Discovering the Rebel Jesus
March 5, 2017 (Lent Week 1)
Adapted from a sermon at First United Methodist Church of Orlando.
Lent is the season of the church calendar that began on Ash Wednesday and continues until Easter. It’s a time of prayer, repentance, and preparation for a resurrected Lord on Easter Sunday. In our culture, people tend to give things up for Lent, which is a form of fasting.
You might have given up something. I saw people online giving up soda or candy. A number of people posted “off social media for Lent! See you on Easter!” I saw one argument for fasting from school throughout Lent. I didn’t give anything up, but I am participating in a daily devotional to focus on the Lenten season.
Here’s the thing though, we have turned Lent into this game of giving something up to show that we can do it. It has nothing to do with Lent and has everything to do with us.
The practice of giving something up for 40 days in Lent is based upon Jesus’ 40 days of fasting before he began his ministry. Jesus, all ready to begin, fasted for 40 days in solitude in the wilderness. It was a time to center his focus on his ministry, to pray and prepare.
Jesus didn’t say, “Goodbye chocolate! See you in 40 days!!! #blessed” and then go into the wilderness. Yet somehow this is what we’ve turned Lent into.
Our view of Jesus and his teachings are skewed in this way. We have things that we have heard so many times that we take them at face value. We don’t question them or bother looking any deeper.
Throughout the course of Lent, we’re going to go a bit deeper. We’re going to take a closer look at Jesus — at the things he said and did, at his true message to the world. As we move through the next few weeks, we have to be willing to challenge our assumptions. To seek the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels, and not the Jesus of our culture.
Our scripture tonight is Jesus making a proclamation of exactly who he is. He’s having a conversation with his Disciples. He tells them “Do not be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.” (John 14:1 CEB)
Thomas, whom we know mainly as the Disciple with doubts, says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going.” (John 14:5 CEB)
I picture Thomas frustrated here. He’s spent some time with Jesus at this point and he’s lost. He isn’t sure what to believe. “How can we know the way,” he asks.
6Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”
9Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. 12I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.
To discover the real Jesus, we first must understand who Jesus was. He wasn’t a soft-spoken Sunday school teacher who carried a baby lamb with him everywhere he went. Jesus makes it very clear to Philip and Thomas that he is God incarnate here on Earth. Jesus is God’s response to a world in desperate need of a savior and if we, his followers, believe, we can carry out his mission.
At the time of Jesus’ ministry, the world was broken. The people of Israel were occupied by a foreign government. There was no accountability for political leaders, and to some extent, religious ones. Justice was relative and people’s basic rights were ignored.
This is the world that Jesus was born into. This is the world that God himself chose to come and dwell amongst his people.
Jesus’ message that there was now a new kingdom was revolutionary. It was radical. To a people oppressed and downtrodden, Jesus arrived as the leader of a countercultural movement of justice, peace, and love for all.
And Jesus didn’t proclaim this message gently.
In one instance, Jesus entered the temple grounds and was deeply angered by what he saw. The animals for sacrifice were for sale with Temple Money, which had to be covered at high fees. The poor seeking worship at the temple were being taken advantage of.
Jesus went off.
13It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. 15He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. 16He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” 17His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.
18Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”
19Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”
20The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Jesus was a peacemaker, but he wasn’t a peacekeeper. He roused people. He shook them. He was trying to wake them up — he was trying to show that their way of life wasn’t fulfilling the will of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus was rebellious and his message was counter-cultural. Yet, somehow over the years Jesus became part of the mainstream and his message became tame.
When Jesus’ counter-cultural message is tamed, we are left with a cultural Christianity. This is a version of faith where we show up to feel good about ourselves. Or a place we go to meet people and make connections. When Jesus’ message is tamed, we’re left with a meeting place. A club.
That is not the message Jesus brought to the world.
The message Jesus brought to the world is a difficult one to fulfill. His cost is high. When the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit the kingdom of God, Jesus tells him sell everything he owns and give that to the poor. The man doesn’t like what he hears and walks away.
Jesus’ message of putting others before ourselves, of loving those whom others refuse to love, is hard. Yet we’re called to do just that, not to walk away like the Rich Young Ruler.
At the end of the book of Matthew Jesus tells his Disciples, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20 CEB)
Jesus didn’t complete his time on earth by telling us to go to church once a week so we can check it off a list, he told us to go out and make disciples. Jesus told us to obey everything that he commanded. Jesus tells us to act.
Jenny Youngman wrote the youth study version of Renegade Gospel — the book that we’re studying throughout Lent. In it, she says this (p.15):
What this world needs is not a building full of Christians with their hands in the air, but a bunch of Christians who are willing to follow Jesus into the world with hands reaching out. The world needs our faith to matter to us and needs our feet to put that faith into action.
The true gospel of Jesus isn’t watered down; it isn’t safe. His message was a threat to the religious leaders and government officials of his time, and his message might just feel a little threatening to the church today if we took him seriously. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to start a religion, but to start a counter-cultural revolution that we are invited to be a part of.
Jesus’ message is radical. Jesus is radical. To listen to Jesus’ message is to be spurred into action. To react. To go and make disciples and obey everything that Jesus commanded.
As we go through this Lenten season, the challenge is to take a deep look at our faith. We have to be willing to ask ourselves if our faith is in the cultural Jesus that is comfortable and easy to digest; or if our faith is in the radical Jesus who spurs our feet to move and our hands to reach out?