “…and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees…” Jesus, according to John, was the axe laid at the root of the trees. He was already chopping away. It would be in that generation that the tree of Israel would come crashing to the ground, to be used as firewood.
These are not things that we frequently contemplate about the coming Messiah. They are too unpleasant. They do not fit in with dispensational theology. They certainly cannot be read if one is trying to convince visitors to the church to come back next week. So we ignore them. We also ignore the words of Jesus. The following eighteen passages from Mark illustrate my point.