Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Jesus I still don’t know.

Philip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, is a wonderful, challenging, thought-provoking study of Jesus in the Bible. Our LIFEGroup went through it together a couple of years ago. Yancey exposes many ways we have made Jesus into someone very different than He was/is. The human heart is an idol factory, addicted to sin and spin. It is the tendency of fallen people like me to spin Jesus into someone more comfortable for us to live with, less demanding for our transformation, less intrusive into the values and choices we cherish.

I often think of Yancey's book as I read the Gospels – the four biographies of Jesus given us by the Holy Spirit through eye witnesses of His incarnation.

Today I am reading Luke’s version of the sermon on the mount (Luke 6). I like Matthew’s better (Matthew 5). In Matthew Jesus pronounces a blessing on the “poor in spirit.” In Luke the blessing is for “the poor.” I'd rather be poor in spirit than poor in my financial condition. Poor in spirit is less challenging to my comfortable life style (and my preaching).

Lest I might think I should read Matthew’s “in spirit” into Luke’s account rather than taking it literally as an affirmation of those who live in poverty, Luke proceeds with Jesus’ blessing on those who “hunger now” (leaving out Matthew’s “for righteousness”) and then with His pronouncements of woe on those who “are rich” and “well fed.” It seems impossible to spin Luke’s record away from its economic implications.

It would appear that Matthew and Luke each record a different aspect and application of what Jesus taught -- one spiritual and one material -- both mandates for those who follow Jesus.

Jesus’ words are bombshells exploding on our American values and lifestyle.

I’m not at all sure I understand what Jesus is saying . . . or perhaps I just don’t want to face it. I know I must reconcile these words with the rest of the Scriptures, which, I believe, are never in contradiction when rightly interpreted.

Do we dare to wrestle with the meaning, application, and implication of Jesus’ words, or do we quickly move on to another passage which is less intrusive or challenging? What is unmistakably clear in the Bible is that God blesses us not merely so we can gratefully enjoy His goodness (1 Timothy 6:17) but also so that we can be extravagantly generous to others (1 Timothy 6:18). Whatever Jesus is saying in Luke 6, I know that I only have my toes in the ocean of potential generosity -- generosity to relieve suffering (Matthew 25) and to spread the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28).

Perhaps at Christmas when we privileged Americans are so immersed in materialism, I must fight to recognize and be continually grateful for God's undeserved generosity to me but also move to a new level of personal generosity to fulfill the Lord's mission to redeem sinners and relieve suffering.

I want to know Jesus . . . the real Jesus . . . and what He truly asks of me.

No comments: