A pointing finger... No one likes a finger pointed at them. There is just something about a pointing finger that stirs the nerves and unsettles the stomach.
When I think about pointing fingers I vividly recall a certain Sunday afternoon vocal practice with a large children’s choir I participated in when I was 7-10 years old. This particular rehearsal was led by an interim instructor from Great Britain, who spoke with a magnificent accent. However, as the afternoon wore on I grew very antsy, squirmy, and distracted. Another young boy sitting next to me whispered something funny in my ear and I responded with another joke in return. We went back and forth for a couple minutes until…
Suddenly, the giant British teacher wound-up like a baseball pitcher and threw a piece of chalk into the seat next to me. Yow! My entire body bounced about 3 feet into the air. He then pointed directly at me with ferocity in his eyes, “You mustn’t speak while I am teaching, young man!”
I quietly squeaked out an apology, but that didn’t alter the consequences. All one hundred and fifty other children stared and pointed, snickering at my calamity. The instructor’s finger seemed frozen in a sharp arrow directed toward my chest.
Pointing with Presumption
We don’t like having a finger pointed at us because it implies we’re guilty! However, we are pretty natural at pointing toward someone else. It seems quite easy to see the sins of others; doesn’t it? We think we’re quite accurate at evaluating the faults and failures we presume to observe in friends, family members, neighbors, and the like.
Christ’s twelve disciples were pretty good at pointing fingers, too. In Matthew 20:20-28, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (James and John) came with her boys to make a request that they sit at Jesus’ right and left in His kingdom, much to the indignation of the other disciples, of course. This little position-seeking posse implied they were better than the others around the circle.
The disciples were also known for getting into debates about who would be the greatest. They not only brought up this discussion early in their time with Jesus but also even during the Passover meal.
“And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be the greatest.” (Luke 22:4; see also Matthew 18:1; cf. John 13:1-18)
But in Matthew 26:20-25 something surprising happens… just prior to Christ instituting The Lord’s Supper:
When it was evening, he reclined at the table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me. And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:20-22)
Pointing Not Out… But In.
We would expect the disciples to point fingers at each other when Jesus began talking about one of them betraying Him. But, no. In the raw, honest, and humble moment gathered around Christ’s table of grace, they point their fingers not out but in, asking, “Is it I?”
What might have been swirling around in Peter’s mind? Perhaps he thought, “I know my weakness, my failing, and faltering. I know the struggle of sin still within my soul. Could it be that I give in and betray the Messiah, my Lord?”
Maybe Thomas’ heart sank, “I know my struggle with doubt and discouragement. In my darkest moment do I give into the lies I hear ringing in my ears?”
Matthew may have wondered, “Do I cave in for the money again to get gain out of this, just like when I was a tax collector?”
John is bewildered but knows, too, his own issues with anger and pride….
In a rather shocking turn-of-hearts at Christ’s table of grace, the disciples point their fingers not outward, but inward.
Humility over pride. Contrition over position. Repentance over passive resistance.
As we gather around Christ’s Table to recall His love, remember His passion, and reflect on His unending mercy, where should we be pointing?
Christ’s Table of Grace prompts us to…
…Cease from inspecting the sins of others (v. 20-22). Just as the disciples allowed Christ’s words to search their own hearts, so we must let the mercy of Christ and His cross unearth the stones and thorny roots buried deep within the soil of our souls.
Some of us were trained like workhorses for the specific task of detecting and reporting the imperfections of others. We automatically adjust the lenses of our judgmental microscopes (often masquerading as “discernment”) the moment we walk into a church building, gather in a small group, or observe the values of another family.
Our eyes presume to measure the spiritual maturity of others by a whole plethora of external litmus tests:
- What kind of clothing do they wear?
- What type of car do they drive?
- What kind of house do they own?
- Who do they spend their time with?
- How much do they weigh? Does their supposed unhealthy diet equate to a lack of truth in their life?
- What type of movies or TV shows do they watch?
- What kind of music do they listen to?
- How many vacations do they take?
- Where are they on Wednesday nights?
- How are their children behaving?
- How much make-up and jewelry does she wear… too much? Not enough?
- Is their smile as big or as genuine as mine?
Undoubtedly, the list could go on and on. Yet at the table of grace there is no place for boasting, pride, or religious nonsense. Christ’s unstoppable kindness prompts us to cease from inspecting the sins of others.
…Look at our own propensity to wander (v. 23-25). Judas Iscariot was blind to his sin. He was numb to the magnitude of his own depravity. Yet it’s all too easy to point a finger at him and forget we are all born with equal depravity and deserve equal punishment: eternal death.
We cannot fully understand the magnitude of God’s grace until we understand the magnitude of our sin. We deserve the full weight of God’s wrath. No one is excluded for special behavior, a unique birth, keeping up a super-spiritual persona, or the niceties of religious effort.
On our best day we still deserve the same punishment as the worst sinner. Because the ground is level at God’s justice, we all deserve death and separation from the holy God. However, the ground is also level at the foot of the cross, so that both the “worst” and “best” of sinners may receive mercy — full pardon — because perfect justice and mercy met in Christ’s atoning death. The symbolism of Christ’s table of grace points to the Cross: God’s way to redeem all those prone to wander.
So as we gaze upon our own sin, we are met with the healing balm of Christ’s unending grace at Calvary. Christ not only died for us, He died instead of us.
So we must cease our inspecting, detecting, reporting, and masquerading at the foot of the cross. I revel in the truth I heard Ray Ortlund Jr. once say,
“There is limitless grace for people who have sinned away all their excuses.”
Humility points my finger at myself (not at others) recognizing the magnitude of my sin.
So where do we point the finger? At someone else who needs to hear the sermon? Toward a sibling, parent, or friend who’s tripped and fallen?
No, not at them, but at us. Not at him or her, but toward me.
“Is it me, Lord?”
Then when the mountain of our sins, the propensities to wander, the faultiness of our hearts show their true colors… we run to the Cross where mercy ran red and washed away all our sin, giving us new and eternal life in Him.
“To thee I repair for grace upon grace, until every void made by sin be replenished and I am filled with all thy fullness.” (Valley of Vision, “Grace Active,” pg. 215)
Listen to the full audio sermon entitled “Pointing Fingers” (Matthew 26:20-25) by simply clicking on the play button below or by subscribing to our iTunes podcast. This message was originally delivered at North Park Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI, on Good Friday evening, March 25th, 2016.