A Scathing, but Christlike, Rebuke

A bumper sticker asked the provocative question, “Who would Jesus bomb?” From his other ones this rhetorical question was supposed to evoke the thought, “If Jesus wouldn’t bomb anyone, why do we engage in war?”

But was this really a rhetorical question? What is the correct Christian response to a rooftop sniper? Certainly we should help the injured and comfort the grieving but, as the body count grows, it becomes clear that the Mother Teresa approach is not appropriate in all circumstances.

Rather than ask, “Who would Jesus bomb?” ask, “Who did Jesus bomb—who did he most tenaciously fight and most scathingly rake over the coals?” Matthew 23 contains a heavy concentration of the rebukes Jesus gave to the religious leaders. In summary He said, “However you want to appear before God and man, you are the exact opposite.” Making godly disciples? You make proselytes twice the son of perdition you are! Generous? You devour widows’ houses! Wise leaders? You are blind fools! Meticulously following the law? You neglect the weightier matters! Ceremonially clean? You are whitewashed tombs with dead bones; a source of uncleanness!

The rebukes build to a crescendo: A friend of God? You kill His prophets! You have a special place reserved in heaven? Christ not only condemns them to Hell, He gives them an express ticket to the hottest part! It is hard to imagine how Christ could have used more offensive language.

In our fellowship group I asked the question, “Were this not Christ speaking, what more would this speaker have had to say before you concluded that he was ‘consumed with hatred?’” There was no reply. A righteous rebuke can look a lot like hatred.

Before someone says it’s only Christ’s prerogative to rebuke, Christ’s actions were bracketed by those of John the Baptist before His death and Stephen after. They likewise condemned the religious leaders. But many Christians may have problems with both of these examples.

While John the Baptist condemned the Scribes and Pharisees, he also violated what many Christians almost consider to be the “Biblical mandated” separation of church and state by rebuking King Herod, a civil ruler, for having his brother’s wife and this rebuke led to his execution. And, while there was a vibrant Christian church when Stephen was tried, Stephen did not rebuke Christian leaders but only the non-Christian Sanhedrin. We now have to come up with a reason for Christians somehow losing both the right and the responsibility to rebuke non-Christian leaders.

But even more troubling, instead of sticking to just “proclaiming the gospel,” both John and Stephen were willing to pay with their lives for their rebukes thereby ending their earthly ministries. They apparently viewed publicly rebuking evil to cripple its power over people as an essential component of their calling and more important than the years of service they could have provided had they held their fire.

If we are to emulate these examples of Jesus and these early followers in their rebukes we need to resolve both the correct method as well as the targets. I believe that the method He would have us use would be the same way you would handle a person standing on your foot in a crowded bus. First a gentle request assuming it was done in error but, if this did not produce results, the request would become more strident as the offender was told his actions would not be tolerated if turned out to be a case of aggravated, first-degree foot-crushing.

But who would He rebuke? The way Christ dealt with people depended on how close they were to two opposite poles on the spectrum; whether they were just sinners or whether they were leading others to sin. To the former He gave compassion, to the latter He gave both barrels; particularly to those in a powerful position to spread their cancer.

But these two approaches are really the same: You cannot love sinners without opposing those who would lead them into sin. I believe He would rebuke those who by teaching, example or action were leading others to sin. Further He would not pummel some (such as errant Christian leaders) but give others a pass since doing so would only shift the evildoing to others. He would instead treat all the same whether they derived their leadership positions from politics, sports or media or from religion of any flavor. When He even told one of his beloved disciples, “Get thee behind me Satan!” it’s pretty clear He didn’t play favorites.

However, before anyone tries following this example they need to carefully consider the latter part of Matthew 5:22, “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” The word “fool” that Christ uses here is the same Greek word that He uses when He condemns with “blind fools.” John the Baptist, Jesus and Stephen were not in danger of the fire of hell because they were exclusively exercising righteous judgment. Make absolutely certain it is God rather than you who is offended. James 1: 20 notes, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

Matthew 18:6 states “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” If a rebuke curbs a person’s power to cause one of these little ones to stumble, even if the person hates your interference, you are helping remove a millstone from his neck. Christians need to accept the responsibility to administer appropriate rebukes regardless of the cost.

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