OFFENDED BY JESUS?

By: Frank G. Tunstall 

Luke records a story about Jesus paying a visit to a home owned by a woman named Martha, in a village Luke did not name. She had a sister named Mary living with her. Luke’s story makes no mention of a brother. The women hosted a meal for Jesus and His disciples that evening. Martha was caught up with getting the meal ready, while Mary wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus and drink in what He was saying. Martha became upset and said to Jesus, “tell [Mary] to come and help me” (Luke 10:40 TLB). Jesus responded: “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and it won’t be taken from her” (Luke 10:41–42 MSG).

Over the centuries of church history this Martha has come to especially symbolize women in the church who are doers, while Mary is the model for worshippers, “the main course.”

If this Martha and Mary of Luke’s account are the same women presented in John 11, Martha obviously absorbed the lesson because the roles reversed. For example, “when Martha heard Jesus was coming,” after Lazarus had already died, “she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home” (John 11:20 NIV).

Grief is an emotion that strikes everyone sooner or later, and it can become inappropriately controlling and paralyzing, usually when people give up hope. Grief can walk a person down into the lonely valley of the mind into the deep well of depression. In this state, a person can easily believe even prayer is useless. A person might also stop attending worship services, for example. This reality often embraces very painful thoughts like, “I know God does not care about me, so why go to church?”

Yes, suffering will show us what is in our hearts.

Were Mary’s expectations of Jesus, “come heal our brother,” too crushed for her to go meet Him with her sister?

Has Jesus ever offended you, my reader, when He did not answer your prayers by giving you what you were sure was a right and proper request? (Luke 7:23 KJV).

“Whatever You Ask!”

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus when they met on the outskirts of Bethany, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21-22 NIV).

This is the sad language of disappointed faith colored by deep grief and wrapped with a sliver of hope. Martha’s statement, which Mary would also repeat in her own way a short while later (11:32), was obviously an expression of faith, although enclosed in a cocoon of disillusionment. Her reasoning might have been like this: “Jesus, I’m sure God will answer your prayers; He will do ‘whatever you ask,’ but He didn’t answer mine.”

So many people in the extremities of life have felt similar emotions, some asking questions in faith and others in unbelief.

I prayed earnestly; so why did Jesus not hear me?
Jesus had the power to intervene; why didn’t He?
Can I depend on God to be there when I need Him?

Those who express these thoughts in faith do so out of the struggle of their own hearts, and in time almost invariably they draw closer to the Lord. Those who ask them in unbelief usually use the questions to challenge the love of God, “the great love wherewith he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4 NIV). These people are often hardened further in their doubt and unbelief.

“I Miss Him”

In the late 1940s, Charles Templeton (1915 – 2001) was a close friend and preaching associate of Billy Graham. He effectively preached the gospel to large crowds in major arenas. Intellectual doubts, however, began to nag at him. He questioned the truth of Scripture and other core Christian beliefs. Templeton finally abandoned his faith and made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade young Billy Graham to do the same. Templeton said he felt sorry for Billy and commented, “He committed intellectual suicide by closing his mind.”

Templeton resigned from the ministry and became a novelist and news commentator. He also wrote a critique of the Christian faith, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.

Journalist Lee Strobel interviewed Templeton for his book, The Case for Faith. Templeton’s age at the time  of Strbel’s visit was 83 and he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He revealed some of the reasons he left the faith:

“I started considering the plagues that sweep across parts of the planet and indiscriminately kill—more often than not, painfully—all kinds of people, the ordinary, the decent, and the rotten. And it just became crystal clear to me it is not possible for an intelligent person to believe there is a deity who loves.”

Lee Strobel then asked Templeton about Jesus and was surprised at the response. Templeton believed Jesus lived but that Jesus never considered Himself to be God:

“He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. He’s the most important thing in my life. I know it may sound strange, but I have to say I adore him! Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. He is the most important human being who has ever existed. And if I may put it this way, I miss Him.” “Templeton’s eyes filled with tears and he wept freely. He refused to say more.”
By: Lee Strobel, cited from PreachingToday.com.

Martha believed she had the right to expect their friend Jesus to return a favor (phileo, friendship love), and come heal her brother. When Jesus did not, she was offended and disappointed, but she did not reject Jesus. Templeton made the choice to reject Jesus. Templeton gave Jesus many very kind compliments, but he did not confess to Him the one faith statement that always counts the most – “Jesus, I acknowledge you as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.” That choice meant when Templeton faced some of life’s toughest questions he had no answer, because he had rejected God’s Son who is the answer. Jesus told His critics: “If you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24 NIV). Suffering really does show us what is inside us.

Yes, moving from friendship love (phileo) to agape love for Martha and Mary was a journey wrapped with the black ribbons of deep disappointment and even depression. But Jesus was operating in the realm of agape, God’s love. It is the love of God that acts in our best interests as only Jesus knows what is best for us, and He does it with no strings attached.

The faith of these very grieving sisters did blossom so that they came to understand the difference between the two kinds of love. They even realized Jesus had their best interests in mind all along. Raising Lazarus from the dead was surely a far greater blessing to them and their many friends than healing their brother’s terminal illness ever could have been.

C.S. Lewis had it right when he wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: MacMillan, p. 1962, p. 93).

I could not go on without Him I know,
The world would o’erwhelm my soul;
For I could not see the right way to go,
When temptations o’er me roll.
Chorus: He whispers sweet peace to me.
He whispers sweet peace to me.
When I am cast down in spirit and soul,
He whispers sweet peace to me.
By: William M. Ramsay

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One comment

  • T. Elwood Long

    Thanks, Dr. Tunstall, for your insightful and inspiring message, “Offended by Jesus”. It is a marvelous reminder that our Lord will “whisper sweet peace” to us in our times of difficulty and questions if we will attentively listen to His voice of assurance.

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