Innocent

What do the news anchors mean when we hear, over and over: “More innocents were… today in…?” One definition of the word ‘innocent’ is:

In·no·cent

adjective

Not guilty of a crime or offense.

“the arbitrary execution of an innocent man”

Synonyms: guiltless, blameless, in the clear, unimpeachable, irreproachable, above suspicion, faultless; honorable, honest, upright, law-abiding; informal: squeaky clean

“he was entirely innocent”

Antonyms: guilty

Turns out, this is almost the same as the third definition for the word ‘good:’

Good

adjective

Possessing or displaying moral virtue.

“I’ve met many good people who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings”

Synonyms: virtuous, righteous, upright, upstanding, moral, ethical, high-minded, principled; exemplary, law-abiding, irreproachable, blameless, guiltless, unimpeachable, honorable, scrupulous, reputable, decent, respectable, noble, trustworthy; meritorious, praiseworthy, admirable; whiter than white, saintly, saint-like, angelic; informal: squeaky clean

“a good person”

Antonyms: wicked

The similarity is especially noticeable when we compare the synonyms. However, over the millennia, there has been only One among us that’s been unqualifiedly good. Speaking with the rich young ruler:

…Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Luke 18:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

Recounted again:

…Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:18 (ESV)

And, getting to the core of the matter:

…He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17 (ESV)

The last remark seems outrageous, especially to our modern ears. How can we do such a thing as keep the commandments blamelessly (i.e., in innocence)? Concerning this very question:

[Jesus]…told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”

Luke 18:9-12 (ESV)

The Pharisee claimed to practice the Law and thought himself righteous before God and better than his fellow-men.

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:13-14 (ESV)

The tax collector, on the other hand, fully expecting his due punishment, confessed his unworthiness under the Law and received mercy.

So we see it is by God’s mercy and unmerited favor, alone, that we can be justified (i.e., made right) before a holy and righteous God.

Who then is this holy and righteous one? To that, the scriptures attest:

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.

Luke 23:46-48 (ESV)

Calvin and Spurgeon both comment on these verses. Let us look at what Calvin said:

Now the centurion. As Luke mentions the lamentation of the people, the centurion and his soldiers were not the only persons who acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God; but the Evangelists mention this circumstance respecting him for the purpose of heightening their description: for it is wonderful that an irreligious man, who had not been instructed in the Law, and was ignorant of true religion, should form so correct a judgment from the signs which he beheld.

This comparison tends powerfully to condemn the stupidity of the city; for it was an evidence of shocking madness, that when the fabric of the world shook and trembled, none of the Jews were affected by it except the despised rabble.

And yet, amidst such gross blindness, God did not permit the testimonies which he gave respecting his Son to be buried in silence. Not only, therefore, did true religion open the eyes of devout worshipers of God to perceive that from heaven God was magnifying the glory of Christ, but natural understanding compelled foreigners, and even soldiers, to confess what they had not learned either from the law or from any instructor.

Examining the confession, he said:

When Luke represents [the centurion] as saying no more than “certainly this was a righteous man,” the meaning is the same as if he had plainly said that he was the Son of God, as it is expressed by the other two Evangelists. For it had been universally reported that Christ was put to death, because he declared himself to be the Son of God.

Now when the centurion bestows on him the praise of righteousness, and pronounces him to be innocent, he likewise acknowledges him to be the Son of God; not that he understood distinctly how Christ was begotten by God the Father, but because he entertains no doubt that there is some divinity in him, and, convinced by proofs, holds it to be certain that Christ was not an ordinary man, but had been raised up by God.

Calvin then clarifies our understanding of the Centurion’s confession:

The words, he feared God, must not be so explained as if he had fully repented. It was only a sudden and transitory impulse, as it frequently happens, that men who are thoughtless and devoted to the world are struck with the fear of God, when he makes an alarming display of his power; but as they have no living root, indifference quickly follows, and puts an end to that feeling. The centurion had not undergone such a change as to dedicate himself to God for the remainder of his life, but was only for a moment the herald of the divinity of Christ.

And, finally, he explains the multitudes’ reaction and gives us warning:

As to the multitudes, by [beating] their breasts, they expressed the dread of punishment for a public crime, because they felt that public guilt had been contracted by an unjust and shocking murder. But as they went no farther, their lamentation was of no avail, unless, perhaps, in some persons it was the commencement or preparation of true repentance.

And since nothing more is described to us than the lamentation which God drew from them to the glory of his Son, let us learn by this example, that it is of little importance, or of no importance at all, if a man is struck with terror, when he sees before his eyes the power of God, until, after the astonishment has been abated, the fear of God remains calmly in his heart.

Therefore, be not amazed at these things, but truly repent and believe.

Jesus and His Active Obedience, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on January 17, 2013

Schadenfreude

Have you ever laughed when someone trips up, makes a mistake, or some other calamity befalls them? That’s an example of Schadenfreude.

Wikipedia defines it as:

Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This word is taken from German and literally means ‘harm-joy.’ It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune. It is also borrowed by some other languages.

But it’s not something we should practice towards those we call brothers and sisters.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Romans 12:15-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

We shouldn’t practice it toward those who do us wrong either.

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,

and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,

lest the Lord see it and be displeased,

and turn away his anger from him.

Proverbs 24:17-18 (ESV)

And not because we wish them harm, but because we’re commanded:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 (ESV)

and

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 (ESV)

But if we do persist, we’re on a slippery slope. Soon, we may find ourselves siding with the Pharisees and looking down on the Tax Collectors in our midst:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

What does John Calvin think of the passage in Luke?

There are two faults at which Christ glances, and which he intended to condemn, — wicked confidence in ourselves, and the pride of despising brethren, the one of which springs out of the other. It is impossible that he who deceives himself with vain confidence should not lift himself up above his brethren. Nor is it wonderful that it should be so; for how should that man not despise his equals, who vaunts against God himself? Every man that is puffed up with self-confidence carries on open war with God, to whom we cannot be reconciled in any other way than by denial of ourselves; that is, by laying aside all confidence in our own virtue and righteousness, and relying on his mercy alone.

I urge you to read what else Calvin says about the passage.

It always seems to come down to: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…” And it needs to start with me.

The Swallow's Nest Castle near Gaspra

The Swallow’s Nest Castle near Gaspra, Yalta municipality. Republic of Crimea, 4 April 2014, A. Savin, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The Samaritan Leper

The story where Jesus cleanses ten lepers is a familiar one. It’s unusual that it comes right before one of Jesus’s declarations of the Kingdom. Or is it?

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:11-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin has some interesting comments about the passage:

Thy faith hath saved thee. The word save is restricted by some commentators to the cleanness of the flesh. But if this be the case, since Christ commends the lively faith of this Samaritan, it may be asked, how were the other nine saved? for all of them without exception obtained the same cure.

We must therefore arrive at the conclusion, that Christ has here pronounced a different estimate of the gift of God from that which is usually pronounced by ungodly men; namely, that it was a token or pledge of God’s fatherly love.

The nine lepers were cured; but as they wickedly efface the remembrance of the grace of God, the cure itself is debased and contaminated by their ingratitude, so that they do not derive from it the advantage which they ought. It is faith alone that sanctifies the gifts of God to us, so that they become pure, and, united to the lawful use of them, contribute to our salvation.

Lastly, by this word Christ has informed us in what manner we lawfully enjoy divine favors. Hence we infer that he included the eternal salvation of the soul along with the temporal gift. The Samaritan was saved by his faith How? Certainly not because he was cured of leprosy, (for this was likewise obtained by the rest,) but because he was admitted into the number of the children of God, and received from His hand a pledge of fatherly kindness.

We see the extent of God’s common grace through healings. But, without faith, those temporal miracles do not result in salvation.

Further, Calvin notes:

The kingdom of God will not come with observation. …The word observation is here employed by Christ to denote extraordinary splendor; and he declares, that the kingdom of God will not make its appearance at a distance, or attended by pompous display. He means, that they are greatly mistaken who seek with the eyes of the flesh the kingdom of God, which is in no respect carnal or earthly, for it is nothing else than the inward and spiritual renewal of the soul.

From the nature of the kingdom itself he shows that they are altogether in the wrong, who look around here or there, in order to observe visible marks. That restoration of the Church,” he tells us,which God has promised, must be looked for within; for, by quickening his elect into a heavenly newness of life, he establishes his kingdom within them.”

And thus he indirectly reproves the stupidity of the Pharisees, because they aimed at nothing but what was earthly and fading. It must be observed, however, that Christ speaks only of the beginnings of the kingdom of God; for we now begin to be formed anew by the Spirit after the image of God, in order that our entire renovation, and that of the whole world, may afterwards follow in due time.

I urge you, turn back, submit yourself to Him, and give Him thanks.

The Healing of the Ten Lepers, Tissot

The Healing of Ten Lepers, 1886 – 1894, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, PD-Art-US