The Anatomy of an Insult – Part 2

Sticks and Stones

In a recent post, we discussed how Nathaniel’s unthoughtfully sincere words were not enough to cause offense to Jesus. We also learned how something good can “come out of Nazareth”: whether it be in the natural realm, meaning Jesus Himself, or in the spiritual realm: the majority of the people that will read these words are “gentiles” by birth but Jews and Royal Priests by our adoptions as sons because of what came “out of Nazareth: the Nazarene and His disciples.

The last time you read the passage in John 1:43-51, what probably stuck out to you the most was Nathaniel’s “insult”. Nathaniel’s audacity to speak such a thing about Jesus is not a likely Sunday School lesson. But don’t forget, Nathaniel didn’t know then what he would know just a short time later. Although Nathaniel’s name doesn’t ever return to prominence in the New Testament accounts, his words would surely become the “faithful wounds of a good friend” in short order.¬†

Fruits worthy of repentance 

For too many people nowadays authentic Nathaniel-like sincerity is insulting. Unfortunately, all too often this is offense-taking sentiment is prevalent in the Church as much it is in the World. Thankfully Jesus shows us how to peer into the heart of the matter, overlook the “letter” of words and find hidden treasures in their “Spirit”. Jesus goes on to teach us the meaning behind “the faithful wounds of a friend”.¬†

When looking at the loving way Jesus answered Nathaniel’s sincere heart cry for the Truth, it couldn’t have been any more different than the total disdain He reserved for those who insisted they knew better but in fact these scholars and scribes and Pharisees but could not bear witness to anything resembling fruits worthy of repentance“.

One instance where the fruits worthy of such repentance were put on display immediately! In the account of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:24-29) lies the well-known encounter of Jesus and the disciple Thomas. This passage is where we get the expression “Doubting Thomas”, which we use when people are distrusting of any news, no matter the source. Thomas demanded proof that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas told his fellow disciples that he would need to put his finger into His pierced side and perforated hands. An empty tomb is one thing; saying that the body in the tomb is not dead elsewhere is a whole different story.¬†

Doubtful by default

The Greatest Insult is Doubt

To be honest, in a secularized modern world such as our own, no one blames Thomas for being so… rational. It is reasonable to imagine that Thomas had seen many people crucified in Palestine. The Romans had made crucifying enemies of the State into an art form. Thomas simply couldn’t conceive how anyone could survive such punishment. I’m sure that many other disciples had even shared his pragmatism until they saw Him in the flesh again. Thomas however, was bold enough and honest enough with¬†himself to speak it out loud.¬†

As they assembled there together days later, Jesus walks through the wall and puts His hands up for closer inspection by Thomas. He shows Thomas His chest wound where the spear had punctured all the way through to His heart. Thomas falls to his knees and bears witness that Jesus is truly the Son of the Almighty God. 

So, what was it that offended Jesus? Was Jesus even offended at all? Were the “faithful wounds of a friend” that Solomon was referring to the insult and offense that comes from those who are the best positioned to do the most damage and yet handle their words with the dexterity of someone with no impulse control? If Jesus really was offended by Thomas’ words there is little evidence here. However, He does make an example of Thomas and his secularist, materialist mindset. After all, believing after having seen is easy. Jesus takes the opportunity to pronounce a blessing on the billions of Believers that would come to Him throughout the millennia: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed” (John 20:29). After all believing¬†after¬†seeing that no faith at all.¬†

Friends and their faithful wounds

Jesus was surely not pleased. After raising the dead, walking on water, feeding the thousands, silencing a storm, and healing the sick, one of His most trusted friends doubted this final triumph over the forces and the Laws of nature. Thomas’s doubt was unbecoming of a man that had spent the better part of 40 months together with Jesus.

Unfortunately, Thomas’ doubt and double-mindedness were not exclusive traits to this one disciple. Judas’ internal conflict brought to the end of his rope, it brought Peter to deny Him to a little servant girl and caused the majority of others to run, scatter and hide. In fact, the Gospel accounts only place John the Beloved at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Unmitigated Tamarity

Thomas, like Nathaniel, spoke from his honest internal dialogue. Unlike the latter, Thomas had a purely worldly view of his surroundings. Thomas was perhaps the kind of man that struggled with his doubts even as he witnessed the miracles themselves. Thomas had room for miracles in his mind and as his relationship grew closer to Jesus he struggled less and less. But there was just something about Jesus raising Himself from the grave that was too much for him to handle.  

Pearl of Great Price

It is therefore our greatest fortune that the “faithful wounds of a friend” are the ones Jesus bears on His body to this day. Jesus overlooked, covered, atoned, and erased the insults of both Thomas and Nathaniel. The blood that oozed out of His hands and gushed out from between His ribs paid for not only the insults of those that accepted His forgiveness; it lies in wait to be discovered as payment in full for the countless millions around the world that have not yet come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They unwittingly spew insults on Jesus all day long and bearing in their own lives the cost. It is our sacred responsibility to introduce the world to this magnificent Forgiver of wrongs. For those of us who have found this great Pearl, we too often discard it in the busyness of life.¬†

Professional Profaners

In an upcoming post, we will discuss antiquity’s best orators of calumnies and Jesus’ favorite hypocrites. When it came to this group of people, Jesus held back no punches. He hit back hard in their war of words. His replies were pubic in the form of plain language as well as in the form of parables. I hope you’ll come back for part 3 when we discuss some of my favorite passages from the Gospels. Also, if you’ve missed out, be sure to read Part 1 of this 3-part series on the Anatomy of an Insult.¬†

When Christians insult other Believers

When Christians insult other Believers

It seems these days that everyone around you keeps getting more and more thin-skinned. Total strangers get third-party offended. Family members that don’t like what you think of a particular behavior of theirs. Church members, deacons, and even pastors. None of them can take any criticism of anything they say or do with the same “sweet reasonableness” they preach that others should have (Phil 4:5). Needless to say that people are easily insulted these days and some make a profession of it. Now please understand that we are talking about Christians here.¬† Whether it is intentional or not Christians insult other Believers and, perhaps worse, Christians take offense at the words of other Believers.

Any cheek-turners in the room?

But what about Jesus, how did he handle Himself when people said unkind or insulting things about Him. Now, I’m not referring to the openly insulting statements that He received during His ministry, I’m referring to the little things along the way, the innuendos, the side jabs, the play on words, or simply the things that were not said in public where many would have heard and formed an opinion on. How did Jesus handle those?

The sin of sincerity

I’m sure our personal lives are full of instances where the words of other Christians have insulted us. By the same token, our own words have offended other Believers. Whether it was by sheer naivety or aimed with the intention to wound a friend, Christians have been as guilty at insulting other Believers as the “general population”. Fortunately, not many of Christiandom’s foot-in-mouth instances have been recorded in the annals of history. That is of course with the exception of the Biblical record.

One such comment that comes to mind is when Philip went and told Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah. Philip told him that His name of Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth. Nathaniel, thought to himself and said the first thing that came to his mind and said, “can anything good come out of Nazareth”? When he finally came to Jesus, the Master turned and said to him, “Behold! An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile”. Not only did Jesus know what Nathaniel had said and not only did He not take offense but rather commended Nathaniel for his sincerity of heart. You see, Nathaniel had his doubts. His doubts were sincere but he still had enough hunger for the Truth to go and find out for himself. When he finally arrived where Jesus was and heard Him say two things. He heard Him say that only was there no guile in him but He was aware of him under the fig tree beforehand, Nathaniel suddenly realized that he was in the presence of God.

Sincerity as a lifestyle

A little background may be called for. Why would Nathaniel blurt out at Philip’s announcement of the Messiah cause offense? In the Jewish custom of the time “nothing good could come from Nazareth”. This was a widespread proverb and this was for two particular reasons. Reasons that are intertwined and, if Jesus was and considered Himself a prophet, He should’ve known better. His (supposed) Nazarene pedigree would automatically bar Him from being considered a prophet by any self-respecting Jew.

The hometown of the thick-skinned

For starters, Nazareth is in Galilee. That’s significant because its border country. Samaria (of the Samaritans) is just southwest of Galilee. Nazareth was a fairly large commercial center. It would have lots of gentile influences (Greeks, Samaritans, Phoenicians, and all manner of other pagan cultural influences). Seeing as Galilee shared a northern border with Phoenicia (of the Syro-Phoenician woman) with cities such as Tyre and Sidon that, although had long outlived their glory days, were still important regional ports of call.

 

Palestine in the time of Jesus

Galilee was not the ideal breeding ground for prophets. With such strong gentile influence,¬† complicated allegiances to God, Israel, and Rome,¬† Temple Jews considered Galilee to be a backwater sort of place. Far removed from the Temple cult of Jehovah. The Galileans’ tolerance for outsiders living and working among them made them, for the most part in the eyes of the Temple Jews, ritually unclean. By definition unfit for the office of prophet. This confluence of worldviews created a a “peculiar” people. Galileans were comfortable with speaking their minds and quite accustomed to hearing seemingly controversial comments. The insults and comments simply rolled off their back. It’s the biblical equivalent to being a new yorker. If we were to take offense at everything a stranger said, we would never make it past getting the car out of the parking spot.

Biblical backwater

Along similar lines, in all the history of the law and the Prophets, not one single prophet had ever come from Nazareth. The great majority of them were of Judean descent and many of them with traceable Davidic and/or royal lineage. Jesus, in their eyes, therefore seemingly lacked both the proper stock as well as the correct birthplace to hold such office, whether it be prophet or Messiah.

Surely Jesus was well-aware of the cultural and religious stigma that came from being a Galilean. Although not recorded in the Gospels, many others would have already said or thought such things. Both before then and afterward. However, Jesus was able to see into Nathaniel’s heart and saw the sincere heart-cry of a Seeker. It was¬† “credited to him as righteousness“. When Philip came to Nathaniel he made specific references to the Law and the Prophets. Surely referring to the countless conversations they had together in the past. Perhaps they scoured the Scriptures together looking for a sign. I imagine many other would-be prophets and Messiahs had come before. As history tells us, many of them and their followers ended up dispersed, discredited, or dead.

An insult revisited

With all of this in mind we can take a fresh look at Nathaniel’s question. It was part incredulous and part hopeful. Nathaniel was open to the idea. He was also hopeful that he had misread or misunderstood something in the Scriptures. He hoped that with a sincere heart he had been sincerely wrong before. Perhaps the time had come for them to finally¬†find the Messiah. Hopefully, to be found by the Messiah.

Jesus revealed to him the condition of his heart. He was perplexed. He asked “how do you know me”? Skipping the actual question¬† He replies, paraphrasing, “not only do I know you, I even saw you under the fig tree”! Typical Jesus style. What Nathaniel responds tells us a lot about the situation that we, at first glance, are not aware of directly.

Low-lying fruit

Here’s the low-lying fruit here (pun intended). The fig tree must have been out of the line of sight for Jesus. It must have been hidden from from His view. Possibly over a hill or around a bend or something of that nature.¬† From this Nathaniel would see two things. Not only was the man before Him master over men’s inner thoughts but the forces (read “laws”) of nature. Jesus had correctly identified his internal personal state and his specific geographic location. His thoughts and location would only have been known to Philip.

Foregoing what else Jesus tells the men there assembled about what¬†else they will see and hear in the times to come, we learn a few things about both Nathaniel and the heart of Jesus.¬† Nathaniel’s eagerness and thirst for Truth pays off. His first answer is a resounding “yes!”. Good things can come out of Nazareth. By association, good things can come from Galilee. Specifically, Jesus and His motley crew of friends. Those men would go on to change history. He also answers his second question. Jesus knows Nathaniel (read your own name there) like a “wheel within a wheel”. Jesus knows our innermost workings even when we are not aware of Him.

Insult, the teacher

Perhaps the most astounding discovery we can take away is His early interaction with His disciples. We see that Jesus is available for questioning. We will study in upcoming posts the way Jesus responds to other sorts of inquiries. Here, we are assured that Jesus does not turn away anyone searching with all their heart (Jer 29:13). Also, He answers the underlying question regardless of presentation. Jesus has no interest in form. His interest is function. Nathaniel’s question may have been or sounded course but it came from a ready heart, from a heart that wanted the Truth, was earnestly seeking the Truth. In exchange for his childlike sincerity, Jesus paid him a truly beautiful compliment, one that we should all aspire to hear from the Master: “an Israelite (read: Christian) indeed, in whom there is no guile”.

Let My People Think!

Not “from”, nor “since”, but “IN”

I once heard it said that “if you talk to God, you’re religious; but if he talks back….well then, you’re just crazy!”

Too often the Church has been pigeon-holed into such corners by fast-talking and fast-thinking Bible deniers and have found themselves either feeling or being defeated or, even worse, converted! But the Truth, thankfully friends, is of a very simple nature. The Word says that “God has set eternity in the hearts of men” so that we may search for Him and find Him. God made the universe complex and intricate and immense so that, in the end, there can only be one takeaway and only one takeaway: A design points to a Designer!

Atheists will argue “everything comes from something, except in the beginning where it came from nothing” or “in the future we will know”. If that isn’t a statement of faith, I dont know what is! Then, they also take the liberty to ridicule us for saying “in the beginning, God“. Well they can’t have it both ways: they can’t ridicule believers while they themselves are believers of a non-god!

You see, what they fail to realize is that their beliefs are based on faith as well; just because their faith “is in nothing” they think themselves not religious: their God is, in effect…”nothing”. Just like the “Nothing” in the Never-ending Story, it’s still something: it advanced destroying everything in its path, leaving only darkness and space void of any sibstance at all. Where there was once morality, it replaces with subjectivism; where there was once “knowable Truth” it replaces with post-modern relativism. Now, in all fairness, I’m not saying that “all atheists” are immoral and relativistic. In fact, many will argue that they are “good people” and they would be right. Their problem is that they wouldn’t be able to define “good” or why they are “good” without having to borrow from absolutist religious tradition and worldviews. They may argue that goodness is “innate” without being able to point to the source of this goodness. In fact, their argument is made even more difficult to sustain in light of darwinistic arguments in favor of “survival of the fittest” and “selfish genes”. In essence, their argument points more and more to a “fallen” nature of man, as in the Judeo-Christian worldview.

So let us undo this overly generalized myth about atheists once and for all. They are not more rational, better-educated, super-partes, more objective scientific minds than your average believer in general and/or Christian specifically.

Their belief system starts after the initial moment of creation: they either chose not to engage it as an intellectual necessity (meaning “only the simple” would attribute it to a God) or just claim that there is not need for a creator because the universe could simply be ever-lasting and self-existing.

Here is the problem with that theory: in an effort to deny the existence of God, they have just created a different God. Part of the most basic definition of a God or deity is that it must be uncaused, meaning that it didn’t originate from something else. Here’s some basic math: the eternal past cannot exist or today would never be a reality! There would be an infinite number of days before getting to today. Ergo, today would never happen. So, since “today” is a reality, time must’ve had a beginning: either caused by an extern agent (God) or self-caused (being God). Therefore, whether you believe in a creator god (or gods, which we will address in a follow-up post) or believe the universe is self-causing, you are, by definition, not an atheist! If you believe that “something” has either always (unhinged from the constraints of time) existed or was and is self-existing, you are, by definition a believer in a “god”: an un-caused cause. Therefore, to say that there is no “need” for there to be a creator or something responsible for the “birthing” of the initial moment of creation is not just intellectually unnecessary but intellectually dishonest.

So the solution is really simple: either god created the big bang or the big bang created itself and therefore fits the definition of “god”. Either way, this just proves that there is no such thing as an “atheist”; at best, one may be “agnostic”, meaning “not enough information” or not enough information as to “which god” is the “real God”. For now, we will leave this particular piece for another time.

The Bible says that “in the last days, people will have a form of religion but deny its power”. This is the reason why people will say things like “I believe in God, just don’t believe Jonah was in the belly of a whale for three days” or that “Jesus couldn’t have been born of a virgin”. Unless your definition of “All-Powerful” is separate and distinct from everyone elses’, an All-Powerful God is able to make both of those two situations happen without much ado about nothing. Even an “atheist” would concede that everything came from “something”. Now if this “something” is so powerful that it started the universe, which is a miracle in its own right, why are people so perplexed when we hear of more recent “miracles”? It sort of works like this:

-The universe came from nothing. It came “into being” while creating the Laws for “being”: it broke, bent or suspended the Laws to create the Laws.

-A miracle is a suspension or a breaking of the Laws of Nature. Example would be: resurrection, turning back time, holding time still, levitating just by thinking it, etc.

-The story of Jonah and the story Jesus’ birth are therefore beliefs that can be held by perfectly rational people without a need to ascribe religious beliefs: if an agnostic scientist can make room in his/her mind for the Laws of Nature to be suspended, bent, or broken, the same can be said of that scientist’s view on Biblical accounts of miracles.

As you can see, none of this takes a degree in Astrophysics to see how plainly and how easily this argument can be made. So why is it that people struggle so profoundly with this simple Truth? The Bible teaches us that for those who blaitantly refuse the Truth “God has handed them over to a reprobate mind” so that they would not believe even when it is made as plain as day. The Bible also teaches us that “to live like there is no God makes you a fool”. What this simply means is that it’s better to believe and be wrong than not to believe and be wrong.

So, whether it is based on faith in God, simple math or a simple thought experiment, regardless of your personal hang-ups with God, it is better to believe than not to believe! Therefore: believe, search for Him and you will find Him when youbsearch for Him with all your heart. And lastly: be saved!

God bless you!