We visited the Lincoln Memorial on a sweltering 98 degree day. The sun showed no mercy to tourists plodding along the Mall. All the benches in the shade were taken by the Korean and Vietnam Memorials, so guess where most people took shelter in the shade? On the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial where shade showed mercy to us. As we basked in the cooler shade looking through the memorial dedicated to the man who helped begin the journey of freedom of African-Americans from the bondage of slavery, we took the time to read some of words carved into the walls. Then we walked over to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial which commemorated a man of God whose life was taken for the freedom from oppression of the same people who had been enslaved earlier in the South, not far away. Note: All images in the post are mine.
Main Passage: Matthew 12:22-32
Focus Verse: Matthew 12:25 NKJV, "But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand."
What's the Deal?
The North's Union Army battled with the South's Confederate Army, both sides consisted of Americans. The Union believed in the freedom of people, slaves brought from Africa who served the Southern plantation owners often under horribly cruel conditions. The Confederate South were led to believe that people of dark skin were descendants of Ham, Noah's son who they thought was cursed for seeing his father naked while passed out drunk. That theological view taught that Ham's descendants, Canaanites, were marked with dark skin to be servants to the other three brothers (American Bible Society). As a result, they felt justified taking black people from Africa as slaves for their plantations, which brought in a sizable income.They feared they would lose their wealth if the slaves were freed. Both sides of the country were embroiled in a war that caused massive loss of Americans. The Union Army began burying the dead soldiers in the Cenfederate leader General Lee's front yard at Arlington, now known as Arlington Cemetery.
We were amazed by the words of Lincoln, a devout Christian man who led our nation during a very heart-wrenching time in America. In the engraving on one of the walls, Lincoln's Second Inaugeral Address, Lincoln said, "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes... If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'." What really jumped out to me was how both sides prayed against the other to the same God!
Much later, in 1968, Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed during a volatile time in America over this issue of racial discrimination against African-Americans. This famous civil rights leader was a man of God advocating for the rights of all people in America to live in freedom. Rev. King gave his speech about equality and freedom for all on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the very steps were we all sought shelter from the brutal sun. How many churches were divided over the issue of the segregation and discrimination based on race in his time?
How could a country love and serve the same God while killing each other? How could the North hate the South so badly, with such malice, yet go to church on Sunday to worship God and sing hymns? How could one side justify treating human beings made in the image of God so inhumanely for the sake of money and status then go to church on Sunday to worship God and sing hymns? Why couldn't Christians look past the differences in color and culture to see we are all made in the image of God, many who hold the same faith in God, who have the same forgiveness of our Savior? How can the Church today be so hotly divided on so many issues while we read the same Bible, worship the same God, and sing praises to His Name today?
Jesus healed people and drove out demons from a blind and mute man on the Sabbath, which had the Pharisees bent out of shape.They had been stalking Him vigilantly because they believed He was breaking the sacred Laws of Moses. Jesus, Son of God, God in the flesh breaking the Sabbath? They believed their interpretation of the Law was correct, but Jesus set them straight-- He is the God of the Sabbath. He pointed out to them out of the very same Law and their discrepancies on two earlier occasions in verses 3-8. Essentially, by the time they called Jesus Beelzebub (Satan), they crossed a serious line. It was one thing to disagree with Jesus' view of picking grain to eat and healing on the Sabbath, it was quite another to call Jesus something He was not. Because of their misinterpretation of Scripture they were dividing the house of God, God's people, by oppressing people with man-made rules and stalking the Son of God with a plot to kill Him. Now they were committing blasphemy by calling the Messiah, the Savior they were looking for, Satan the Deceiver, the Father of Lies. Jesus warned them that if they commit blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, they would never be forgiven for the sins at all. Period.
Oppression and division are common, not only in our country, but in our churches. One side points fingers at the other all under the supposed interpretation of God's Word, while ignoring the rest. Just as Lincoln pointed out that the South oppressed people to the point of lashing them with a whip for the sake of money, the North withheld forgiveness and Christian love by holding a grudge against the South, both sides claiming to be forgiven by Jesus.Just as Rev. King pointed out the horrors of discrimination People are run out of the church because of their sins by people who claim to be forgiven by Jesus washed clean by His blood. One mishandles Scripture to judge the other while the other misinterprets Scripture to justify a sincerely, but misguided, emotional tie to the sin in question. We can't both be right in our own eyes. We must remove the logs in our own eyes to remove the speck in the eye of the other (Matthew 7:3-5).
When we hold a sin issue against another, are we any better than the Pharisees or the Union and Confederate States or made people live as less than citizens of our country during the civil rights movement? We are called to love one another (John 13:34-35) and to not quarrel about anything (2 Timothy 2:23, 1 Timothy 1:3-5) . We are also called to talk to each other when one sins against the other (Matthew 18:15-20). and to forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13). Just as important, we are called to interpret the Bible correctly (2 Timothy 2:15). Just as we sat in the shelter of the shade of the Lincoln Memorial, a symbol of freedom for slaves, we as Christians stand in the shadow of our Savior Jesus Christ, who freed us from our sins. Let us be united in Christ, lest divided we fall.
May God bless you!