Monday, October 27, 2014

Come As You Are: Who Is Jesus, Really?

Sometimes I feel like I was born in this building, or, at least in a building a lot like this one. In other words, I grew up going to church. Some of those who grew up with me here are thinking to themselves already, “You can’t go to church.” “The church is the people!” You see, when you go to church as long as we do, you nit pick about things like that. Being inside these walls for such a long time changes our vocabulary, way we look at and interact with the world, and even the way we see Jesus. Most people in our world have at least an elementary knowledge of Jesus. Not everyone believes in Jesus. Not everyone “follows” Jesus. But most people know who Jesus was or is. When most of the world thinks “Jesus” a certain image comes into their minds. When you hear that name, “Jesus,” what picture comes into your mind?

Common images of Jesus bolster the view of Jesus as a meek, mild, clean, white, European shepherd. This Jesus never raises His voice. This Jesus never gets dirty. This Jesus is so clean and neat and tidy, that He’d fit well in a place like this. Maybe that is why those of us in a place like this have perpetuated that image of Jesus for so long. But here is the problem: the picture of Jesus I read about in this book doesn’t look very much like those images of Jesus!

I think one of the best books written in the last couple of decades was The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. This book is based upon a class that Yancey taught at a church over the period of about two years. He had in his possession dozens of old Jesus movies. You may have seen some of them, King of Kings (1927), Godspell (1970s off Broadway play), The Cotton Patch Gospel (1981), or, even the Johnny Cash version of the Gospel story, The Gospel Road (1973). Yancey would use clips from many of these movies as a jumping off point at the beginning of each class. Then, he would read the story as it appears in the Bible and he said what struck him most about this study was how varied were the portraits of Jesus in our world and how different those portraits were from the picture of Jesus in the Bible. The study left him and his students wondering: Who is Jesus, really? The pictures of Jesus painted by Christians have so many similarities. Jesus is meek, mild, gentle, and soft-spoken. Jesus is a cute, nice, cuddly shepherd. Jesus resembles one of those precious moments figurines you might see in a Christian bookstore. But the pictures of Jesus displayed in the Bible show a side of Him that is rarely discussed. Jesus is seen overthrowing tables in the temple. Jesus is seen calling out the religious authorities to their faces and Jesus spends more time at parties than He does in church buildings! Most interesting were Jesus’ closest companions. Jesus did not hang out with preachers like me. Jesus’ closest friends were tax collectors, prostitutes, and fishermen. A “Loud Bunch” to say the least!

So, Yancey makes the statement: What kind of leader do you think it took to corral such a motley crew? It most likely was not a soft-spoken, shy, timid man. More likely, Jesus was loud. More likely, Jesus had a lot of charisma. More likely, Jesus was the life of the party. He was someone who when He said, “Follow me…” People got in line! But, I’ve spent so much time in this building that I have a hard time seeing Jesus in any other way than this:

But here is what is so important for us to see. The world would not kill a man like that. So, what made those people 2000 years ago so upset? I think if we can begin to understand the answer to that one question, we might be closer to getting a more accurate picture of Jesus.

Now here is a story that is sometimes left out of the discussions about Jesus (at least among Christians). At the very least, we don’t see how Jesus’ actions here could have gotten Him into any trouble. We have tamed this story a bit. But try to imagine how these words must have sounded to a crowd of religious folks in the 1st century.
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:1–5, NRSV)
Well, who could possibly be offended by words like that? Well, the crowds probably were not. You see, the real Jesus is always appealing to the crowds. Because the real Jesus brings with Him forgiveness, the real Jesus brings with Him compassion. But the real Jesus, the One who is so quick to forgive, was deeply troubling to the religious leaders of His day.

You see, the way they kept their positions of status was by reminding everyone else how bad they were. “We have it all together.” “We follow all of Jesus’ laws.” “We are clean and right and religious… and, well, you are not!” “And, because we are so good and you are so bad, we really cannot have anything to do with you.” This one issue… this is the one that got Jesus in trouble. Because He accepted people, He ate with people He shouldn’t have eaten with and listen to this, He didn’t wait until knew someone was safe before He associated with them.

I was listening to a guy named Don McLaughlin speak about a month ago. He said something about God that I’ve not been able to get out of my mind. He said: “God loved us before He knew us.” Think about the implications of that one phrase. As people made in the image of a God like that, what does that mean for us? Our first expression to anyone on this planet should be love. Our reaction to them should have nothing at all to do with how that person responds to us. First, we should love them. Period. Our love for them should not be contingent upon their race or color. Our love for them should not be contingent upon their nationality. Our love for them should not be contingent upon their sexual orientation. Before He even knew us, God loved us. Period. Loving someone from the start changes your perception of them. Your goal in that relationship is not to win. It is not to prove you are right. It is not to make them submit to your religion or politics or way of thinking. If your relationship begins with love, your goal is to walk with them and serve them.

Now, when Jesus started talking like that, it got Him into trouble. Because religion in our world has always gravitated toward the same sentiment, some are in, some are out, some are good, some are bad, and these two groups need to stay away from each other. Jesus challenged that idea in a big way. Here was the most righteous human being to ever live, and he spent most of His time with outcasts and rejects, people with whom the religious leaders of His day wouldn’t even have a conversation! In that sense, Jesus was a revolutionary and that is what got Him killed.

The thing I appreciate about Jesus is that His actions mirrored His teaching. In Matthew 7, He tells the people in a sermon: “Don’t judge other people.” Great teaching! But have you ever heard a preacher give a great sermon and then notice how he doesn’t live it out? He presented a great sermon on faithfulness, but then he showed up on the 10 o’clock news because of his infidelity. He preaches about giving and living a life of simplicity, but he lives in a mansion and then gets arrested for embezzling money from the church. Not Jesus. Jesus’ life mirrored His teaching. Just listen to what happened to Him one day.
Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them. The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”  “No one, Master.” “Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” (John 8:1–11, The Message)
Oh, how I wish this were the Jesus that was always on display in the church. Sadly, the Jesus that is often on display in the church is the one who wouldn’t give this woman the time of day. Because our Jesus is so clean and neat and tidy He just couldn’t possibly be that close to someone like her. You may be visiting with us this morning. In fact, this might be the first time you’ve been in a church building in years. For all I know, you may never have been in a church building, and the picture of Jesus that you’ve seen perpetuated by the church may be what has kept you away. You may have felt “I don’t belong anywhere near a guy like that!” “If Jesus is as clean and perfect and judging as He seems to be, He won’t want anything to do with me.” If that has been your experience, allow me to apologize for all of us. I’m sorry we have given you that picture of Jesus. I, for one, would never be attracted to a God like that! But, can I let you in on a secret? There is no one in this room that is worthy to be Jesus’ friend! There is no one in this room that is even close to perfect. I am the preacher of this church, and I have struggled with sin my entire life. Sometimes I am a horrible husband and father. Sometimes my ego gives me permission to make horrific decisions. I am greedy and selfish.

But God loves me anyway. God accepts me anyway. Yes, I try to be as perfect as I can possibly be, but I fail every day. And every time I fall down, I have learned that Jesus is right there to pick me up again. I’ve learned on more than one occasion, Jesus often comes to me through some of the people in this room (and others like it). Speaking as someone who has been in a room like this my entire life, if there is one thing I would want people outside of this room to understand it is this. There is nothing you can do to separate yourself from the love of God. Not all of your actions make God smile, but He never stops loving you. And He will never stop forgiving you.

The title of this series is Come As You Are. So, this morning, I encourage you to come to Jesus just as you are.
  • Stained
  • Imperfect
  • Addicted to pornography
  • Unfaithful to your spouse
  • Hypocrite
  • Liar
You are never too far-gone to come to Jesus. You may be wondering, “Do I even belong in a place like this?” Well, answer these questions. Do you ever feel like there is something significant missing in your life? Do you go through the motions—work, school, family—but it is just never enough? Do you feel like you’ve blown it, and you wish you could just start over with a clean slate? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, I think you definitely belong in a place like this. In fact, that’s how many of us ended up here in the first place. Why don’t you start this morning? Decide today that you are going to get to know Jesus, the “real” Jesus, better. If you want help doing that, I’d love to be a conversation partner with you. I’d love to talk with you more about how to give your life to God.

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