“The law works fear and wrath; grace works hope and mercy.” – Martin Luther
Ever seen The Wizard of Oz?
It is a classic. However, there is one scene to focus on – Watch here
Dorothy and her companions have travelled the Yellow Brick Road in hopes of getting their requests granted by the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Their hopes are high as they are granted to see the Wizard. However, fear begins to take over as a booming voice, fire, and smoke shakes their very essence. Each step is carefully taken. When summoned, each member of the group states their request. Yet, in order to receive, Dorothy and her friends must perform a difficult task: obtaining the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Even though we know how the story ends, this scene powerfully reflects our own spiritual lives. When we come before God, there are actually two ways.
However, which one is the correct path to God? Is one of them man made? And, which path are we showing others to go in order to approach God?
The Woman Who Approached
Luke 7:35-50 is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels. Jesus has been invited to the house of a pharisee named Simon. They are reclining at the table and enjoying a wonderful meal. Then, we are introduced to the party crasher; or a presumed party crasher.
A woman boldly approaches Jesus. The suspense in the room is tense. Everyone clearly knows who this woman is: a sinner. She is an outcast. Just her presence causes concern. But, it is her action that creates the heart attack.
She kneels at the feet of Jesus. Tears flow freely from her eyes. Her hands break open a jar of pricey perfume, and she anoints his feet with it. Then, she bows her head, kisses his feet, and wipes away her tears with her hair.
The scene shocked the pharisee. “If this man was truly from God, then he would stay away from her. She is a sinner. How could he allow her to touch him like that.” The disgust on his face was written as blunt as some politicians’ tweets. This pharisee didn’t even want “her kind” around. He was thinking of all the things she would need to do in order to stand in his presence.
However, Jesus didn’t say anything to the woman (at least not yet). Instead, he asked his host a question about forgiveness. Simon answered, but Jesus’ response floored him. The woman demonstrated a love for Jesus and honor over what the pharisee had done.
Then, Jesus lifted her eyes up to his. With their eyes locked, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”
We are like the woman. We know we need our sins dealt with. However, when we come to God there seems to be two paths. One is to do the right things, look the right way, and so on. The other is just to go to God, kneel at his feet, and weep as he forgives us.
The Torn Curtain
Each of us feels distant from God. We feel that separation. We want forgiveness. We want the love of God. We want his salvation. Yet, we come to him in fear that we will be doomed. That we won’t get it. We fear he really doesn’t love us.
Yet, we miss something when we read the Gospels. We know Jesus died to free us from sin. But something else happened at the death of Christ. The curtain in the temple was split in the middle (Luke 23:45). Do you know what this means? It isn’t just a decorative curtain. It was the curtain that separated the people from the presence of God in the holy of holies section of the temple. No one could approach this special area. Death was the punishment. An individual had to meet specific, special requirements in order to enter without fear.
When Jesus died, we now have personal access to God. Hebrews 10:19-22 promises us the curtain is torn, and we may approach God on our own without fear.
The Brick Wall
The curtain is torn, but sometimes we like to build a brick wall in front of God. We preach salvation is by grace, and then we make people climb our brick wall to approach God.
Just like the pharisee in the Luke 7, when someone does not fit our qualifications for approaching Christ, we have our opinions. “I can’t believe she would wear that to church.” “I can’t believe he is here worshipping when he struggles with that.” “You struggle with reading your Bible and praying, you must not be a good Christian.” “He spends his all his money on his family, yet can’t give anything to the church.” We may not say these things out loud, but we do think these about the other believers around us.
Jesus condemned this attitude (Matthew 23:13). The pharisees knew the truth to God’s kingdom, yet they made the people climb over their own brick wall. They put their traditions over God’s Word (Mark 7:1-13). The pharisees were all about making sure the right people were in the kingdom and looked right. They wanted five-star citizens in God’s kingdom. But, the people had to earn those stars (like a restaurant overworking itself in order to become the best).
Yet, Jesus didn’t come for the five-star Christians. He didn’t even come for the three-star Christian. He came for those without stars. He came to those who couldn’t even get half a star. He came to sinners who needed someone to rip the curtain in two for them in order to approach God (Mark 2:17).
Approaching With Boldness
In our churches, we preach two ways to God. We may say it is by grace, but after a quick sinner’s prayer we burden people with standards and lists of do’s and don’ts. God becomes just like the Wizard of Oz; how he deals with us is how well we fulfill some task or standard.
This isn’t the Gospel. There is only one way to God – grace. There is only one path to God after salvation – grace. In Christ there is no condemnation, and there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God – not even a missed day of Bible reading, a missed church service, wearing jeans to church, a Bible translation, or music style for worship (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:38-39). If these things could separate us from God and we had to work our way to God through standards and rules, then Jesus’s death and resurrection was never enough for us.
Instead, we have the promise of Hebrews 4:16. We can approach with boldness to God’s personal throne of grace. He is not like the Wizard of Oz. He is holy. But, the true image of God is seen in Jesus Christ. The incarnation is the perfect way God showed us who he really is (John 1:14).
It will be a bittersweet day when we realize that the way to Hell is paved with a collection of stars from Christian accomplishments and awards, and the road to Heaven is a mosaic of stories of grace from the most unlikely people.
When we make people conform to our standards in order to please God, we are preaching a second way to God. There is only one way to God, and that is through the arms of Jesus. We can boldly approach him, kneel at his feet, wipe our tears from his feet, and Jesus will look us in the eyes and forgive us.