Meet the Makarioi (Dispensers of Grace)

Blessed by not Being Offended

A blind man was carrying a lantern. When he was asked for a reason, he replied, “I carry a lantern to keep people who can see from bumping into me.” In our world, we constantly bump into others or they bump into us. We are all quite clumsy at this and we are quick at feeling hurt. From the cradle to the grave, we tender our feelings. When I asked my five-year old granddaughter what was bothering her, she said, “You hurt my feelings, grandpa.” And after determining the cause, it was actually grandpa’s feelings that were hurt. She was covering up her own little blunders. 

How quickly we assign our guilt on others to draw off the attention of our own mistakes. How did Shakespeare put it, “More hurt than hurt against?” Our world is bumping into Jesus far too often and too much! It even blames Jesus for finding itself in trouble. This chapter is about reverse scandalizing. John the Baptist felt that Jesus had not supported him. He had introduced Jesus as, “The Lamb of God that takes away sins,” and not as some military hero to rescue him from Herod’s dungeon and restore a Davidic kind of a kingdom. Jesus’ answer was equally puzzling. “You will feel blessed if you stop regarding me as one who is against you. The work I am called to do is different from yours and I cannot help it if it offends you.” The same is true of us who represent Jesus and speak in His name. If we stop because somebody is offended, then a lot of people will be lost because of us pleasing those who reject Jesus. 

In the past, man fought duels and wars over insults and honors. Offended men have reacted violently against those who stood in their way.  On many occasions, innocent bystanders were hurt or even killed.  Jesus, Himself, could not take one step without offending someone; yet, Jesus was the most noble and gracious “Individual” that this world has come to respect and adore. When John the Baptist, who had identified Jesus as the Messiah, found himself in prison, John too began to question, whether Jesus was the one who would deliver Israel? It must have appeared to John that the Messiah should have set him free from Herod’s jail. Hence, John sent messengers to Jesus inquiring as to whether He was the “One” or whether they should wait for someone else? It was in this connection that Jesus said, “Blessed (makarios) is he who is not scandalized in (by) me” (Matthew 11:6; Luke 7:23).

The Greek for scandalized is “skandalisthe” and it has to do with creating situations that cause people to end up in trouble and feel misled by their leader. People had certain anticipations of the Messiah. When Jesus did not comply, they stopped following Him and they became confused (John 6:66). Instead of being a blessing, Jesus had become a stumbling block. John the Baptist must have felt that Jesus had let him down. When John had taken on the King Herod over his sinful relationship with his brother’s wife, Jesus had not come to back him up with an army of the Lord. Jesus informed his friend, in prison, that His mission was not military, but preaching the “Good News” and healing the sick. Then, Jesus added that it would be to John’s advantage not to lose faith in Him and fall away from the work he had been called to do, in the first place. John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah and not tangle with Herod the King. It was John, and not Jesus, who had sidetracked from his intended course. John had an agenda for the Messiah. When Jesus did not fill John’s agenda; then, John thought that Jesus could not be the Messiah. Like John, we, too, have agendas that we expect Jesus to fill. When Jesus does not come to our rescue; we, too, feel disappointed and hurt.  

We need to realize that Jesus had not come to bale John out.

Jesus had come to rescue humanity from eternal doom, and eternal separation from God. Jesus’ Mission was to restore humans to God by changing their lives and their ways. The people wanted Jesus to approve of their ways. The people wanted Jesus to remove their obstacles. Jesus could have tried to rescue John and be apprehended by Herod, the fox, and that would have ended and hastened Jesus’ Mission. While on earth, Jesus, too, was subject to the earthly authorities. God would not free Jesus from the hands of Pilate. Sin had to be punished and Jesus had to pay for it (John 1:29). John had forgotten that he had pointed to Jesus as, “The Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world.” The people, including John’s followers, wanted a victorious Messiah and not a suffering Servant. 

Jesus was incomprehensible when He talked about the betrayal, the suffering, the dying, and the returning to life. They became angry and disturbed at Jesus. Jesus own family thought that He was beside Himself. His town folks were offended because they knew Jesus from childhood. They could not grasp that “One” of their own could be “God’s Chosen Instrument.” After all, why would God pick this simple “Carpenter” and not one of the more distinguished leaders in the community? And when Jesus stood up in their Synagogue and publicly announced that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled in Him, they dragged Jesus up a mountain with the intention to destroy Him. In their eyes, Jesus had made Himself into some one, He could not possibly be. If it had been a stranger making similar claims, he would have been received with open arms. But being “One” of them, they were offended at Him. One time Jesus pleaded, “If you cannot accept me, at least accept what I am doing. I am only doing God’s will.” Perhaps, Jesus merely meant to say, “Do not be offended by what I am doing. Sorry John, for not living up to your expectations.”

In particular, the Jewish leaders felt scandalized by what Jesus did and by what Jesus said. Jesus claimed to have come to do God’s will and that men were gods. Jesus was casting doubt on their relationship with God and on their role as leaders. They made Him equal to God, accused Jesus of breaking their law and of destroying the institution of the temple. They were the trustees of what they regarded as God’s endowment to them. The people, especially the disciples, believed that Jesus had come to replace these false pretenders. The disciples expected Jesus to set up a Davidic type of a kingdom with them managing the twelve tribes. Jesus had mentioned a kingdom where the disciples would have a role, but not on earth. It was pointless for Jesus to explain what He had come to do. Time and the events that would follow would explain His role. The leaders asked, “Are you the Christ the Son of God?” Jesus’ reply was, “You say that I am.” Instead He talked about the Son of man was going to be exalted. 

The word “exalted” must have chilled the bones of Nicodemus. Jesus’ prediction to Nicodemus was about being fulfilled. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14). The leaders, Nicodemus was a member of, would condemn Jesus to be hung on a cross because they were scandalized by Him. Just as the snake on that wooden post became a scandal to the Hebrews, so shall Jesus become for Nicodemus and his people. The Christ, on the cross, would become scandalous for the Jews and ridiculous for the Greeks, but Jesus would be the hope of salvation for everyone who is simple enough to believe. The Greeks represented, then the wise and powerful, and they still do today. In fact, there is a revival of Greek politics and wisdom. To all of these, the Christ, on the cross, is an embarrassment. Even Christians are covering up the cross. I remember, when the Nazis removed the crosses from roadsides in Poland, the people still stopped and paid tribute, in silence, at those places.

The exaltation may have chilled Nicodemus, but the hanging on a tree must have been shocking. It was the worst kind of punishment for a capital offense. Such an insult was under the curse of God. There was no greater humiliation for the victim and no greater shame for those that demanded a crucifixion. It required unbelievable hatred for the person that was being exposed to the curse of God. It was a merciless act by the leaders, and Nicodemus could do nothing about it. Nicodemus’ attempt to have his colleagues follow the law only increased their anger against Jesus. How could they know that what they were doing was precisely what God wanted them to do? They were demonstrating their sinfulness and their need to blame someone for their inability to deal with themselves. That is why Jesus prayed before He died, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Most people do not know what they are doing to themselves when they treat Jesus as if He is in their way.

The leaders and their followers became obsessed with Jesus as their stumbling block.  To them, Jesus was against everything they were and they did.  When Pilate could no longer reason with the mad crowd, he washed his hands in public and declared, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” and the crowd shouted, “Let his blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:24-25). Unknowingly, these evildoers laid claim to the blood of Christ to cover their guilt. Without the shedding of blood, there is no redemption. Only the blood of the sacrificial lamb could avert the curse of death. Christ’s blood was shed on the cross when the soldiers drove the spikes into Jesus’ hands and Jesus’ feet, and then they even pierced Jesus’ side. We assume that the witness of these proceedings was the Apostle John. Was John that well versed in the sacrificial system to see the correlation with Jesus? Is it not more likely that he was a person like Nicodemus, a teacher and one more familiar with the Scriptures?

The text states that when man goes against Jesus, man shall lose Jesus’ blessings. Man becomes so preoccupied with the things he does not like about Jesus, that he loses out on all the good Jesus could offer. Of all the leaders, only Nicodemus went to Jesus and recognized that Jesus, as a teacher had come from God. Nicodemus knew, that without the guards, who were sent by the Pharisees to arrest Jesus and when they returned to their leaders without Jesus they said, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). The angry Pharisees asked the guards, “Has he deceived you also? Does any one of the rulers or one of our Pharisees believe in him? Most certainly not! This mob that follows Jesus knows nothing about the law. There is a curse on these people (John 7:47-49). God turned the curse and offered his blessings in stead. A makarios is not easily offended.