Tolerate… or Turn In?
In talking through the Easter story this week with my young son, he asked an interesting question.
“Why didn’t people like Jesus? He helped people. He made their diseases go away. He even raised that little girl from the dead. Why would people want to kill him?”
He asks a compelling question. What could this man have possibly done to cause the people who celebrated Him and revered Him as Messiah, to do an about face—to turn on him and cheer for his death?
It’s true, Jesus did heal the sick and give sight to the blind. He offered mercy to sinners and ate with tax collectors. He raised those physically dead and offered life to those dead in spirit. He loved on and spent time with those who sought to hear the truth.
Jesus was also intolerant.
The word intolerant has come to be known as a nasty word. The mention of it conjures up terms like judgmental, hateful, fanatical, and unjust. But while Jesus displayed mercy, acted justly, and loved unconditionally, Jesus was intolerant too. He was intolerant of injustice, and oppression. He was intolerant of arrogance and inequality. And most of all, Jesus was intolerant of sin.
In his book, The Beauty of Intolerance, Sean McDowell writes,
Traditional tolerance is truly a virtue, but intolerance can sometimes be beautiful—that is, when you understand it from God’s point of view. What is more virtuous than a holy God responding to sinful humanity through his tolerant expressions of love, acceptance, and mercy? What is more beautiful than God’s intolerance expressed in his moral outrage toward the tragedies of poverty, racism, sexual abuse, slavery, bigotry, and other such evils? (pg. 24)
So what would it mean to see intolerance from God’s point of view? What would it mean to see intolerance as something good?
When we see something or someone we don’t like or agree with, we tend to turn and walk away. We write someone off, or decide not to spend time with them. We might turn our backs and wash our hands of them. We might decide they are not worth our time, or our attention, or even our prayers.
Jesus didn’t do that. He was intolerant for sure. He did not accept the person’s behavior as being something that was “right for them.” Rather, He called out the sinful behavior for what it was and then He did something amazing, He turned in anyway. He stepped right in the middle of their messiness and offered to show them another way—the way where he would be more than just tolerable. He would be merciful.
Jesus turned in.
Because He was both fully man and fully God, the Jesus of the Gospels felt both compassion and anger. He preached peace and yet caused a ruckus outside of the Temple. He offered mercy to prostitutes and disapproval toward the religious establishment. This made him both loved and hated at the same time. He found himself loved by those poor in spirit who’d never felt accepted and hated by those religious elites who had spewed judgment in the first place.
While those in power threw the woman caught in adultery in the middle of the square and sought to ride the town of such a filthy excuse for a woman, Jesus turned in. He got messy. He lifted the woman’s head and let his intolerance for injustice run rampant over the hatred of the crowd.
When the thief on the adjacent cross asked Jesus to remember him when He entered His kingdom, Jesus turned in one last time while on this earth. Jesus was tired, beaten, worn down, unjustly punished, and yet somehow still merciful. His intolerance for sin and his passion for sinners was so great, that He turned in yet one more time before death would overtake him. Jesus turned to the man and said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
This Easter, have fun with the egg hunt, eat that chocolate bunny, wear that Easter dress and gather with friends and family to honor the One who gave himself in death so that we might live. But most of all, look at those around you who do not yet know the beautiful significance of this day and the truth it communicates—that God was so intolerant of sin that He turned in and changed the tide for all of us. He made it possible for the wages of sin to be paid with Jesus’ blood so that death would not have victory after all. By being intolerant of sin, yet still turning in, He made it possible for all of us to be with Him in paradise.
1 Corinthians 15:57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.