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Blessed are the Unoffended

tripped up

by Dennis Pollock

Throughout my lifetime I have heard a lot of sermons, some good, some bad, and most somewhere in-between. At this point I’ve been going to church and hearing sermons for about forty-five years. In addition to hearing sermons from local pastors, I have heard a great many that I discovered through various other means. In my early days in Christ I devoured sermons and teachings on cassette tapes, which I had in great abundance. Most of the sermons have been forgotten, but some stood out so powerfully that I find it impossible to forget them. One such sermon was by a British pastor named T. Austin-Sparks. He has now passed away, but that particular sermon has stayed with me over many years. I’m not sure how I even discovered it. I have had it on many successive computers as an mp3 file, so I imagine that I originally downloaded it from some website which served as a sermon depository.

Spark’s message had the same title as this devotional study, and for good reason. This study springs from some of the main points he made, although I will add other Scriptural passages, and of course I’ll “Dennisize” it a bit. The key Bible passage around which this message revolves comes from that puzzling story which had John the Baptist sending messengers to Jesus, asking Him, “Are You the coming One or should we look for another?” What in the world is this? Is this the same man who proclaimed Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?’ Is this the one who was given a sign by God, which was that the Messiah would be identified by the Holy Spirit descending upon Him in the form of a dove, and then emphatically declared that Jesus was that Messiah, and that he, John, had seen this very thing at Jesus’ baptism? And now he’s asking if Jesus really, really is the coming One, or should they perhaps look for someone else? John, John, what has happened to you?

It is touching that John is given no stern rebuke. Jesus knows that his forerunner is going through some tough times right now, enduring a lonely, miserable prison existence, with no one seeming to show an interest in him, and the threat of execution very much real (which of course is exactly what happened to him). Rather than reacting with a stinging rebuke for John’s doubts or impatience or depression or whatever exactly was happening with him, Jesus simply sent the messengers back with an exhortation to tell John of the great miracles that were being done, and then added a quiet benediction: “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

Tripped Up

When we read in the Bible about offenses and being offended, as they relate to God, we sometimes don’t really get what is being said. Our modern use of the word offense means to be insulted by something someone has said against us or about us. “You have offended me” usually means something like “You’ve hurt my feelings.” But the Biblical use of the term is somewhat different. Biblically, to be offended is to be made to stumble. It is to allow some circumstance or situation or disappointment to turn our hearts away from God. It is not always a 180-degree turn. It may simply involve a slight drawing back. We don’t relinquish our faith; we don’t shake our fist at God; we simply don’t pray as much or go to church as often or read the Bible the way we formerly did. We are not happy with how God has treated us, and we want Him to know it! What has happened? Something has caused us to stumble. We have been tripped up, spiritually. We have been offended.

We are not told exactly what was going on in John’s mind, but no doubt his imprisonment played a role in his mental state. And Jesus was making no efforts at all to help free him. Perhaps John had been assuming that there would be a great revolution in Israel, and Jesus would reign over all the nation as king, and he, John, would be His second-in-command. It just wasn’t happening. Day after day he sat in a dark, probably damp prison with the likelihood of death constantly hanging over him. And Jesus was going around teaching people about the love of the Father, with no indication that He ever wanted to do anything more than that. John finally told some of his disciples to go ask Jesus about it.

When God Makes No Sense

John represents every one of us at certain points in our lives. Throughout the course of our lives in Christ, we will surely face times when God doesn’t seem to make sense. We were sure things were going to take a certain course, and God upended all our plans and dreams and moved us in a way we never expected, never wanted, and certainly never prayed for. Our Bible tells us that God is able to keep us from stumbling, but it never says that there won’t be times when we will be powerfully tempted to stumble, to be offended.

The Gentile lady with the demon-possessed daughter is a great example of someone who was surely tempted to stumble, but didn’t. She came to Jesus begging Him for the healing and deliverance of her daughter. Jesus showed what appeared to be total unconcern at first, simply ignoring her loud petitions. Finally, the disciples got sick of her never-ending requests and asked Jesus to send her away. After ignoring her up to this point, Jesus now seems to reject her entirely, declaring, “It is not fitting to give the children’s bread to the little dogs.” If ever anyone seemed to have a right to walk away and accuse the Master of rudeness and unconcern, this lady surely did.

But her level of faith would not allow her to do this. Meekly she replied, “Yet even the little dogs under the table eat the crumbs that fall.” What a beautiful lady this was! While 99 out of 100 women would have walked out angrily, she gently reminds the Savior that all she needs is a crumb of the grace that flows from His healing anointing, and her daughter will be well. Finally, Jesus speaks a positive word to her – in fact a very positive word: “O woman, great is your faith. For this saying go your way. The demon has left your daughter.” And so it was. Surely here was living proof of the blessing that comes to the unoffended.

“Where Shall We Go?”

Another example of the unoffended is the apostle Peter. In John we read of a sermon of Jesus which nobody understood. Normally preachers want to do everything they can to be understood, but sometimes Jesus seemed to deliberately obscure the truth, only to explain it to his disciples afterwards. In this case Jesus proclaimed Himself the Bread of Life, and declared that unless men and willing were able to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they would have no life in them. It was perplexing, it was confusing, and it was impossible to grasp. The multitudes loved Jesus’ miracles, but this kind of teaching was just too much for them. Perhaps he was the cult leader that the Pharisees were suggesting. And so, according to the Scriptures, “Many of them went away and walked no more with Him.” Jesus had preached himself out of a congregation – every minister’s nightmare. But somehow it didn’t seem to bother Jesus all that much. He knew many were simply following Him for what they could get or what they could see, and had no real heart for the kingdom of God.

But He was interested in His disciples take on this strange sermon. He asked Peter, “How about you? Are you leaving also?” Peter was as clueless as all the others. He had no idea at that time what Jesus was talking about. But he knew that his time with Jesus was too precious, too real, and had way too much of God about it for him to simply walk away at this point. He replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life.” Peter may have been ignorant, but more importantly, he was unoffended. And blessed are the unoffended. His refusal to give up on Jesus was amply rewarded and he eventually became one of the leaders of the first-generation church, and one of the greatest men who ever lived on the earth. Pretty good for a simple fisherman!

Disappointment

We human beings are such sensitive creatures, there are a thousand different ways in which we can be offended with our loving God. One of the biggies in this area has to do with the idea of disappointment. It seems like nothing stings quite so much as when our hope, dreams, and expectations of great things to come are suddenly and unceremoniously dashed. When this happens to unbelievers, they just chalk it up to bad luck. But as followers of Christ and sons and daughters of the living God, we cannot do that. We know there is a God in heaven who controls, directs, manages, and shapes the circumstances of our lives from the largest events to the most insignificant. So when a major disappointment knocks us for a loop, our thought is almost always, “God, where were You? Why did You allow this? Or why did You do it? I’m your child. I’ve been praying and doing my best to believe, and this is what happens?”

It may be the terrible pain of discovering your husband or your wife has been unfaithful. Or your child has died, and now you must plan their funeral. And after so much prayer and confessions of the Scriptures! Or perhaps you’ve been saving money for years to buy a house, and just as it seemed that your goal was in reach, a sudden financial emergency wiped out every penny you had in savings, and you must start all over. Or perhaps you had great dreams of a glorious ministry, only to find that it fizzled and died. Blessed are the unoffended. “Will you too go away?”

Holding our Hope Firmly

There is something powerful and incredibly beautiful about the believer who faces Satan’s largest mortar rounds, and steadfastly holds onto his or her faith in Jesus. They still pray, they still worship, they still read the word of God, and they still trust that their loving Heavenly Father knows what is best. It is almost as though they are saying, “Satan, is this the best you can do to move me away from Jesus? Because it is not working!” These are the unoffended, and these are the truly blessed ones. The Scriptures tell us that we are Christ’s house “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.” In writing to the Thessalonian believers Paul admits he had been concerned about their faith, and whether they were staying true to their commitment to follow Christ. These men and women were going through some serious persecution and struggles, and Paul was wanting to find out if these pressures were getting to them. He sent Timothy, who returned and told the apostle that all was well. They were still maintaining their faith in Jesus. Paul exults:

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love… therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.

Paul’s mind was at ease. These Thessalonian Christians were unoffended, which is a very blessed place to be.

It is during our days of sunshine and success that we must build our faith in God and Jesus Christ. While things are going along fairly smoothly, this is when we must dig into God’s word, build a solid prayer life, and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Because for most of us there will be at least a few “evil days,” times of pain, struggle, and disappointment. And that evil day is not the time to go desperately trying to discover intimacy with God. But if we have walked with Jesus in the sunshine, we will surely cling to Him during the hurricanes of our lives. Like Peter, we have nowhere else to go. Jesus alone has the words of life, He alone has the peace that surpasses understanding, and only Jesus has the grace that will carry us through our storms and bring us back out into the sunshine once again. We will continue to trust, continue to abide, and continue to cling. For we know that blessed are the unoffended.


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