We're carrying on with the story of Good News today, and today I want to talk about Jesus. I think Jesus is often the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and unfortunately misrepresented figure in the world. And that's some really bad news, because the entire Christian faith is rooted and grounded in this God Man, so when we have false conceptions about Jesus, there's no way we can live the good life he talked about in our last post. So especially for those of you who don't consider yourselves Christian, if that has seemed like a dirty word, can I humbly ask for your attention for a few moments? I think we might be able to clear some things up!
Sadly, I think this video is what most people think about when they think about Jesus. He's this (oddly effeminate) guy who walks around telling us all how wrong we are. Step out of line even a little bit, and Jesus is coming to get you. As this video points it, if Jesus really is like this, then there is no hope.
Now to be sure, Jesus spends a pretty decent amount of time in the scriptures being real with people, and convicting them of their whacked thinking.
Hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. (Matthew 23:13)
Hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)
Hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind [Edited to prove a point]! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. (Matthew 23:25-26)
Now, that does surely look like the kind of Jesus we saw in the video above. But I left some pieces out. You see, this entire string of passages comes when Jesus is taking aim at his favorite people to mess with. Pharisees, Scribes, and Elders. In other words, religious leaders who think they have it all figured out. These aren't some random sinners on the streets Jesus is talking about. This is Jesus pointing out and exploiting the hypocrisy of the Church. So if that's been one of your hang ups for getting in the door, know that it's been one of Jesus' too.
So how exactly does Jesus speak to the riff raff of the world? There are so many examples, but let's take a look at some of my favorites:
First off all, there's the Sermon on the Mount. I have threatened for years that I want to develop the spiritual discipline to memorize the sermon. Maybe someday I'll get there. I've never understood why Christians so badly want to put the 10 commandments everywhere. The commandments are great and all, but the sermon. Oh! It's beautiful. Look how it starts:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Now what's tricky about our world is that we sit in Starbucks and read this passage during our daily devotionals and imagine that Jesus was talking to white suburban Christians like ourselves. At least that's what I'm tempted to do. But the reality is that I don't think that Jesus would say all of those blessings to that crowd unless that crowd was living through the situations Jesus mentioned. I bet there were people in the crowd who were mourning. I bet there were people in the crowd who were hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and finding none. I bet there were people in the crowd who had been (legitimately) persecuted for what they believed. Jesus delivers a word to those on the margins: take heart. In the Kingdom economy, you're one of the lucky ones.
There's also the often forgotten postscript to one of everybody's favorite Scripture verse:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
Jesus isn't first and foremost about condemnation. He's about liberation. He's not about death. He's about life. He's not about religious establishments. He's about the Kingdom. And far too often, we as his followers spend far too much time fitting Jesus into our boxes rather than putting ourselves in his.
Any realization of that should come with an apology. So as a follower of Christ, I am sorry for the way we've represented him.
But the good news is that when I screw up, Jesus picks up the pieces. So while I recognize that even in myself, I've not represented Jesus well all the time, Jesus is still working through me.
That's the best part of the Gospel for me. We don't worship an idea, or even a man long dead. We worship a living God, Jesus Christ who beat back death and destruction. That means that Jesus is active in our lives, right now, breaking through the veil of our own stupidity and madness to show us what living in the Kingdom is supposed to look like. If you are able to open your eyes, you can see Jesus moving everywhere. You can find Jesus in places you never expected to. You can experience Jesus moving in your life.
Like most things, it just takes practice.
A professor at my seminary was famous for asking his students "What's Jesus up to in your life?" It's been my motivating question for a long time. When you walk around each day asking what Jesus is up to, you are far more likely to experience him moving. You are far more likely to experience the love and forgiveness he came to give. You are far more likely to live that abundant kind of life. You are far more likely to have an experience with the divine. The trick is to keep your eyes and ears open. The trick is to put yourself in places where Jesus is likely to move. He made no secret about where we would be able to find him:
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
So this means, next time we're together, we're going to have to spend some time talking about Kingdom.