One of the primary missions of the contemporary church is to reintroduce Jesus to the world. I say “reintroduce” because, over the course of time, the vision of Jesus painted in the pages of the gospels has been eroded. Most of us are familiar with the descriptions of the Lord as the good shepherd and “Jesus, meek and mild” that have been so much a part of portrait created by the church over the centuries. Granted, the Christ was all these things, but he was so much more.
He was, in a word, a rebel.
An honest appraisal of the character and mission of Jesus presented by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John bears witness to a more raw and earthy being, one who stood in open opposition to the established order and challenged religious authority whenever he thought it necessary.
He was, in a word, a revolutionary.
The teachings presented by Jesus not only ran counter to those of established Jewish tradition, but also were in stark contrast to the wisdom of the world. I find the following comments by Houston Smith, well known scholar of comparative religion, to be so accurate and succinct, I include them in their entirety:
“…we have heard Jesus’ teachings so often that their edges have been worn smooth, dulling their glaring subversiveness. If we could recover their original impact, we too would be startled. Their beauty would not paper over the fact that they are “hard sayings,” presenting a scheme of values so counter to the usual as to shake us like the seismic collision of tectonic plates…We are told that we are not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek. The world assumes that evil must be resisted by every means available. We are told to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. The world assumes that friends are to be loved and enemies hated. We are told that the sun rises on the just and the unjust alike. The world considers this to be indiscriminating; it would like to see dark clouds withholding sunshine from evil people. We are told that outcasts and harlots enter the kingdom of God before many who are perfunctorily righteous. Unfair, we protest; respectable people should head the procession. We are told that the gate to salvation is narrow. The world would prefer it to be wide. We are told to be as carefree as birds and flowers. The world counsels prudence. We are told that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye. The world honors wealth. We are told that the happy people are those who are meek, who weep, who are merciful and pure in heart. The world assumes that it is the rich, the powerful, and the wellborn who should be happy. In all, a wind of freedom blows through these teachings that frightens the world and makes us want to deflect their effect by postponement – not yet, not yet! H.G. Wells was evidently right: either there was something mad about this man, or our hearts are still too small for his message.”
Yes, I suspect that our hearts, like those Jewish leaders who first encountered this radical personality, were too small to contain the immensity of his message. Further, the threat posed by someone who carried such a message as this was enormous. Small wonder Pilate avoided dealing with him; small wonder the religious leaders took drastic action. Jesus was many things, but one thing he was not was a person to be ignored. DorothySayers, that great lady of the faith, made the same point regarding the domestication of our Lord:
“The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore; on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium.”
As the Body of Christ we are now in a similar cultural milieu as existed at the time Jesus walked the earth. Granted, times are different, but the themes are much the same. Like it or not, the Church now lives in a post-Christian culture. America is Christian in name only, certainly not in practice. Over the past 50 years the dominant worldview and subsequent value system has undergone marked change. Post-modernism and situational ethics now hold sway. It is within this mix that the Church must now carry out the essentials of its mission. The question at hand is: How will we reintroduce Jesus to the world, given the realities of the culture we now live in? Answering this overriding question is a complicated affair, certainly beyond the scope of this short article. Additionally, we, as the Body of Christ, need to reflect deeply on how we may best go about meeting this aspect of our calling. Much prayer is called for.
One thing is certain, however. We must present a more realistic portrait of who this man Jesus was, and still is. When he enters a person’s life, things are not always meek and mild. In fact, taking on Christ often results in an inner revolution.
As we take Jesus on board we must recognize we are giving accommodation to what can be a dangerous entity; one capable of challenging our own conventions, our own preferences, our own habits, and ultimately, our own character. Jesus does not come into a person in order to affirm the status quo. Quite the opposite, this dangerous being takes up residence within your inner kingdom with the stated aim of revolution. Yet for most of us this inner revolt is sorely needed. It can, in fact, change us from wandering, confused, and empty vessels into vibrant, vital, world changers. David Foster gives us a glimpse of just what Jesus is up to:
“Jesus is like air to the lungs and water to a desert dweller. He is not a religious artifact. He’s not dead. He is alive. He is engaged and engaging. He is here now, changing lives all over this world this very moment. When He walked on earth He changed everything for everyday, for all time. What started then continues today. It can’t be stopped though many have tried. Jesus is the rock of redemption and His church will prevail. He is here in this moment with you, doing what He always does, calling you to a higher place, calling you to break free from convention and stop going to church and start being the church everywhere you go. Let’s be “Jesus people” again. Let’s be men and women whose hearts are captured, redeemed, renewed, enlivened, ignited, set fee! Let’s return to the revolution to be the change we want to see in the world!”
Listen closely. In your inner sanctuary, your heart of hearts, can you hear him calling you? Will you go with him, even if it means breaking free of convention? Will you follow him, even if it means you stop going to church and start being the church? Are you ready to be counted among the Jesus people? Are you ready to join the revolution?
(c) L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved