>Image by _escalade328s_ via Flickr(Note: This is a sermon series focused on misconceptions of Jesus in our culture where Jesus is all around us. I’m using Jared Wilson’s book, Your Jesus is Too Safe as a springboard into the series and will follow along with some of his themes. For those of you who haven’t read Wilson’s stuff, I encourage you to at least check out his blog, The Gospel-Driven Church. This sermon functioned as the introduction to the series, trying to convey the notion that it can be hard to find who Jesus is in our culture.)
Text: Malachi 4:1-6 & Matthew 24:37-42
Title: “Jesus, The Prophet who Disturbs Us”
Our Old Testament comes to a close with those great words of Malachi that were just read. I’m going to read it again, at least the first part. And I want you to tell me what you think…what are your initial reactions?
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
So, what do you think?
See, I think these words…these words that point to the coming of Jesus and really serve as the prelude to all that follows in the New Testament…I think these words are hard for us to hear. I think, we prefer our Jesus to be more warm and cuddly than this. I think when we hear that his coming will be like the burning of an oven that will burn up everything so that there is nothing left…well, that this is hard for us to hear. I think that, even if we can understand some measure of judgment and punishment we really would much rather hear about the little children coming to Jesus. We’d rather hear about sight being restored. We rather hear, “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” and BE NICE PEOPLE…which Jesus doesn’t really ever say but we often ascribe to him.
We want a NICE Jesus. We want a SAFE Jesus. We want our faith with an EASY BUTTON so we can, at times look for an EASY JESUS. We want our Jesus to come to us like Stuart Smalley of Saturday Night Fame 20 years ago, telling us that we are GOOD ENOUGH, SMART ENOUGH, AND DOGGONE IT, PEOPLE LIKE US.
And so, we come to the BUDDY JESUS (show image) who is just happy to be around us, wants to hang out with us, enjoys the same things we do and likes us for who we are.
And so we have our HIPPIE JESUS (show image) who doesn’t want to “harsh our vibe, man.” He tells us that we’re cool with him. He doesn’t want to talk about sin and judgment and stuff like that because what’s important to him is for us to feel the love.
This is all pretty simplistic. And I want to be fair and say that this is a message that needs to be heard by persons. We want to tell our children that “Jesus love me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” We want the person dealing with depression or self-worth issue or the youth who is struggling with self-image issue and is cutting themselves or suffering with anorexia that Jesus does love them just the way they are and that he is with them and cares for them and embraces them in his loving arms. It’s a good message to hear.
But, I want to say, it’s incomplete. It’s an incomplete, and therefore, inaccurate picture of Jesus.
Think of it this way…I love my children. And I hope they know I love them very much and would do JUST ABOUT anything for them, particularly when they’re in trouble or when they’re hurt. But I’m not OK with everything they do. I get angry with them. We have talks. They get warnings. There are “time-outs” and “groundings” and sometimes I know it hardly makes sense to them as hard as I try to be clear that my anger or their punishment is based on me, believe it or not, having some idea of what is best for them and wanting to pull them back into line with expectations. That goes for my younger kids and the older ones as well. And I know all of you who are parents know that this is the case.
I want to enjoy my time with my kids, but I don’t want to be their buddy. I want to be their parent. I give my kids a lot of freedom, much to their chagrin it’s a lot less than many other kids, but there are things I think ARE NOT OK…and I want to call them on it. I will, on occasion, HARSH THEIR VIBE. I will bother them. I will get in their space. I will disturb the world that they’ve set up around themselves.
And it doesn’t always go real smooth. And there are times, I’m just trying to figure it out. Sometimes, being good to them, caring for them, means seemingly harsh things.
C.S. Lewis addressed this very type of issue in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE The Lion, of course, is Aslan. He’s the Christ figure in the story who gives up his life for his people. And isn’t it interesting, though, that it’s a LION who is the representation of Christ here. Lions are big. Lions can be vicious. Lions are intimidating. Here’s how the story plays out:
Says Mrs. Beaver; “I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Imagine, if you will standing face to face with a full grown, real, untamed lion. It would be terrible. But what if the Lion were good.
C.S. Lewis writes as the children see the Lion for the first time:
People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.
The fact that we shudder a little, go “all trembly” when we read the words of Malachi, help us to see that, in many ways, we have tamed our God. We’ve got a friend in Jesus. He’s our brother. But, in Scripture, our God isn’t a kitty cat. Our God wants to disrupt us and disturb us an bother us and call us back into obedience. Hebrews 10:31 kind of sums it up: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (NLT).
So, to combat the BUDDY JESUS SYNDROME, we need to remember that Jesus comes to us as prophet, with all that this implies.
FIRST, JESUS DISTURBS THE NATION…HE PREACHES OUT AGAINST IT. For instance, in Mark 11 Jesus curses a fig tree. He sees a fig tree with no fruit. He curses it, saying, “May no one ever eat off of you again.” And the next morning the disciples see that it’s withered to the roots.
You may think, “Well, la-di-da, a dead fig tree.” But the fig tree was a symbol of Israel itself. What if someone preached and destroyed a symbol for another country…like our own. Burned a flag. Would that be viewed as “figtin’ words”? Of course. He was proclaiming that there was no good fruit in their country and he showed it in a very vivid manner.
And that’s just one incident. There are other places where Jesus preaches against the nation using the Temple and its future destruction as the illustration.
This Jesus is disturbing.
SECOND, JESUS, LIKE THE PROPHETS OF OLD, PREACHED REPENTANCE. Repentance means a TURNING AROUND in your life, a reorientation of the way you’ve been headed, to go in a new direction. This ordinary carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere started showing up and telling people…by the way, I’m speaking for God now and I gotta’ tell you things have got to change. “GO AND SIN NO MORE!”
THIRD, JESUS THE PROPHET TELLS US TO BE PREPARED. This is where that reading from Matthew 24 comes in:
For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
Look, one of the scary things about Jesus is that he tells us he’s coming back. It’s scary. But it’s awesome. He doesn’t say when or where, but he says it’s going to be very good news for those he calls his own. But…that means you gotta’ expect him any time. Few people cheat when they know the teacher could walk in the door any moment. We, too, need to act as if our Teacher’s coming in at any moment, too and that this is VERY GOOD NEWS FOR US.
This is a Jesus who should disturb us.
LASTLY, JESUS THE PROPHET COMES INTO OUR PERSONAL SPACE, OUR PERSONAL LIVES, TO CALL US INTO QUESTION.
Jared Wilson, who’s book YOUR JESUS IS TOO SMALL is serving as the background for this series talks of how Jesus interfered in the life of the woman at the well, calling her relationships into question. Jesus should and does make us uncomfortable when confronted with what’s wrong in our lives. Jared then shares the following story about how Jesus disturbed a Bible Study he was leading:
The Christian community I pastor was meeting one night for Bible study. In the sharing time, several of us spoke of difficulties at work or relatives undergoing surgery. Then one new attendee, an Iranian immigrant who had been a Christian only a few months, said, “If I go back home they will kill me.” Long awestruck silence followed. And then she added, “But it’s okay.” (57)
Puts my complaints about having to go to San Francisco this afternoon or my complaints about picking up this kid or that kid from wherever or not having any skim milk at the Merc or losing power for 30 minutes or long lines on Chair 6 or whatever into question. My life is lived so far removed from those who rely…really rely on Christ. The mere fact that I know that there are people in this world for being a Christian makes me realize how EASY it is for me to stand up and say I believe in this place. My faith is less challenging but God wants us to be challenged by his words and have our lives changed.
This should disturb each and every one of us.
One of the problems about our BUDDY JESUS, is that he’s entered our churches too, where we encourage folks to be nicer, or smarter, or more healthy, or richer. We forget his challenges as we leave the buildings because we’re never challenged when we’re in. We’re never called to a RADICAL change in the way we think and act and talk. It seems, sometimes, all we’re asking is for people to be well-adjusted. And we need more than this.
I want to close with a quote from a blog I read a lot. It’s called The Internet Monk. And it’s a couple of pastors carrying on the legacy of Michael Spencer, who died a year ago. They right about how “BUDDY JESUS” has moved beyond a personal faith buddy to a programatic experience in churches. I don’t know if it entirely meshes with what has come before, but I think it’s important for us to hear as we look towards having more and more activities in our facility. What is said here is disturbing:
Let me just say this straight out. If all you are interested in is becoming is a better person, then Jesus is not your best avenue to get there. You can find lots of self-help books—and in Christian bookstores without embarrassing references to Jesus to worry about—that deal with marriage, health, finances and life-issues you find yourself dealing with. They are piled high on tables leading into the temple. As a matter of fact, you can buy them in many temples every Sunday, credit cards accepted.
Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead.
Do you have a Jesus who wants to be your BUDDY? Or do you have a Prophetic Jesus who wants to bring you life?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.