Re-imaging Jesus

In_the_Synagogue005Some 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.

Taking God At His Word

bibleA number of years ago, a group of professing Christians started talking about “re-imaging Jesus.” Having done that, the discussion has now moved to how this new model of Jesus is the imaging of God. One thing seems to surface from people identifying as Christian while spurning the long-held tenants of the faith–they believe “that whatever ‘God’ is,” he, she, or it is peace and love.

Why they’ve settled on these attributes, of course, is a reflection of what they believe to be most valuable. Therefore, despite the fact that God self-identifies as jealous, a Consuming Fire, Judge, even vengeful, such ideas are shoved aside as a construct of humans who wanted to wield power, or some such explanation.

Honestly, I find it shocking that people want to identify with a God they find so repugnant they have to remake Him into their own fanciful version of what they believe a god should be. In the same way that Joel Osteen and other health-and-wealth preachers see God as the Great Santa giving bountiful bling, these emergers/progressives/angry reactionaries see God as the dispenser of peace and harmony and oneness and community.

Never mind that at least one person in this group admits where he’s at: “It seems to me that we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.” Rather he feels “the ache of longing for connection, for communion.” He directs this desire toward his family, toward old and new friends, even toward strangers and ultimately toward enemies. But he never identifies this longing for connection to be the fault of a broken relationship with God.

If God had not spoken, if His Son had not come to disclose the Father to us, I could understand this persistence in making God to be whatever we imagine him. People have been doing that since shortly after the Fall, so why should our generation be different?

Because we have a written record that tells us what God has said about Himself.

Imagine the CEO of a large corporation hiring you, then giving you this caution: “Punctuality is important to me. I am punctual and I expect my employees to be punctual. No exceptions.”

Instead of making plans to be on time the next morning, however, this new employee thinks, “It’s all well and good that the boss says he values punctuality, but I don’t think it’s important at all. What matters is that you get your work done, no matter when you start or when you finish. Why would I want to live under the tyranny of the clock? Consequently, I’ll think of my boss as indifferent to punctuality and all about completed assignments. That way it won’t matter when I go in to work.”

As it turns out, the CEO did care about completed assignments, but He also cared about punctuality. Guess what happened to the employee who had decided to re-image his boss according to his own standards.

Sadly, those who try to give God a make-over will be sorely disappointed. They’re saying now, they can’t really know God, certainly not the way he explains himself in the Bible. At the day of judgment, God will respond in like kind: I never knew you.

If only people everywhere would take God at His word!

Published in: on October 16, 2013 at 6:57 pm  Comments Off on Taking God At His Word  
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Who Is Jesus?

I think at Christmas time it’s appropriate to ask who Jesus is since the day set aside to commemorate His birth has become such a big deal.

Some undoubtedly don’t think past the manger scene. To them Jesus was, is, and always will be that infant wrapped up and lying amid a bunch of animals.

Others have re-imaged him to be the good teacher a certain rich ruler addressed. Sort of a Hebrew Gandhi, I think, the guru who gave us quotables and an example to follow.

But interestingly, in the exchange Jesus had with that young rich guy, He identified the thing about Himself that separates Him from all other teachers or examples. He said, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”

And you know, the next time the young ruler addressed Jesus, he dropped the “good.”

Quite apparently he did not think Jesus was God. Otherwise he might have answered something like, “I understand completely that no one is good except God alone. Good teacher, what must I do to be saved?”

Instead he said, “Teacher, I have kept all these things [the Law] from my youth up.” In other words, he first did not acknowledge Jesus as God, and secondly he did not acknowledge his need. I’m not sure what he expected … an “atta boy,” maybe a “keep on keeping on.” I don’t know.

But this post is about Jesus, so back to the subject. Those who have re-imaged him describe all the things he did and said that fit in with 21st century sensibilities of love and brotherhood and tolerance.

What they do not look at or acknowledge are the “God things” Jesus did and said. And here I’m not referring to the many kind and seemingly miraculous interventions Christians experience today. A good number of people have come to call such an occurrence, a “God thing.”

I’m actually thinking of something a little different. I’m thinking of the things Jesus said that ticked the Jewish establishment off. The things He did that made then ask, Who does he think he is?

Things like healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, or telling the paralytic He healed to pick up his bed and walk—also on the Sabbath. Or how about the time when His disciples picked grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry. When the Pharisees confronted Jesus, He gave them a Bible lesson, ending with this:

“Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
– Matt 12:5-8 (emphasis is mine)

The big one that got the Jews worked up, of course, was His God claims. John records one of these:

“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”
– John 10:30-33

Of course, they didn’t like it much when He told them that they were of their father the devil, either. In that conversation, Jesus ended with another statement identifying Himself as God, and sure enough, they tried to kill Him then, too.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.
– John 8:58-59

I don’t know how people today who imagine this metro-sexual Jesus with the cool sandals and trendy long hair have missed the controversy the real Jesus brought. To His family. To the Jewish people. To the world.

He said there will be a day of sorting—sheep on one side, goats on the other. He said there is a narrow road leading to life and a wide road heading to destruction. He said guests at the bridegroom’s feast will be turned away if they’re not wearing the proper wedding garments.

And in the end, He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” That’s who Jesus is.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 7:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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