Cloak Cleaning

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

If you were to ask John the Baptist what you should do in order to repent, he might tell you to clean out your closet.  In Luke 3, crowds came to hear the crazy-eyed, camel-skinned man speak on behalf of God. They came to be baptized and were rebuked. (I have never seen a pastor respond this way when someone responds to an evangelistic invitation.)

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from God’s wrath? Produce fruit consistent with repentance. God is ready to cut you down with an ax! Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

These are strong words from John that demand a response. John is not looking for lip service or a baptismal certificate. He wants everyone who claims God to prove themselves by their works. In one breath he shouts “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29), and in another he demands intentional life change. John would readily agree that faith without works is dead.

The crowds then ask, “What should we do? What does repentance look like for us?”

John tells them to share their shirts. “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” (Luke 3:11 HCSB)

The rest of the passage continues with different groups of people asking the same question and John giving them specific instructions. Tax collectors are to be honest and not steal. Soldiers are to be satisfied with their pay and not bully. Yet the generic call to the crowds is a “spring cleaning” lesson. Clean out your closet and give your cloaks away.

While growing up, my mom would frequently have me “purge” my closet. Out with the old and in with the new. She would frequently hand me a large trash bag and send me on a cloak clearing mission. After loading the trash bag full, we would drive to the local Goodwill. Although I did not realize the significance of this in the moment, I am thankful for this example.

Did you receive another shirt at another conference? Feel free to give it away. Did you get new clothes for Christmas? Bless others who did not receive any presents or could not afford a conference. We only have one back, but most of us have more than one shirt.
Let the poor enjoy your garments rather than the moths. Don’t even be afraid to be so generous that you give away those unworn shirts that have “sentimental” value.

Is there a homeless shelter in your area that is in need of towels, socks, or shirts? Is there a woman’s choice center that could use some of your closet? Is there an international student that could use some good clothes? Is there someone in your church who is in need?

I wonder what John the Baptist would say if a group of us Americans went down to be dipped in the Jordan. Would he exhort us to store up treasure in heaven where moths cannot destroy?

This Spring, let us allow Jesus to walk into our walk-in closets. Let us allow Him to clean our hearts and our wardrobes. We might be surprised that purging our closets is proof that Christ has purged our souls.

The Good News of Justice

Justice seems to be the buzz word of the year. Social justice, humanitarian causes, and mercy ministries are now in vogue. I just returned from an interesting conference that rallied for the cause of justice. The folks that this event attracted were rather diverse. Some solid on the Bible and others hanging by a thread over the flames of hell.

I am just a traveler on the journey of loving people rightly. I have a long way to go. But I know where the train begins and the tracks it should run on.  The gateway for fighting injustice is the good news of God. The tracks on which the train of justice roll are the tracks of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Very important to the cause of fighting injustice are the words “No greater love has one for another than to lay his life down for his friends.” (John 15:13)  This strips social justice of any political overtones. Few liberals can run with this banner for very long and few conservatives can become calloused against it. When Jesus says he is going to love his friends to the death, it means love them to the eternal death.

Jesus left his glorious home in heaven to minister to the poor. And we can follow his example by giving our lives to the poor. But Jesus did not just come to live among the broken and abused. Jesus did not just leave us a good example when he died on the cross. There was something much bigger going on. He was absorbing the infinite wrath of an almighty God on behalf of wicked sinners.

So yes, I come from a church that emphasizes the substitutionary work of Jesus’ death on the cross.  And no, Jesus was not merely killed because he threatened the position of his oppressors.  The gospel is bigger than that.  Justice is bigger than that.  Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities and by his stripes we are healed.

Unfortunately, there is this false dichotomy that says that theology and loving neighbor are mutually exclusive. There are many theology loving people who neglect loving their neighbors. And there are many justice-loving people who neglect loving their Savior. A division like this is not needed. One should flow out of the other.

Only those who are gripped by the Jesus who lays his life down for sinners make good “social activists”. Idolatry is the worst injustice ever committed. The death of Jesus puts right the worst wrong. Sin against God is paid in full for those who call upon His name.

God hated injustice so much that he slaughtered his only Son. From the cross did his love and blood roll.

I can’t think of a better place for justice to flow from.