Ray Rooney, Jr.: He Went Away
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 7:52 AM

Have you ever stopped to consider who made the first attempt on Jesus’ life as a grown man?  Luke tells the story in the fourth chapter of his Gospel.  It was His hometown synagogue!  The people who knew Him better than anyone else (outside of His family).  That’s right.  It wasn’t the Romans or the high priest or the Pharisees.  It was the people who had come to worship in the local synagogue in Nazareth where Jesus grew up.  Isn’t that something?  They went to worship God and dismissed so they could kill Him.

It kind of begs the question as to why people attend church today doesn’t it?  Most people who go to church have a hard time explaining to outsiders why they attend.  Which pretty much explains why evangelism is in such a sad state of affairs today.  People will tell you they go to church to be blessed.  They go to be refreshed and strengthened.  Some go to church because it is expected of them by parents or spouses.  Some go to find companionship.  Some go to find support.  Some attend church to establish a network of connections.  A lot of people go to church because they are seeking to feel better about themselves and their place in the world.  Many pastors and church leaders really don’t care what reason people have for attending church as long as they do.  And look at the results.  When will the people of God ever learn?

Who killed Stephen in Acts 7?  Who was the chief persecutor of the early Church in its infancy?  Who nearly destroyed the church in Galatia?  Who was causing all of the problems in the extremely dysfunctional church in Corinth?  Who was James talking about when he said “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:2).  Who was John talking about when speaking of the many antichrist like people in the world who “went out from us” (1 John 2:19)?  Who was Jude talking about when he referred to the “grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires” (Jude 16)?  And who was Jesus talking to in Revelation 2 when He counseled “Remember therefore from where you have fallen” (v.5)?  And the answer is…the religious community!

No, I am not even remotely suggesting (as many do) that most of the violence in the world occurs because of religious fanaticism.  What I am suggesting is that when people attend religious activities for the primary purpose of getting something rather than bringing something, sin will abound even in the presence of great grace.  The bottom line is that today’s Christian more often than not goes to church with a hand out expecting to receive instead of with a hand full seeking to minister.  And trouble always ensues when that happens. 

Remember the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt?  God brought them out of 430 years of slavery with a mighty hand and all they wanted to know was where supper was.  Keep in mind they had all their flocks and herds with them.  The Son of God dies on a cross that God might be reconciled to man and then rises from the dead so that death might not be a constant source of fear for humanity and Heaven is constantly bombarded with complaints about prayers not being answered in a timely fashion.

What is going on among God’s people?  Why has it always been this way and continues to this day?  Why is there so much dissatisfaction and angst in the Christian community negating the witness of Christ?  Maybe we need to rethink what worship and church are supposed to be about.  Twice in the book of Exodus God admonishes His people “None shall appear before me empty-handed” (23:15 & 34:20).  Then in the New Testament Romans 12:1 says “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  And then in what was probably Paul’s last letter before his execution he wrote to Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Timothy 2:15). 

Worship and church are about bringing something to God.  Namely, yourself.  Christianity is primarily about giving, not receiving.  Yet church has been turned into the place where our desires are fulfilled and my needs are met.  So what happens when your expectations of what you believe you are entitled to at church are not met?  A boring sermon.  A callous remark.   Chaos ensues.  Something is wrong.  Somebody has screwed up.  Who’s to blame?  And it never occurs to the churchgoer that the fault lies within.

A favorite passage among Christians today is 2 Chronicles 7:14.  Here is how it reads: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”    Usually, the way that is presented is that God volunteers to fix all our problems if we’d just get on our knees in humility and ask Him.  But do you know what the verse 13 says?  “When I [God] shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people…”  That’s right.  God is the reason the land needs healing.  Why would God cause drought, famine, and sickness?  Because of His people’s “wicked ways.” 

If things are tough in the Church right now it is not because the devil is winning the war against people of faith.  Rather, it is because the Christian community is shooting itself in the foot like God’s people always have with our senseless provocation of His holiness.  We go to church empty-handed full of assumptions, expectations, and demands rather than offering ourselves in humility and repentance.  We don’t stand up for righteousness in the culture anymore because there is no cost/analysis benefit for doing so.   There is nothing but grief waiting for the church that stands firm and tall saying, “Thus saith the Lord…”  The Church has come to crave acceptance by society more than forgiveness from God.

Do you know how the story ends in Luke 4?  After being infuriated that Jesus would suggest the good religious folks at Nazareth where He grew up rarely ever exercised any faith, they “drove him out of town” so they could throw Him off a cliff.  Some of the New Testament’s most poignant, powerful, and frightening words were written by Luke about what happened next. “But passing through their midst, he went away.”  He was in their midst, but He went away.  So happens every day in churches everywhere when the people of God appear before Him empty-handed expecting only to be told how wonderful they are.  The only hope we have for an energized and revitalized Church that not only reaches out and saves the lost but successfully turns back sin and evil in culture is the Church with Jesus in its midst.  A Church that is willing to hear the hard things to hear.  A Church on its face in sorrow and repentance for provoking God.  A Church where people present themselves before God for acceptance.  The problem today isn’t that evil seems to be winning.  The problem is why its winning.

“…He went away.”

Ray Rooney, Jr.