Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Greatest Exchange

I was only eleven when the television bled with an image of a pastor stumbling to his knees and raising tear-streaked face heavenward in public repentance for his sin of infidelity.  Such scandal required the ten second clip to be replayed at every opportunity, imprinting it on my memory.

Ever since, there has been a steady stream of religious leaders filling the airwaves with forced confessions when their sins are unearthed, so much so that the breaking news and confessions have become almost meaningless.

When a Senator from my own state was caught up in an illicit relationship a few years ago, my response wasn't outrage or shock but sadness and a shrug of the shoulders.  What else was new.  I, like many Americans, had become immune to the news that the mighty could easily fall.

Another response I have noted from the Christian community is not mere indifference but an intentional distancing themselves from a sinful world on the grounds that it is obeying God's command to not be "of the world."

The problem is that this attitude can quickly morph into disobedience to other Godly commands to go spread the gospel or to show mercy.  It can also grow almost overnight into pride, where it becomes all too easy for followers of Christ to just shake a disapproving head and turn their backs on the world to condemn it as "hopelessly lost" rather than, instead, to pray for, witness to, and reach out to lead this lost world to Jesus.

One way to stave off this tendency towards pride is to see who we really are in Christ's eyes.  To do this requires looking back at the initial covenant relationship formed when Christ imputed His righteousness on us as sinners and added us into His kingdom.

Last summer, I did a series here about the concept of covenant in Scripture.  In one of the articles, we explored probably the most well-known covenant between King Saul's son Jonathan and David.

Scripture says, "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt" (1 Sam. 18:1b, 3-4).

Imagine Jonathan standing before David offering these gifts of covenant. David would have taken off his robe, the robe of a shepherd, one likely well-worn and pungent, perhaps even torn by jagged rocks on the hillside where he pastured his father's sheep or stained with the blood of wild animals he had slain to defend the flock. This was not a robe to be worn by a king or a prince.

Jonathan's robe, on the other hand, would have reflected his regal status, been made of the finest materials, unmarked by signs of manual labor. With this robe hanging from David's shoulders, everyone would know he was a friend of the King's son, that to make an enemy of David was to make an enemy of royalty.

In such regal apparel, it would have been easy for David to feel important, maybe even puff out his chest or stand just a little taller as he walked by the townspeople, knowing all eyes were upon him.  After wearing the robe for awhile, David might have even momentarily convinced himself that he deserved to wear it.

But if he ever had such prideful thoughts, all he had to do was look back at Jonathan, to look at a true king dressed in the rags of a shepherd boy.  With David's eyes on his covenant partner, there is no way David could have felt pride, but only humility and gratitude for this undeserved gift.

Such is the exchange we can imagine between us and Christ.

Scripture tells us "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).  Earlier, the prophet Isaiah said, "he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels" (Is. 61:10).

In the covenant relationship each person enters into with Christ, he or she is clothed in a robe of righteousness--CHRIST's robe of righteousness.

Yet, in the terms of the covenant, each covenant partner must give his robe to the other.  That means when Christ gave us His robes of righteousness, we, too, handed him our robes of sin, of unrighteousness.

Imagine standing before the Savior who has offered you this great gift of salvation.  He offers you a regal robe of righteousness.  You wrap it around your shoulders, beaming.  Yet, when you look up, Christ has slipped both arms into your ragged robes.  Sin weighs heavy on this King of heaven and earth, on the One who knew no sin, yet who became sin for you.

At this moment of conversion, when the new Christian's eyes are on Christ, it is impossible to feel pride in his elevated estate.  Instead, the Christian will feel humble, grateful, and merciful.  This is as it should be.

Yet, sometimes, our eyes stray from our covenant partner.  And that is when pride at our righteousness slips in.

When we take even the mildest pleasure in someone's downfall, when we look down on another for their blatant sin, when we elevate ourselves as worthy of Christ's salvation--we must recognize this as pride, look up into the eyes of our covenant partner and see the robe He took from us, the one we truly deserve to wear.

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