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by James Gibson

It may be time to re-think some conventional Christian wisdom concerning the depravity of the present day

[33] "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? [34] Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. [35] And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. [36] I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:33-36)

These words from our Lord were pronounced upon the people of the most wicked generation that has ever arisen in human history, namely, the very people alive at the time of his earthly ministry. It was a generation, a society and a mindset incarnated by the city over which Jesus lamented, and in which he would face and conquer death.

[37] "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. [38] Look, your house is left to you desolate. [39] For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' " (Matthew 23:37-39)

Jerusalem was not a city overrun by moral decadence. In fact, it was the moral virtue of the Jewish religious elite that stood as the biggest obstacle to their accepting Jesusí Messiahship.

[16] "To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

[17] " `We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.'

[18] For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon.' [19] The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions." (Matthew 11:16-19)

Yet Jesus made it very clear that "this generation," that is, the people living in Jerusalem at that time, would be held responsible for all the sins of their forebears.

[47] "Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. [48] So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. [49] Because of this, God in his wisdom said, `I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.' [50] Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, [51] from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. (Luke 11:47-51)

Jesusí pronouncements are what amount to an indictment against that most wicked generation. Final judgment would come forty years later, when Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans and the very center of Jewish religious life, the Temple, was destroyed, just as Jesus had predicted.

[1] Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. [2] "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Matthew 24:1-2)

Christian observers of contemporary society devote a considerable amount of time bemoaning the utter moral depravity so prevalent in our culture. Indeed, for those living in the present day, it is hard to imagine there could ever have been a time when evil had more intensely manifested itself in a society. Yet, for all the pronouncements and warnings of apocalyptic doom, the wrath of God appears, at least for now, to have been withheld.

We must, therefore, ask why God would see fit to inflict upon a generation long past a judgment so violent as to involve the overthrow not only a city, but also of the entire religious system centered around that city and its Temple, yet withhold such a judgment from the present generation which seems, from our perspective, to be far more morally depraved and corrupt than was first century Jerusalem. Is Godís judgment so arbitrary that he executes it at random whenever he feels like it, regardless of the moral state of the culture at any given time?

The answer to the above question is a most resounding no! Godís judgment is anything but arbitrary and random. When he comes in judgment, he comes according to a meticulous timetable ordained for the very purpose of allowing a people ample opportunity to either repent or come to the full measure of its sin. First century Jerusalem, in accordance with Jesusí indictment, was held responsible for the full measure of Israelís sins, which had been building up over numerous preceding generations. But the final straw, the act which called down the wrath of God upon that generation, was a crime so vile and wicked that no generation before had ever dared commit it.

[51] "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! [52] Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him-- [53] you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it." (Acts 7:51-53)

The people of first century Jerusalem must be considered the most wicked generation in human history for this one damning fact: Actually, literally and physically, they murdered God!

Succeeding generations have developed dubious philosophies claiming "God is dead." Carnal-minded men and women who live as though there is no God have spanned the centuries. Persistent sin is, in a certain spiritual sense, the equivalent of crucifying Christ all over again. But the actual, literal, physical murder of God is an act of supreme wickedness that can never again be duplicated.

[9] For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. [10] The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (Romans 6:9-10)

The great irony of this act of wickedness is that God in Christ has turned what would have been his defeat into the ultimate, decisive victory!

Since Christ has triumphed over death, succeeding generations are forever restrained from acting upon humanityís most banal passion: the desire to rid itself of God.

The sobering lesson to be learned here is that, for all our concern over the moral decline of the culture in the present generation, if we are not focused, first and foremost, on fallen humanityís desperate need for the God it thinks it can do without, we are missing the boat entirely. Jesus lamented for Jerusalem not because its streets were overrun with murderous violence; not because its newsstands were flooded with pornography; not because its culture condoned sexual deviancy. Jesus lamented for Jerusalem because its people, whom God had chosen for himself, had rejected Godís messengers and were about to reject God himself. Every other sin, no matter how vile, pales in comparison.

It may be time to re-think some conventional Christian wisdom concerning the depravity of the present day. The intense manifestation of evil which is apparent to all but the most feeble-minded, may not be the portent of doom we have so often presumed it to be. It may very well be nothing more than the frustrated contortions of a shackled generation divinely restricted from realizing its ultimate goal. Perhaps we should see the prevalence of such blatant and obvious wickedness not as possible evidence that Satan is winning, but as decisive evidence that God has won.

The challenge for the Church, then is to put aside the all-too-common practice of lamenting our societyís slide to moral oblivion, and put forward the liberating message of hope through the Gospel of Jesus Christ which will transform an individual, a community, a society and, yes, even a generation.

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