When the roll call begins, and the baddies are invited to step forward, no one ever does. The baddie is always the other guy. We are the goodies, or, if we can’t – in good conscience – declare ourselves good, we declare ourselves innocent or victim.
An old comedy sketch by Mitchell & Webb depicting a Nazi troop in the midst of battle in WWII makes the point well.
SS Trooper to Commander: Sir, have you ever noticed the symbol on our caps?
Commander: Well, umm, yes, sort of… well, no, not really; why?
SS Trooper: It’s a skull.
SS Trooper: Sir, [another pause] …are we the baddies?
Commander: What do you mean?
SS Trooper: well, the allies have wonderful symbols like stars and stripes and lions. We have a symbol of death and piracy and destruction.
Commander: Oh, you haven’t been listening to Ally propaganda again, have you?
SS Trooper: Well, maybe. But, sir, despite the propaganda and all the things they say about us, they didn’t design our uniforms. We did.
For many and especially many Christians, the enemy is always somewhere “out there”. It’s the devil, it’s my neighbour, it’s the government, it’s some tyrannical ruler, or my boss, or my husband or my parents. The enemy is always somebody else, and we are hapless, innocent victims.
The picture we find in scripture is very different.
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us …while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Romans 5:8, 10)
Keep in mind that Paul is not talking about “we the world”; he is talking about “we the church”, the household of God. More on this in a moment.
Back in Genesis, rather than frame God as a friend of Man, the Devil frames God as a suspicious character who’s worried that if Adam and Eve eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they might get a little bit too close to His throne, be a little bit too much like Himself (Genesis 3:5).
What follows is what we might call a blame game. The woman gave it to me. The serpent beguiled me.
To be sure, the serpent is judged as guilty, but the focus, and the hope of redemption, is placed squarely on Man.
The sin is placed squarely at the feet of those in God’s household, pictured here as a garden in Eden.
Later on in Genesis, it’s Joseph’s own brothers who sell him into slavery, not the Egyptians. In Exodus, it’s the people of God who rebel against Moses in the wilderness. It’s king Saul, sitting on the Lord’s throne (1 Chronicles 29:23), in the book of the Kings, who tries to run a spear through God’s anointed, the young David.
It’s the prophets and the priests of the household of God who turned against the truth of God’s word in the days of Elijah.
And in the days of Jesus Christ, it’s His brothers, members of His own household, who reject him. It’s His closest friends who denied him and betrayed him, and it’s God’s people who chant for Him to be executed.
Returning to Romans 5:10, Paul plainly says we were the baddies. We were the enemy. We, the people of God.
This becomes even clearer as we move from the Old Testament to the New. It’s not from Egypt that Jesus would make His departure (lit, exodus). It’s Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). In the New Testament, Jerusalem becomes a new Egypt.
…and their dead bodies shall lie in the street of that great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. (Revelation 11:8)
It’s not Sodom who is the enemy of all that is good and beautiful, it’s the city of Jerusalem. It’s not the Babylon of old, or the Roman Empire that stands opposed to the things of God like a ten-dollar whore.
These nations were all shadows of what Israel, that great city, the household of God, would become: The mother of all harlots (Ezekiel 16:15, 25-29). And, in a stunning twist of events, it turns out that it was she, and not the nations, who would make herself drunk on the blood of the saints (Revelation 17:1-6; 18:10, Matthew 23:35-36).
From beginning to end, from Adam and Cain to the City of Jerusalem, the enemy has always been us. The people of God’s own household.
We are the enemy. It’s our own sinful appetite, our own desire to dance to the beat of this world’s drum, that sets us, the household of God, in opposition to God. It’s we who carry the mark of death and destruction. We were the baddies.
James, speaking to his beloved brothers in the church, put it this way,
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You adulteress people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1, 4)
We understand that we are sinners in need of grace. We understand that we are alienated from God apart from Christ. But the word of the Gospel goes one step further. The Kingdom of God has declared us, its would-be-citizens, as public enemy number one. We were not the hapless, innocent victims of tyranny. We were the pirates.
Once we acknowledge this, the magnitude of God’s grace becomes epic.
It’s one thing to be invited over to your girlfriend’s house for a lovely meal. It’s one thing for a mate to lay down his life for a friend. But it’s quite another thing to be invited over for dinner, without fear of being poisoned, by the wife who you utterly abandoned, bankrupted and betrayed. It’s quite another thing for the Father of the Son you killed to open wide His arms in genuine love and invite you to sit at His table and feast with Him.
But that is exactly what Christ has done for us in His death and resurrection. And understanding what Jesus was willing to do for us, His enemies should only enlarge our gratitude and adoration for Him. It should cause us to throw a hand over our mouth in stunned silence and whisper, what manner of love is this?