A most grievous sin

November 4, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 22
Phil Wagler |

One of the greatest days of Jesus’ ministry was marked by one of his greatest laments.

He rides toward Jerusalem amid a worshipping throng waving palm branches and declaring Messianic praise (Luke 19:28-38). He is the humble king riding a colt—a most humorous and political cartoon-worthy image. What immediately follows, however, is a Messiah in lament. He weeps over Jerusalem: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).

Jesus receives the worship of the crowds—to the disdain of some—while keenly aware of an unstoppable force. No amount of boisterous truth could stem the tide of what comes. The holy city will stubbornly reject him, and with that rebuff will go the peace so many were seeking. Although Jesus the Messiah—God in humanity—was present and loudly proclaimed, the opportune moment was about to pass a generation by (Luke 19:44b). The inability to see God clearly—even in fulfillment of the very Scriptures quoted by the leaders of the people—had brought God himself to lament. Tragedy.

This is a word to be fearfully pondered again. Our learning, histories, strategies and cultural wrestling can unwittingly produce tragic miscalculations. What if we miss the moment of the Spirit’s movement? What if Jesus is lamenting over us?

Religious enterprises can very easily chug along without seeing God. In fact, it is religious work that is so prone to this fatal flaw. When we think we’ve figured it out, we leave no room for the Lord of glory, and our religious work teeters toward tragedy. And this leads to a grievous sin.

This grievous sin is not about sexuality, judgmental attitudes or whatever else we may rush to name. This grievous sin is self-justification. We justify ourselves—our sexualities, our judgments or whatever else—and then expect God to fit our conclusions. Meanwhile, he is riding among us seeking the surrender of our wills and worshippers. Self-justification is self-worship. It is pride. It is wickedness. And it causes us to miss the movement of the Spirit of God even while we do religious work. This is what brought Jesus to lament over a city still looking for peace.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we guilty of the sin of self-justification in all our ponderings about issues of lifestyle? Any cultural debate Jesus engaged in was connected to revealing the kingdom of God to a world of brokenness and self-justification. He was unashamed to declare that God’s kingdom was radically unlike the world’s fiefdoms. Are we not doing the opposite? Are we not asking how the kingdom of God should adapt to culture? Have we forgotten that the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit, those aware of their utter poverty, and that there is nothing in them worthy of justification?

Jesus comes as the king of another kingdom, not the king-maker of our self-justifying enterprises. He is Prince of Peace, the humble king, who is the justifier of those who hunger and thirst for a different way. He is the one to whom we must cry “Hosanna!” Which means, “Save!”

Save us from our self-justifications. We surrender. Lead on, King Jesus. We will take up our cross and follow you!

Are we ready to do that again? Or are we missing the opportune moment?


Phil Wagler (phil_wagler@yahoo.ca) lives in Surrey, B.C., with his family. He’s keenly aware of the need to keep crying out to the King of kings to save him from all his self-justifying.

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Hey Phil,

Very timely. I've been prepping for a bible study I'm doing in Romans and we're covering this a very similar tomorrow. In Romans 1, I'm struck how Paul begins with the sin of failing to acknowledge God and suppressing the worship of Him and says that because of THAT sin, God turns the world over to all sorts of evil behaviours.

It seems to me that we so easily get so wrapped up in the second great commandment, that we overlook or ignore the first. After all, helping our neighbour is much easier (and way more socially acceptable) than loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Love your writing, and since I met you back in Zurich have always loved your commitment to the Word above all.

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