All of Us Who Were Once Whackos…

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Man, I love how we spiritualize people whom we consider to be “ancient”!  Well, not really.  

Let’s take “Saint Paul” for example.  This was a man who was once deeply disturbed by his own religious mania.  He says of himself in his writing to a young apprentice named Timothy:  “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”  We need to see that this guy gave license to the murders of many loving, righteous, gentle people because he was so driven by fanaticism for keeping the law of Moses.  So much was his rabid extremism that he actually missed the heart of the law of Moses, and instead became an oblivious dogmatist.  

Paul didn’t know any better at that time, but later on “The grace of His Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”  Paul had acted in ignorance and dubiety.  If he had known truly before what he knew later, he would have acted differently.  So stark was the contrast of the latter Paul to the former, that he would also say; “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

I love this fact, because most “Christians” have this picture painted of them by others as being holier than thou perfectionist do-gooders.  But here we have Paul, admittedly the worst of the worst, and he is also the writer of practically half of the post Jesus trans-mundane texts.  That gives hope for people who were once whacky like me… or maybe you currently are.  

A Real Problem… When Religious People Think They’re Holier Than Jesus (Part 2)

 

So Jesus and His band of merry goofballs head down to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the greatest Jewish holidays, the Festival of Tabernacles.  Another name for this festival was “Sukkot”;  The holiday lasts seven days (eight in the diaspora).  The Hebrew word sukkōt is the plural of sukkah, “booth or tabernacle“, which is a walled structure covered with skhakh (plant material such as leafy tree overgrowth or palm leaves). The sukkah is intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the holiday meals are eaten inside the sukkah and many sleep there as well. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukkot)

Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”  Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.”  But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

It seemed like everyone was waiting to see what this guy would do!  Of course, if He would wipe out all the evil empires and set up an earthly, perfect dictatorship, then all of these wimpy people wouldn’t have to be afraid of the powers that be anymore.  So instead of making their allegiance to Him known, they whisper and spread rumors.  They debate theology!  They’re asking themselves, “is this guy for real?”  “Is He going to give me what I want?”  Still, they either see Him as a “good man”.  A “nice rabbi”, a “powerful philosopher and philanthropist”, or they see Him as a “deceiver”.  They see Him as a “weirdo megalomaniac”, bent on getting people to congregate with Him so He can drag them into some weird brainwashed cult.  They can’t figure Jesus out.  They’re just like us, we think we’ve got Him pegged, but when He really shows up in our lives for real we’re truly blown away!

Then it comes to the last day of the festival.  Jesus stands up in the middle of the crowd and yells out;

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

And there’s a note that follows about what Jesus meant;

By this Jesus meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Now Jesus is talking about the inward working of God flowing out of people, bringing blessing and hope and truth to others.  But what does the author John mean when he says that “the Spirit had not been given?”  When we think about the Trinity, we understand that the person of the Holy Spirit, Jesus and the Father were around from the beginning of time.  In Genesis 1:2 it talks about the Holy Spirit “hovering over the face of the waters” of the earth.

This is my understanding here, so take it with a grain of salt, and wrestle with and study this stuff yourself!  But I think that this is why nobody really understood who Jesus was yet, because in this sense, the person of the Holy Spirit hadn’t come to dwell totally inside the hearts of His followers.  The Holy Spirit was given to reveal God’s will as a direct mainline after Jesus died and rose and began to sit next to the Father God for eternity.  This is why everyone, even Jesus’ closest pals and followers didn’t get who He was, because the Spirit hadn’t been given yet.

Jesus takes His statements further and further!  At one point He says;

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Wow, this was a serious claim!  The religious experts of the time knew their Bibles, and knew that Jesus was claiming that He was the light of God Himself, as was talked about in the Old Testament.  They get really ticked at Him and start to argue.  They start to “theologize”, saying things like “this guy is bogus”, “He appears as His own witness, so His testimony isn’t valid!”.

But as Jesus is speaking, all the crowds around Him are starting to buy in to what He’s saying!  He’s making these religious experts look like absurd buffoons, fakers and hypocrites.  Jesus addresses those in the crowd who start to believe in Him, because He knew the hearts of all men, even while He was on earth!  He tells them;

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

See, Jesus wasn’t trying to force Himself on others as the exclusive, powerful only way to God…  He already was all of that!  He didn’t need to prove it!  But we as people need proof because we doubt Him and His Words so much!  Yet what He was saying was completely true, and He moved on to explain that what He really wanted was to set people free from their own selfish destruction!

The word “sin” is a swearword to most people.  People see Christians as a bunch of lame kill-joys that are trying to take away their fun and freedom.  Unfortunately, a lot of Christians can be this way!  But Jesus was saying that true freedom would come in the absence of sin.  Sin is the inner and outer destruction of self that is happening to us all.

For some reason, everything within us deeply desires to speed up this process!  We take drugs, we guzzle alcohol and swallow pills.  We get angry and hurt each other.  We remain subjugated to our own bitterness and inner turmoil.  We gossip and backbite each other.  We passively go along with what everyone else is doing without having the backbone to stand up for what is right!  This is like being in JAIL my friends!  It is not freedom!

I remember the days before I knew Jesus, and I was a crazy one.  I couldn’t even GO TO SLEEP at night without wanting to do something calamitous, hurting myself or someone else.  This was being a slave to sin.  We’re all there.  And if we just shove a bunch of rules down each other’s throats we further the rebellion!  Why?  Rules were made to be broken.  Didn’t Old Testament Israel prove this?  They couldn’t keep God’s law to save their life!

And then we have Jesus, saying that HE is God, and if we hold on to Him (because He has already taken hold of us!), then we will have FREEDOM!  This is great love!

But the religion addicts, the self-righteous Pharisee rule-makers, are so holy, that they are holier than Jesus Christ Himself!

Jesus goes on to say;

“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my Word will never see death.”

At this, the religious leaders exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed!  Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys Your word will never taste death.  Are you greater than our Father Abraham?  He died, and so did the prophets.  Who do you think you are?”

Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing.  My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the One who glorifies Me.  Though you do not know Him, I know Him.  If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and obey His Word.  Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to Him, “and you have seen Abraham?!?”

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”  At this, they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

These guys were so holy, that they were holier than the Son of God!

Be careful my friends!  You are in the same danger as they!  Do you look at others with distaste and disgust who don’t live as righteous a life as you?  Do you look at followers of Jesus who spend their time with broken, sinful and hurting people and exclaim in your heart, “that’s not MY calling!”  Are you so paralyzed by fear that you will sin, that you have set up every rule and code and boundary and law to keep yourself from it, and yet your heart is filled with utter hate and judgment and condemnation?  Do you spend more time talking about how the world is heading to hell and pointing the finger at others than you do your OWN sin, your OWN shortcomings?  Then you have not surpassed the righteousness of the Pharisees my friends!  Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise, but lean on Jesus!

Jesus said forcefully to these religious elitists, “before Abraham was born, I am!”  He said it in the present tense.  They knew exactly what He was saying.  He was identifying Himself with the God of the Old Testament, “I am that I am”.  In their minds, He was blaspheming.  And they wanted Him DEAD.  He was giving Himself equality with God.  He wasn’t saying He was born before Abraham, He was saying that He was around from the beginning of time!  He was saying to these people, who wanted to kill Him and hated Him, not only for His compassion on the sick and sinful and broken and lost, but because He claimed He was God, that HE was part of creating THEM!  Jesus is fully God, and He sits at the right hand of the Father of the Universe!  All sublimity should be directed towards Him.

A Real Problem… When Religious People Think They’re Holier Than Jesus (part 1)

Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ! (Photo credit: wormwould)

We fly in an ancient, imaginary time machine to a place called “Caesarea Philippi”.  This place contained every variety of religion that existed in Jesus’ day.  It was probably a lot like Boston is now…  where Harvard professors like Dr. Diana L. Eck have begun “the pluralism project” as an answer to the growing diversity of nationalities and religions in the U.S.  New England, much like in Caesarea Philippi, is a very diverse religious, spiritual and cultural setting.  We can’t turn a blind eye to it and make ignorant statements about traditions and cultures we don’t understand!  We need to know what we’re talking about!

And on the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus begins a conversation with his disciples about his identity.  There were all kinds of rumors flying around about Him…  was He a prophet?  A demented crazy whacko?  A decent hippie revolutionary dude, and nice philosophical teacher?  A scheming religious fraud?  His closest buddies believed that He was the Son of God.

This is where Jesus starts to explain that He’ll be rejected by the corrupt, religion-addicted, power-hungry leaders.  They’ll sentence Him to be killed and He’ll rise again three days later.

But Jesus’ disciples don’t get what He’s talking about.  They can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls who they’re dealing with here!  It’s funny, they’ve left everything to follow Him and still don’t totally understand who He is.

And that may be you as you read this…  You’re a person who saw something in Jesus that seemed worthy of believing Him, so you did, or maybe you didn’t.  But you still don’t totally understand who He is!  You’re in good company!  Jesus’ closest followers spent three years with Him, and didn’t get it until after He had left this earth, and they received the Holy Spirit.  You can be a believer in Jesus without having the Holy Spirit living and alive in you…  but more about that later…  back to our story.

Peter, our favorite impulsive loudmouth, actually takes Jesus aside and begins to correct Him!  He’s like, “look Jesus, You’re not going to do this!  Don’t be crazy man!”  Peter has great intentions here, but deep down he’s hoping that Jesus will be who a lot of people of this time thought he would be.  Peter is hoping that Jesus will take over Israel, and restore them to being “God’s nation”, so that they’ll wipe out all other nations and have power, rule and authority.  Friends, you need to know that throughout history, this has never happened.  There is no perfect entity with the title of “God’s nation”, and if there ever has been, it has been corrupted by the people within it.  The church is “God’s nation”, and is to reflect the perfection of God, though we stumble and bumble in our effort to do so.  There will never be a perfect nation or regime that reflects God’s Will.  Jesus knows this, and replies to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Now I don’t recommend ever saying “get behind me, Satan” to anybody!  In fact, my grandparents told this to my Dad when he was 13, and it contributed to a rebellion against Christianity that would last for 44 years, until my Dad would truly follow Jesus at the age of 57!  Guess what guys, you’re not Jesus!  So please, don’t act like you are!

Jesus had the right to say it though, and was setting Peter straight…  in love.  He knew what He had to do.  He had come to rescue an evil, desperate world, and was to lay down His life.  Jesus goes on to say;

Whoever wants to be my disciple, must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.

Jesus isn’t saying that we ought to have a pity party and be a doormat available for everyone to take advantage of.  He wasn’t saying we should have a martyr complex, that we should seek to get killed for our faith.  He was saying that we need to lay down our agendas, our rights, our comforts, our “plan”, and let Him completely take control of our lives, our direction, our location, our standard of living, the way we’ll die, if we’ll marry or not, who we’ll marry, where we’ll spend our money, how we’ll use our talents and passions.  He wants it all to be for Him!  Why?  Are Jesus and His Father a couple of self-centered freaks?  No!  They are loving and perfect!  They created us and knew us before the beginning of time.  They want us to be aligned with their roadmap for us because it will bring us great joy, great peace, great meaning, great understanding, great patience, and great confident reliance.  Through Jesus we can become the husbands, the fathers, the sons and daughters, the students, the employees, the justice doers, the philanthropists, the leaders, and the human beings that we were meant to be!

But “if anyone is ashamed of Jesus and His words in our adulterous and sinful generation, Jesus will be ashamed of us when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.”  When Jesus returns, He’ll judge the whole world and set up a perfect Kingdom.  This Kingdom will be filled with the love, joy, truth, peace, purity and freedom that we are to live out in Him right here, right now in this age.  If we are ashamed of Jesus’ words we are ashamed of God Himself in all His perfection and goodness.  It just makes no sense!  It’s all or nothing friends!  Give Jesus your all or ignore Him!