Some years ago those in the emergent church started talking about “re-imaging” God, understanding him in ways that deviated from traditional theology. One classic conversation about looking at God differently developed from an article entitled, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” I addressed the issues brought up in the article in “Attacks On God From Within.”
But as so often happens, teaching that clearly oversteps the bounds of true Christian thought, begins to seep into the Church as if it is orthodox and normative, as if it’s what the Bible actually says and has said all along.
One such twisting of Biblical intent is the image of Jesus so many are throwing around. I’ve read more than once that if He were here today, He’d be hanging out in gay bars and with druggies and prostitutes.
This view is such a skewered picture of Jesus, it really troubles me!
First, Scripture tells us where Jesus “hung out”—His starting place when He arrived in a town—was the synagogue: “They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)
Similar verses are all through the gospels:
“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1)
“When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mark 6:2)
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue” (Matt. 12:9)
“He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue” (Matt. 13:54)
“On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Luke 6:6)
And when He went to Jerusalem, He headed for the temple. (see Matt. 21:14ff, 24:1, Mark 12:35, 13:1, Luke 19:47, 21:38). Most telling might be what He said to the chief priests and their men who came to arrest Him in the Garden: “At that time Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.’ ” (Matt. 26:55, emphasis mine)
When He needed more room to teach because the crowds grew, He hung out on hillsides and mountain tops and lake shores.
Oh, but He ate with sinners and prostitutes, those who wish to re-image Jesus will point out.
It’s true that Scripture does record Jesus eating with Matthew the tax collector and those he invited to his house. But Mark gives the complete picture:
As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. (Mark 2:14-15, emphasis mine)
In other words, these men called sinners were now disciples of Christ.
In truth, it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of eating with sinners.
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34, ESV)
Jesus responded to the criticism by saying the sick need a physician and that He came to call sinners to repentance.
And yet those re-imaging Jesus have apparently chosen to believe the Pharisees, though Jesus identified them as sons of their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44)—a clear indication that Jesus knew them to be liars.
This new view of Jesus claims that He told stories and didn’t actually give directives. In fact, some say He loved people by first being with them, them being committed to them and showing Himself for them. Only later did He direct them toward truth and holiness out of His love.
Well, yes and no.
Jesus didn’t always show that he was committed to or for certain people—most notably the Pharisees, but also the Syrophoenician woman who wanted Him to heal her daughter. He flat out told her He’d come to the Jews. Some might even find His response racist and offensive:
He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:24-26)
Not quite the politically correct Jesus we’re shown so often these days, the one who loves everyone. He did heal her daughter and even praised her for her faith. But where was that “love for everyone”?
We seem to forget that “everyone” would include the Pharisees, and Jesus did not treat them in a loving way. In fact, He was quite directive with them, hence the whip in the temple. Yes, those were most likely Pharisees He was going after when He overturned tables and drove out money changers—the sinners wouldn’t have been allowed in to do the work. They were presumably tagged sinners because they didn’t adhere to the Mosaic Law.
At the same time, Jesus was very directive in His teaching. He said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he owned and follow Jesus. He said those who wanted to follow Him had to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. And each one of His stories had a point, a directive that was to guide action or expose truth. He was not trying to entertain.
Jesus also didn’t hang with prostitutes. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and He told her to stop sinning. The woman at the well who had had many husbands went into her village to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. The woman who the Pharisee Simon identified as a sinner and who poured perfume on Jesus was actually a disciple of Christ. Luke tells the whole story (7:36ff) and ends with Jesus reproving His host for his self-righteousness. In the process He clarifies the facts about her: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for [this reason] she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.
But it’s not who Jesus was when He walked on earth. He came to teach, and that’s what He did, along with healing so many people there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. If sinners came to Him, He never turned them away. That’s who He came to save, but He wasn’t out trolling for the sinner hot spots.
It’s time we stopped rewriting the pages of Scripture to create this view of Jesus we think fits what our culture might like—Jesus, the anti-church, pro-gay guy who told cool stories.
The Pharisees weren’t “Church” and Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not to tell them how much He’s for them.