A bit of an ‘Aha!’ moment came while reading this interview (by Ian Paul) of Andy Angel, vicar of St Andrew’s, Burgess Hill in West Sussex and author of The Jesus You Really Didn’t Know.
Evidently, the thrust of the book is that Jesus, in his teaching as recorded in the Gospels, placed a lot more emphasis on judgement and obedience than many care to acknowledge.
IP: You talk about the prominence of judgement in the teaching of Jesus as an ‘elephant in the room’. What was it that led you to notice this? How prominent do you think judgement is in the gospels?
AA: The first time it struck me was near the beginning of my ordained ministry. About fifty curates were asked during a training session how many had preached on judgment in the last three years, and only three of us put up our hands. From then on, I began to notice how readily people preach on the God’s love and how easily people gloss over his judgment—which is interesting as Jesus spoke often about the coming judgment. For example, the gospel of Matthew has Jesus talk of this judgment in 20 out of 28 chapters.
By contrast, nowhere does Matthew’s gospel specifically mention the love God shows us. In fact, neither do Mark or Luke. Only John talks specifically of the love God has for us. The basic plot of all four gospels is the call to repentance and following Jesus in the light of the coming judgment – but only John explicitly makes the love God has for us central to the plot of the gospel. [My emphasis]
Jesus brings God’s grace, in spadefuls. But grace, properly understood and experienced, does not leave us as we were. It transforms us. God’s grace teaches us, and empowers us, to live in obedience to him. The wise person is the one who hears and puts into practice what Jesus teaches (Mt 7:24-26).
Jesus never sets aside God’s law. What he does do is to correct abuses and point to its inner purpose and intent. We should think, says Andy Angel, not so much in terms of ‘law and grace’ but, rather, ‘grace and law’. We are saved by grace in order that we might be free to do those works that God has commanded in his law.
Embedded in the ‘Great Commission’ (Mt 28:18-20) are give words that we should all take to heart:
- judgement (implied in the phrase, ‘to the end of the age’, when Jesus returns as Judge.
God’s love is experienced, not merely as a warm feeling that leaves us unchanged in thought and behaviour, but as a life-changing presence that gives us the strength to face up to our deficiencies and to develop news ways of living by the power of his Spirit.
AA: Sadly, too many of us are settling for cheap grace – the attempt to possess forgiveness without being open to Jesus changing our lives and characters. Worse still, we pursue “worshiptainment” – finding the most professionally produced worship services in the hope that their amazing performances will quench our spiritual thirst. We confuse spirituality with aesthetics. Too often this just creates an addiction to aesthetic experience which does not find fulfilment because we have turned our focus away from Jesus by making an idol of “worship”. I think we have a lot of hard work ahead of us as contemporary western churches to get back on track. But none of this fazes Jesus who waits patiently and invites us to take his yoke upon ourselves and learn from him – and it is there we find rest for our souls.