Episode 7 Transcript

Episode 7: We’ve Seen Worse


Do you know the story of Micaiah? This is a tale that would be at home in works of Tolkien, but it’s actually at the very end of the first book of Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures. 

In this story, the king of Israel wants to go to war against his enemies. He asks the king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, if he will join in this war. Jehoshaphat seems willing, but first he wants to ask the counsel of God.

The king of Israel agrees, and calls together 400 prophets. These religious leaders endorse the king’s war. They tell him that God will support him and give him victory.

Something about all this doesn’t sit right with Jehoshaphat, so he asks if there is another prophet who can give them a second opinion. The king of Israel replies, “Yes, there is one more we can ask. But I hate him, because he never prophesies anything good about me. His name is Micaiah.”

Jehoshaphat is a bit scandalized by the king’s words.  “A king should not say such things!” But Jehoshaphat shouldn’t have been surprised. The king of Israel here is a man named Ahab, one of the most morally challenged and corrupt kings in the history of Israel. Nothing that comes out of his mouth should surprise anyone.

Ahab and Jehoshaphat send for this prophet, Micaiah. While they’re waiting for him to arrive, the 400 prophets continue to encourage the two kings, telling them, “Attack and be victorious! The Lord is with you.”

Meanwhile, the messenger sent to fetch Micaiah tells him that without exception, all the other religious leaders are predicting success for the king, and Micaiah should line up with them. Micaiah responds that he will say whatever God tells him to say.

When they arrive where the two kings are waiting, Micaiah sees the 400 prophets telling the kings to “attack and be victorious.” When the king of Israel sees Micaiah, he asks, “Micaiah, shall we go to war, or not?”

Micaiah side-eyes the prophets, and deadpans, “Oh yes, for sure. Attack and be victorious. The Lord is with you.” 

Ahab, clearly frustrated by these antics, demands that Micaiah tell him the truth. Micaiah responds with a devastating prophecy. “I saw Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd.” 

Micaiah is prophesying defeat. The opposite of what the 400 other prophets have been saying.

Ahab looks at Jehosaphat. “See, I told you he never prophesies anything good about me.”

Micaiah keeps going. He says a deceiving spirit has been put in the mouth of the 400 prophets, to lead Ahab to his death. 

Zedekiah, the leader of the 400, walks up and slaps Micaiah. “Which way did that deceiving spirit go when he left me to go to you?” His question essentially means, “No, you’re the false prophet, not us.”

Who is right? Who is the true prophet, and who the false? Ahab sides with the 400. He throws Micaiah in jail, and goes off to war. 

A war from which he never returns. Micaiah was the true prophet after all.

Simeon: Matthew, it must be getting late, because your words are starting to make some sense. But it’s just too much. We can’t be wrong about as much as you say we are. Those men that I studied under were good men. Righteous men. They devoted their lives to serving God

Matthew: Yes. But they were on the wrong path. Look, Simeon, this is what I’ve been trying to explain. The two ways aren’t about good people versus bad people. You can be a good person, and still be on the wrong path.

Simeon: OK, You’re not making any sense, after all. 

Matthew: The choice to start down the narrow path or the wide path isn’t a choice between good and evil. It’s between God’s way of fixing things, and the way of fixing things that makes sense to us. But the motive to do good is behind both choices.

Simeon: You’re making my head hurt. So many questions. But I’m following you. Go on.

Matthew: When you’re on the wide path you get so caught up in the cause, so caught up in winning, that you don’t realize all the little compromises you’re making along the way. Until one day you look around and find yourself in a place you never intended to be, and with people you never thought you would support. If you had known this was where the path was headed from the beginning, it’s not the way you would have chosen. 

But Jesus pointed us toward the narrow path, the path that doesn’t seem to make any sense. And then he walked that path ahead of us, to show us how. Now it’s our job, yours and mine, to follow.

Opening Titles:

This is—

Jesus for Sex Workers, Church People, and Me

A podcast hosted by Todd Austin

Episode Seven: We’ve Seen Worse

The Teaching

In Episode 2 we talked about the need for a new map. About how each of us was handed a map that guides the way we walk in the world. It’s a map that is so deeply part of our wiring that most of the time we’re not even aware of it. This map tells us who we have to be in order to be loved, to be successful, and to be significant. It tells us who our friends are, as well as our enemies. And more than that, it tells us who God is for, and who he is against.

It is this map that Jesus repented of—turned away from— when he was baptized by John at the Jordan River. And similarly, he asks us to turn away from—repent—of the map that we were given, and to choose his map instead.

We’ve been looking at the features of his map in the subsequent episodes, learning to orient ourselves. On this map, we see who God is really for, and it’s not who we thought it was. We see in the Beatitudes who we have to become, and it’s not a list of traits that any other map would tell you would lead to success. We see that on his map, the path is one of love, not law. That he prioritizes mercy and forgiveness over judgment. We see that his map leads first and foremost to inner transformation, not outward compliance and purity.

In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus tells us that his map takes us down a path called the narrow way, as opposed to the wide way that most good church people choose to follow. The wide way is the way of power, the way of purity, the way of compliance, the way of law and judgment, crime and punishment. As we talked about in the last episode, even though this wide way seems to make the most sense, it always ends in destruction. 

Without repentance—without turning from the map we were given and adopting Jesus’s map—the narrow way looks utterly foolish. It looks like it goes nowhere. It doesn’t help that, at the fork where the wide way and the narrow way diverge, the place where we have to choose which way we’re going to follow, there are people telling us to go left, and people telling us to go right. And both groups are good people. Who are we supposed to believe?

The Herods and the Pharisees

In the third episode we talked about Herod. Herod was the Jewish king who ordered the killing of all those babies after Jesus was born. In the categories of depravity, ruthlessness, and paranoia, it would be hard to outdo Herod. And when he died, his heirs followed the same playbook. If you made a list of the worst things that have ever been done by powerful people, there’s a good chance everything on that list is something a Herod did. Nothing was beneath the Herods.

In what has to be one of the most stunning but also overlooked observations in the gospels, both Matthew and Mark tell us that the Pharisees—the group fixated on restoring the righteousness of the people of God, the good church people of their day—were in an alliance with the Herods. How could that happen?

Probably the same way the 400 prophets in ancient Israel found themselves in an alliance with Ahab. 

And probably the same way the good church people in the second decade of the 21st century find themselves in an alliance with Trump.

False Prophets

We think of false prophets as bad people, and some of them certainly were, and are. But at the end of the Sermon on Mount Jesus talks about false prophets, and he tells us that many false prophets are going to be surprised to learn that they are on the wrong side. They think they’ve been walking the narrow way, but they’ve gotten off track. Way off track.

In chapter 7 starting in verse 21 he says: 

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’

When Jesus says ‘not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven,’ we need to be clear that he’s not talking about eternal salvation. He’s talking about the kingdom of heaven that he has been announcing in the Sermon on the Mount. The kingdom that has come near. The kingdom that the sex workers and the tax collectors are running into ahead of the Pharisees in chapter 21. It’s a kingdom in the here and now, not the sweet by and by.

Jesus tells us that there are people who call him Lord, who think they are following him, who are doing many good works, but who will be surprised to learn that they are, in fact, not on the narrow way. They have not entered his kingdom. And he tells us one of their good works is that they prophesy, they point other people toward the way, in this case the wrong way. Good people, doing good works, but who are false prophets.

One of the biggest problems for good church people is that we confidently confess Jesus as Lord, but we don’t follow his way. We don’t adopt the traits that he sets out for us in this constitution for the people who follow him. We don’t enter his kingdom. 

Instead we stand on the outside and do things the way that makes sense to us—the things that fit with our own map for how to be successful. And a lot of those things are really good works that help a lot of people. We think we’re making Jesus happy with our service and dedication, but we’re on the wrong path. We’re walking the wide path that leads to destruction, to the 50 Years War, to exile.

How does this happen? One answer is that when we’re given the same temptation that the devil offered Jesus—the temptation of power—we say yes when Jesus said no. We confess him as Lord, but we don’t follow his way.

The temptation is always subtle, and our susceptibility to it is directly correlated to which map we’re following. If we haven’t turned from the map our community handed us, then common sense says that change only comes from the top. So when given a choice between two powerful political figures, the first step down the wide way is to side with the “lesser of two evils.” 

From there, the temptations get even more subtle. Which is the better choice, a morally upright candidate with the wrong policies? Or a morally suspect candidate with policies we can agree with? 

After a series of such subtle choices, without even realizing it, we’re hooked. We’ve put our only hope for the future in the hands of one of the two evils. And if that is our only hope for the future, then our only choice is to put our full support behind our candidate. 

Ahab may be a bad man, but if he loses we’ll fall to the Arameans, and that will be much worse. Herod may be a bad man, but if he loses the Romans will put a general over us, and that will be much worse. Trump may be a bad man, but if he loses the Democrats will take over, and that will be much worse.

Just to be clear, Herod isn’t just Trump. He’s also Biden, if you see the Democrats as the lesser of the two evils. Like I said, the temptation is subtle. And it works both ways.

Either way, we find ourselves in an alliance with a Herod. Just like the 400 prophets. Just like the Pharisees.

False prophets aren’t necessarily bad people. Most of the time it’s just the opposite. Most false prophets sincerely believe they are doing the right thing, while they blindly lead others down the wrong path.

The Repeating Pattern

One of my sons got his undergraduate degree in history. Some clever person in that department designed a t-shirt that makes me laugh every time I see it. The top line says “Department of History and Political Science.” The bottom line says “We’ve Seen Worse.”

In addition to being funny, that statement is also true. Any student of history can point to times in the past when things were much worse than what we’re experiencing today. 

There is another truism from history that is more well known: those who don’t study history are destined to repeat it. 

When you look at the history of the people of God, there is a pattern that repeats over and over again. It is the pattern of destruction, of lost wars and exile. It happens every time the people of God lose their way. It’s a pattern we’re repeating right now. 

Good church people complain about the decline of the influence of the church in the life of the country. They worry about diminishing attendance, and they talk openly of their expectation of a coming persecution. They attribute all of these troubles to the work of their enemies. But these troubles are the direct result of their own actions. Of the path they have chosen to go down.

If you believe the words of Scripture, and I do, then you know that Jesus isn’t going to lose. So if the church is losing, it can only be because it is no longer walking in the way of Jesus. It’s not because the good church people are bad. It’s not because they haven’t confessed Jesus. It’s because they haven’t followed him down the narrow path. The path that doesn’t make sense.

The path they are on is the wide path. The path that always leads to the same place. Destruction, lost wars and exile. We see it over and over in history. It’s the natural outcome of following that way. Every time.

It’s what happened to many of the good people who were listening to Jesus speak the words of the Sermon on the Mount. He warned them where their path was taking them. But they couldn’t hear him, because the alternate way he was suggesting just couldn’t be right. In the end, their path of purity, righteousness and alliance with power led right to the destruction of the temple and the sacking of Jerusalem. 

If the pattern repeats itself, then a similar end awaits good church people today. The signs are already there to be seen, for anyone who looks for them. There is still time to turn away from this path, to repent, to choose the narrow path instead. But the clock is ticking.

Houses of Stone and Sand

Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount, his constitution for the people who enter the kingdom of Heaven, with these words:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

I hope you see this instruction with new eyes. There’s so much more here than the sweet children’s song all of us think of when we hear these words. When the storms come, when the skies turn dark, what kind of house are you going to be in? 

Lot’s of good church people will tell you that the only way to make America safe for christians is to win the 50 Years War. We have to persevere in the fight to control the Supreme Court, and—although they would never say this out loud—it doesn’t matter how evil the person is we elect President so long as they help us win.

According to the words of the Sermon on the Mount, that is a house that will not stand. It will come crashing down in a catastrophic fall. Just like Jerusalem.

But there is a house that can withstand the storm. It is built on a rock solid foundation. If we want to be in that house, then we have to do more than just call Jesus Lord. We actually have to follow his narrow path. We have to enter his kingdom, adhere to his constitution.

That means we have to love the people our old map told us were our enemies. We have to show mercy to people like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. We have to turn away from power, and choose instead to “be with” the poor, the suffering. We have to be generous with the way we judge the people we once dismissed as sinners, the people our old map told us were the problem. We have to carry the waywardness of our neighbor. 

This is not the popular way. This is not the way that seems like it will make a difference. And some good church people will hate us for walking it. But they hated Jesus, too. And he tells us that his way is the only way. 

Matthew’s Summary

Simeon, I know this will sound blasphemous to you. But one of the consequences of believing that Jesus is the very image of God the Father, is that it makes you see God differently—more clearly. It also makes you read Scripture differently. And it all comes together in a way that leaves you awestruck.

Yes, your teachers were good men. You are a good man. The problem with the path you’re on is that it reduces God to the level of the Canaanite or the Greek gods. It’s all about honoring his particular whims and peccadilloes, versus their whims and peccadilloes. His laws versus their laws.

Yes, you say he is different. That he is high above all the others. But in practice, your teaching makes him just as small, just as reactive, just as likely to throw something at you when you don’t do what he wants, as all those other gods. 

And that’s not true. That’s not who He is. It misses what truly separates God from all those others— the fundamental nature of his otherness. Jesus shows us how God isn’t at all like those petty gods. One of the wonderful realities of his otherness is that He doesn’t want something from you—He wants something FOR you.

Test This Teaching

A few months ago I was teaching a class in our church on a particularly challenging topic. I was attempting to show how the witness of Scripture testifies against some of the beliefs we hold as 21st century christians. That probably doesn’t surprise you, seven episodes into this podcast. 

On that particular Sunday we had a guest speaker coming to preach. He arrived near the end of our class, and sat quietly in the back with his head down. When it came time for him to preach, it was clear—to me at least—that he disagreed strongly with what I had taught. He didn’t slap me in the face like Zedekiah, and he didn’t call me out as a false prophet. But he warned the church not to let anyone undermine their confidence in the dearly held teachings that had been the subject of our class. 

He went on to preach a sermon about the problems with the things that were taught in our schools. With the issues that were taking America away from its christian roots. He talked about how the faithful need to stand firm, and stay in the fight. That we need to persevere. When his sermon ended he received a rousing response. People were literally standing up and cheering. He clearly said something they wanted to hear.

So, here you have an example of two people who both claim Jesus as Lord, but who are pointing in two very different directions. How do you know which is right? Which is the true prophet, and which is the false? 

You have to test their teaching. At the beginning of this section about false prophets in Matthew seven, Jesus says you can tell a true prophet from a false prophet by their fruit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and a good tree cannot bear bad. 

So what is good fruit? I used to think that it meant being good, and doing good works. And if that IS the standard, then this guest preacher has me beat hands down. I concede. His C.V. of good works is as long as your arm. 

But, as we’ve seen in Matthew, there will be plenty of people who have excelled at being good, and have even longer lists of all the good they have done, who will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” 

But to whom Jesus will respond, “I don’t know you.” Ooof. So no, good fruit here is not about being good, or the accumulation of good works. 

Paul spends some time on this in the book of Galatians, where he gives us two lists of fruit. His “fruits of the spirit,” what we might call the good fruit, is a familiar list. We quoted it in the previous episode. He says the evidence for the work of the spirit in someone’s life will include these traits: love (I hope that one sounds familiar), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

One of the ways you can test a teaching is, does the living out of that teaching lead to these traits? Does it generate this fruit? If it doesn’t, then the teaching fails the test.

On the flip side, Paul also gives us a list of the works of the flesh, what we might equate with the “bad fruit.” This list can be split into two categories. The first category includes things like immorality, impurity, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, debauchery, and orgies.

These are signs of a person who correctly understands that the kingdom is not about laws and rules, but who has not understood the teachings on love. They’ve let go of law, but haven’t grabbed hold of love. And it leads to harm. Harm to themselves, but also harm to others. This is one of the big issues in the church in Corinth that Simeon is so fond of reminding us of. And Paul tells us clearly in his letter that what they’re missing is love.

The second category of bad fruit in Galatians includes these traits: hatred, discord, dissensions, factions, and envy. These are the signs of a person who is holding onto law, and can’t move on to love. This fruit is rotting on the ground at the feet of many influential Christian teachers from the past 50 years. Their words seem wise, but the fruit of following their teaching is hatred for our neighbors, and division in our churches.

Testing the teaching means testing the fruit.

But there is another test, and it is the big test we’ve been talking about at the end of every episode: if you applied the teaching to your life, would it make you look more like Jesus? Or less? Would it lead you to being merciful and loving to sex workers? Or would it take you into alliances with those in the corridors of power, a way that he expressly disavowed?

As we said in the first episode, the reason the church has gotten so far off track is because we haven’t applied this test, and we’ve fallen for a lot of bad teaching. Bad teaching, but from good people, and that’s why we fell for it.

And that could be happening with my teaching, as well. So you need to test this teaching, too. Would following the teaching in this episode lead to the fruits of the spirit that Paul talks about? Is the way I’m characterizing false prophets consistent with the way Jesus taught? Will the application of this teaching to your life make you look more, or less like Jesus?  Please get into the habit of testing.

Ok, one final note before we wrap up. If we really are in the late stages of a pattern that leads to destruction and exile, that’s worrisome for our future. But there’s one more feature of the historical pattern that we haven’t talked about: God isn’t going away. He is always at work. We just need to enter his kingdom and join him in that work. For those who choose to enter, Jesus makes this promise:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

OK, that’s enough for this episode. Starting with the next episode, we’ll move past the Sermon on the Mount, and watch Jesus as he shows us what it means to live out this teaching. 

I hope you’ll join us. Thanks for listening.

Closing Credits

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