What happens when God does something you did not expect him to do? What if he does not do what you were sure he would? Do you shrink back from him or press into him?
Most of the players in the scenes that Matthew records for us in the 15th chapter of his gospel are offended because they did not get what they expected. But this should not be a surprise to us, for Peter quotes Isaiah, telling us of an important role the Messiah would fulfill:
Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense…
1 Peter 2:7-8
Consider the wide variety of people who were offended in this chapter:
- The Pharisees and lawyers were astounded that Jesus claimed to be a Jew and a teacher from God and yet he did not follow their rules. They made the trip all the way from Jerusalem just to pick a bone of contention with him because he ignored the very important rules that they had made up and added to the law of Moses. Religious people heap rules upon themselves and others and become angry and offended when people do not fall in lock-step with their man-made decrees.
- The disciples were offended and fearful because the Pharisees were offended. You can’t just dismiss the most important religious representatives of your culture, can you? These men had such political power that the common people (like the disciples) quaked in their sandals at the thought of upsetting them.
- Most importantly, God Almighty was offended. Jesus was the only one who took up his Father’s side in the matter. Ironically, these men who were so peeved about having their own traditions ignored were themselves snubbing the very commands of God by acting out their traditions. Jesus made it clear, though, that it was not the actions of these religious fakes that offended him. It was their hearts. For out of the heart flow these actions, both evil (murders, sexual sin, and theft) and religious pretension (making up your own rules in order to be right with God). God is offended by our sinful hearts, and only the gospel, which offers us a new heart, can bring us from the realm of an offender to the realm of being a delight to God.
- Lastly, Jesus became a “rock of offense” to the Canaanite woman whose daughter was demon-possessed. She came to him asking for healing and instead he threw down, as it were, a little stone of stumbling before her. She wouldn’t stop shouting for his mercy until she gained an audience with him. But Jesus said that he was only sent to the lost house of Israel, and that it is not good to give what belonged to the children to dogs. What an opportunity for this woman to be offended! But she did not let that stop her. She knew he was merciful and she appealed to that mercy. Jesus’ answer to her? Your faith is great, your daughter is healed. It is as if Jesus said, “Well done, daughter! You were not offended, you stepped over the stumbling stone and kept your faith, and here is your reward.”
The Pharisees were confident in themselves and became offended at Jesus. Their expectations of Jesus were based on their own made-up rules, and they made themselves an offense to God. But the Canaanite woman saw herself as utterly helpless and threw herself at the mercy of God. Her expectations were based on God’s mercy, and she received from that mercy.
There is no doubt that each of us will have times in our lives when we are offended at God. When those times come, do not be led by your own prideful understanding of what is right or your own limited understanding of the way things should be. Trust in the goodness of God and press into his mercy.
When John the Baptist was in prison and did not understand why things were not going as he thought they would, Jesus sent these words to him: “Blessed is he who does not take offense at me” (Matthew 11:6). The choice is clear: we can take offense, or we can trust.