the pursuit of happy

the when-happy-doesn't-cut-it blog for serious Christians

jesus: the “inconceivable” offense

I was helping clean out a bookshelf earlier this week when a tiny green booklet fell into my hands. Its title, “The Blessedness of the Unoffended,” made me feel a little like happiness was the one pursuing me! I devoured the booklet’s 25 pages and, knowing I would never be able to do the subject of offense as much justice as its author, immediately set to work typing it all into a Word document to ensure that its treasures didn’t get locked up with me.

You should read the entire booklet for yourself at the bottom of this post (it’s only a seven-page pdf!), but I want to focus primarily on just one of the points the author, T. Austin-Sparks, makes about this principle of happiness:

Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me. – Luke 7:23

Is offense at Jesus so inconceivable?Offended by Jesus? Inconceivable!

Our tendency to read or even memorize verses out of their context has a remarkable way of stripping them of their power. This verse struck its first real blow to my heart when I recalled that Jesus specifically directed this statement at John the Baptist. As T. Austin-Sparks (hereafter Sparks) points out, it is easy for us to understand that Jesus might offend the lost, the Pharisee, or even the lukewarm Christian, but one of His intimates? The one of whom He declared that there was no one greater born among women? A prophet?

If Messiah, who knows all of our hearts, felt He had to warn John against this “inconceivable” offense, then how can I imagine myself immune to it?

The reality is that I don’t. Unfortunately, that’s only because it’s something I personally have to war against constantly in my flesh. It’s that little voice in my head or bent of my thoughts that says, “Why, God, why?” at every upset, disappointment or unanswered prayer. It’s the grimace on my face when I consider the interceding widow whose grand purpose in life seemed to have been to spend her every waking hour locked in the temple. It’s my jaw dropping when I read that the Father kept Moses out of the promise land for a single outburst of anger. It’s my eyes skimming over certain portions of Timothy concerning women because I frankly don’t understand them and secretly wish they didn’t exist to be grappled with at all.

It’s realizing why John the Baptist may have had to ask, “Are you the one who is to come?”

Sparks paints the picture well:

“John the Baptist was languishing in prison on the shores of the Dead Sea as the outcome of a life of the utmost faithfulness. He had been tremendously loyal to Christ, splendidly in earnest concerning his mission, wonderfully courageous in giving forth the message committed to him, and yet it had all ended in a dungeon.

…It seemed as though his faith, his self-restriction, his willingness to decrease that Christ might increase, had all been unrecognized and unvalued. His experience so entirely contradicted God’s assurance, that it is easy to understand the perplexity of mind which led him to send his disciples to Christ with the pathetic query: “Art thou He that should come?” For here is One who has avowedly come to deliver captives, and yet He does not deliver the man who, more than all others, seemed to have claims upon Him. He has proclaimed His own mission in terms of sympathy and love for the heartbroken, and yet here is a crushed and heartbroken man of whom He apparently takes no notice.”

And suddenly we find in the locust-eating prophet something with which we can identify.

The Blessing of the Unoffended

It strikes me even now as I write how greatly the “blessedness of the unoffended” that was offered to John is contingent upon our grasping the first, secret principle of happiness. We must be so grounded in the reality that we are only blessed in Him who has chosen us because He has chosen us that we cannot even find cause for offense when we are the only captive left bound, when our sister sits while we work (Luke 10:38-42), or when the man who labored for only an hour receives the same reward as we who have spent our lives in His service (Matthew 20:1-16).

When we really look at the things that offend us, we’ll realize that offense is often rooted in protecting our own sense of self-worth. We miss the good news of the kingdom because we do not see ourselves delivered, we resent our own sister for being granted rest while we still toil, and we begrudge the Master His generosity to another because we imagine that we are owed something proportionate to our great sacrifice – that we have earned what we could never earn.

It is only by abandoning this burdensome kind of thinking that we will find freedom enough to hear the Father call us sons and daughters. I believe that once we know that we are sons in that right, when it is the Father who gives us our worth, that our labor can be rightly spent on discovering and proclaiming His worth – a pursuit that will drive offense far from our hearts as we discover the One who is truly beyond our conception.

And what a blessing it is to live free of offense at our Messiah! This blessing so frees us from the tyranny of self that those stones which may have caused us to stumble are transformed into fountains of life as we begin to get a glimpse of those things which make our Master’s heart glad. When we know that He is infinitely and immutably good and that He has chosen to draw us near to abide with Him, we can fully rejoice with Him that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22) even if we may yet languish in prison, awaiting a martyr’s death and a better resurrection.

Don’t Forget to Download the Full Booklet!

I leave you with one last insightful revelation from Sparks to pique your interest in reading this little treasure of a booklet:

…too often men go back to walk no more with Him. Not because they do not understand Him, but because they have come to know Him too well! When He comes to be recognized, not only as the Christ of the sympathetic heart, but also as the Christ of the steadfastly set face, then great is the blessedness of the unoffended.