The problem with “If Only” thinking (a devotion from King’s Cross)

Reading, actually listening during my commute, to Tim Keller’s King’s Cross, one chapter at a time has provided lots of time to reflect on Jesus and our response to Him. The book presents Jesus as seen through Mark (the Gospel writer) and Keller. The purpose, much like the works of C.S. Lewis, is to show the reader how Jesus’ “life makes sense of ours.”
It is an extended meditation on the historical Christian premise that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection form the central event of cosmic and human history as well as the central organizing principle of our own lives.
In chapter 3, Keller explores the scene where the paralytic, carried by four men, is brought to Jesus, through the roof.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

As Keller unpacks this passage, and what Jesus has done, he explores what might have gone through the head of the paralytic as he heard these words. As he does he presents us with the problem of “if only” thinking, which goes something like this:

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Young, Restless, & Reprobate?

If we look at the account across the three Synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30) we notice several things about the Rich Young Ruler (RYR) as he approaches Jesus.

  1. He is running up to Jesus.
  2. He falls on his knees, which may be a sign of honor, but in this case is more likely a position of imploring (Matt 17:14-15; Mk 1:40).
  3. He addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher”.
  4. He asks what “good” must he do to gain/inherit eternal life.

The RYR has come with an urgent question and a desire to learn from Jesus, recognizing Him as one who teaches with authority (Matt 7:29). We can assume that he comes without an ill intent (unlike the Pharisees and scribes (Matt 19:3; 22:35; Mark 10:2; 12:13)), but is genuinely seeking to understand how to inherit eternal life (like Nicodemus in John 3).

Jesus’ response (as most commentators note) must have caught the RYR off guard.

Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

What was probably meant as a sign of respect has just become a theological lesson. This was probably Jesus’ way of forcing the young man to wrestle with the question: who do you say that I am? Continue reading

Eating with Sinners

Jesus’ ministry was summed up by the Pharisees in this way (Luke 15:1-2 also Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34).

This man receives sinners and eats with them

Having assessed Jesus’ approach to ministry, the Pharisees also questioned it. Why does Jesus “eat with sinners” (Mark 2:16 NET)?

When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?

As we look back on Jesus’ ministry mission statement and how he dealt with sinners we can end up with a lot of questions too. Who should I eat and hang out with? Where should I hang out with them? What should I tell them about sin? What expectations should be placed on the sinners for there to be a continued close relationship? How long should I hang out with them if they keep sinning? How should we handle sinners in the church?  These are all good questions. And ones that are being hotly debated.

The Last Supper (Da Vinci)Here is how Jesus defended His “eat with sinners” approach to ministry (Mark 2:17 NET):

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