Tuesday with Michael Spencer
Jesus Makes Things Complicated for Us
Jesus makes things very complicated for American Christians. If you simply follow him around in the Gospels, you are going to get into trouble. Why? Because he isn’t just talking evangelism. He’s talking about a whole life of Kingdom-dominated, life-transforming discipleship.
Let me use an illustration. Years ago, I found myself in a young adult men’s Sunday School class at the church I was serving. I was joining in for some fellowship with men my age, and I wasn’t teaching. The lesson that day was on Matthew 19:21-24. Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all he has and give it the poor, then come follow him. The young man refuses, and Jesus says it is very difficult for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom.
There was a tangible discomfort in that room full of young doctors, lawyers, realtors and entrepreneurs. They didn’t consider themselves “rich” by American standards (which is absurd,) but the text hit close enough to home that the discussion quickly took the tract of “Well….of course, he didn’t mean that we should actually do that. Right?”
I don’t want to critique those guys. I just want to note that when the Jesus of the early chapters of the Gospels gets loose at the party, things don’t head directly to the subject of church growth or the latest evangelism tract. He gets inside ylur suit, and he irritates you. He wants things to change, and it makes us nervous.
You see, Jesus is proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), and at the heart of it are two things that are fairly challenging to all of us in the materialistic, prosperous west.
1) The announcement that a climactic time has arrived, and the present age has come to it’s fulfillment point. In other words, a new world, a new creation, is arriving with Jesus. Something happens. “Personal Savior?” I don’t think so.
2) The call is not simply to believe some short form outline of “How to get saved,” but to repent and believe the good news. There is a reorienting/rebirthing of life at fundamental levels. Big questions get asked and answered: What is your God like? Who is your neighbor? How does the Kingdom look when you live in it? Will you follow Jesus to the cross?
These concerns are present in the epistles, but the Gospels go far beyond the epistles in putting the Kingdom in front of us, because everything Jesus says and does is dominated by this Kingdom he is announcing…..and his actions and words make it very clear what kinds of changes must take place. The disciples are blown away by it all, and that’s our cue to get our helmets on as well.
So when you read the Gospels, Jesus is including the excluded, healing the hopeless, remaking Israel, reaching out to the pagan, overturning the religious professionals, redefining all the predictable terms, shocking those who know all the answers and, in general, making it unmistakably clear that the Kingdom isn’t just about forgiveness and “heaven,” but about the life we are living- and will live- in the Kingdom here, now and in the future.
Most of our study of the early chapters of the Gospels ignore what Jesus is doing, and leave the impression that Jesus wandered around Galilee proving that he was the Son of God, so that when he died we would get the whole, “God’s Son died for your sins” thing. We don’t seem to get the purpose of all of this. It’s not the warm-up act for the cross: it’s the Kingdom. It’s what Jesus came to bring, and to give to us. It’s a Kingdom with a crucified and risen Messiah, but it’s always a Kingdom where believing and belonging mean revolution.
In fact, Jesus is teaching, eating, doing miracles, staging prophetic announcements and performances, shocking the authorities, teaching on a reborn/remixed Israel, training disciples, telling stories and all the rest for the express purpose of saying that if God is here now, and his Kingdom is present now, then YOUR life is going to be deeply transformed. God himself is going to give your life an entirely different definition and direction.
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Photo by Alex Hognon at Flickr. Creative Commons License