Like many of you, each year I read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I find this to be a helpful discipline as it gives some structure to my daily devotions while also helping me to keep the “big picture” of Scripture before me: the beautiful picture of Jesus and his gospel.
Some portions of Scripture are more captivating than others. In addition to reading through the Bible, I read through the Psalms every 150 days. I almost always look forward to those daily morsels. But in the first couple of months, I find myself less than thrilled about getting nearer to the book of Judges, especially chapters 19–21. I was there yesterday morning. Talk about ugly!
Those chapters contain the horrific story of the abuse of a woman followed by her “husband” chopping her up into twelve pieces and then mailing them to the twelve tribes of Israel. The theme of Judges becomes patently clear: “There was no king in Israel and every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (21:25).
What did God want me to learn from my “queasy time” in this chapter? Lots of things, including the truth that I cannot always avoid the ugly.
When it comes to Bible reading, one could choose to stay in those passages that offer us continual “happy all the day.” But that is not where we continually live. We find great solace as sheep in Psalm 23. But there are days when the darkness of Psalm 88 describes us. Rather than, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” we leave Psalm 88 pondering these words, “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” (v. 18). I don’t think that verse is popular on Pinterest. I’ve certainly never seen it on a refrigerator magnet. But some days are really like this. In fact, my Bible reading should have provided me with a hint that my day was going to contain some “ugly.” Ugly that I would have rather avoided. But it was ugly that, by the sovereign design of God, I couldn’t avoid.
To be frank, I thought about avoiding Judges 19 in my Bible reading yesterday because I knew how ugly it is. But it occurred to me that Christians don’t have that luxury. To be sure, we need to do all we can to avoid contributing to the “ugly” by our own ugly sin. But we cannot always avoid the ugliness “provided” by others. Ugly attitudes, ugly behaviour, ugly emails, ugly driving! Jesus said that in this world we can expect to face tribulation (John 16:33). We can expect to face “ugly.” “You can run, but you can’t hide,” is not only true of criminals; it’s also true of Christians as we face a world that is at war with God. So, rather than conniving to avoid the ugly, how can we face it for God’s glory and for our good? By wearing gospel glasses. We are to face the immediate of the ugly, faithfully focused on the ultimate good God is doing. Yes, even in Judges 19 in all its ugly grossness.
That chapter (as Stuart taught us in his exposition of Judges) points us to what life is like without King Jesus ruling our lives. It is ugly. The book of Judges was revealed to help a world to anticipate the arrival of the true King: Jesus Christ, the sum of all beauty. The same principle holds true this morning.
As hard as you may try to avoid, the ugly ahead of you, that may not be possible. So when you experience the ugly, reflect on all the ugly that conspired and congealed in the crucifixion of God’s Son. As ugly as is Judges 19, it is no comparison to the unjust, blasphemous, ugly treatment of the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet, remember those beautiful words: “It is Finished!” (John 19:30). The Victor’s cry!
If Jesus Christ had avoided the ugly at all cost, we would have borne the eternal cost of God’s wrath upon us. But instead, we look forward to a glorified body in unbroken fellowship with the triune God.
Fellow Christian, I hope today contains nothing of the ugly for you. But if it does, keep your eye on the beauty of Jesus and his glorious love for you.
Facing life with you,