Did Jesus intend to invite the 13th Disciple? Pt.3

Jesus is out on the road or “on the way” as another translation puts it.  This phrase indicates that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified.  In fact, Mark uses this phrase again just a few sentences later (10:32) when Jesus tells his fearful 12 Disciples that he will be betrayed and given over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned, and handed over to the gentiles for execution. This tete-a-tete with the rich, young ruler interrupts Jesus’ dutiful march to Calvary.  The sorrowful presents himself, kneels, and asks how to get to Heaven.  The irony of course is not lost to us, that Jesus is en route to be crucified, thereby putting to death the very sins that keep us from enjoying peace with God.  This would be a great opportunity to expound the scriptures, explain the need for a God-man to die as a substitutionary atonement.  But, Jesus does not go into a lengthy theological discussion about how he will be crucified, and his blood will atone for the sins of his people, and His resurrection would secure eternal life for all those who believe.  Instead of theology, he offers a cross.  Instead of an explanation he prescribesHe demands discipleship.  He is going to his cross, and he wants the ruler to take up his own cross.  He does not make a demand of the ruler, which he is not willing to undertake himself.  “No servant is above his master,” he told his disciples on the night of his betrayal.  I expect everyone of you to die on a cross, just as I am going to die on mine.

Jesus invited this young ruler to empty himself of glory, wealth, and acclaim, making himself of no account.  He says to him, “take a step down and see what its like on the bottom.  Maybe you’ll find eternal life among the beggars.  Maybe God will change your heart towards those that depend on him every moment for their daily bread.”  Jesus himself, once stepped down out of a position of indescribable glory, adoration, authority, security, and perfect love.  He laid down his rights, privilege, royal titles, courtiers and all the vestiges of his exalted place.  Incredibly, He did this to live and die among us, the poor, the blind, the maimed, the naked, the sick the demon harassed, the dead and decaying corpses of people who were intended to be God’s walking image on the earth.

This account has me really worried about myself.  I am pretty rich compared to most of the world.  Every american lives with unbelievable privilege compared to even our neighbors to the south and in the Caribbean.  If you have shoes you are richer than most of the people in the world.  If you have access to clean drinking water, and public transportation, you are richer than %75 of the world.  If you have hot and cold running water in your home, access to a car or bus, and access to some form of communication device (payphone, cell, computer, telegraph) then you are in the top %95 percentile of earth’s wealthiest.  We can’t even hope to know what real poverty looks like, and that makes us like the rich young ruler.  Again, I say, I am getting worried for myself.

Are you starting to sweat a little bit? Not so sure of yourself now that you realize you are one of the rich, are you? Well, are you one of the rich or not? If you are reading this on any type of screen, rest assured that you are the Rich Man.

 

Any attempt to abolish the severity, and alarmingly challenging nature of this passage must be bridled.  This passage is not meant to be explained away, or even understood. It is meant to stand in stark contrast with our money loving culture.  It is meant to trip us, watch us fall, and it anticipates us seeing something from the vantage point of our knees. This, heretofore, invisible something can only be perceived as we kneel in holy reverence to the Good Teacher, the one who defies our glib categories and feeble theological frameworks, and humbly accept his offer to take up our cross and follow him.

I have to confess that I am left with way more questions than answers.  I only hope that I now have better questions.  I believe having open ended questions leaves room in our hearts for God to speak.  Let’s not be too sure of our theology, like Job’s 3 friends whom God rebuked.  But, rather let’s model our hearts after the father of the demon afflicted child, who in Mark 9:24 (NLT) cries out “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”  No one who approached Jesus with all the answers ever walked away from the interaction satisfied or feeling proud. Those that approach Jesus needy and beggarly have the best chance of leaving his presence satisfied and enriched.

I leave you with these words from Andy Stanley’s sermon “When Gracie met Truthy” from the series “Christian“. In fact, I give my unreserved recommendation to this entire series of messages. Watch them, they are really powerful.

“When you open the New Testament, and you ask “How did Jesus Love?” At times it was messy, at times it was inconsistent, confusing, unfair. We are trying to hang onto the tension that Jesus has when he loves. …Whenever you open the scriptures and take seriously the teachings of Jesus there’s a tension. He at times seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to hold everybody accountable. At times he seems harsh, at times he is kind, at times he points out sin, and at times its like he ignores sin altogether.” “…We are all tempted to want to resolve that tension, but if you resolve it you give up something important. Its what drove people crazy about Jesus, but he was comfortable with it. He was able to minister through it, and we dare not walk away from it. …Oh my goodness is it messy, and at times it is inconsistent, …and it leaves people thinking ‘I wonder what they (Christians) are really about. What do they really believe?” -Andy Stanley Quotes from His sermon “When Gracie met Truthy”

Check out Part 1 and Part 2

Your personal savior?

Some evangelicals of this day like to describe their union with Christ as having a “personal savior”.  The problem, of course, is that they also own a personal computer, manage a personal life, and reserve certain amenities for themselves as their own personal pleasures.  And, herein lies the rub.  If we imagine Jesus, or more generically, our salvation, as something we own, manage, or see it as something “about us”, then God can’t own us.  However deeply committed to this flawed thinking you may be, I invite you now to dispense with it.

You may be thinking, “No real Christian, at least none I have ever known, consciously regards Christ as a possession.”  Exactly!  No Christian would ever think this consciously.  This thinking operates on a sub-conscious level, and is therefore all the more insidious.

I do not say that you are aware that you think this way.  If a christian’s relationship to his “personal savior” is much the same as to his personal computer, he is in a bad way.  See, this same Christian goes to his personal computer to do his work, enjoy his intellectual or social pursuits, or, for simple entertainment.  He does these things at his leisure, according to his desire, and without regard to any responsibility he may or may not have to the personal computer.  Many of us go to the Lord (our personal savior) with the exact same attitude.  We look to Christ as we look to the virus cleaner on our PC, something of great value and necessity, to be used at need (then dispensed with) and forgotten until the next emergency.

For 5 reasons the “personal Jesus” idea needs to hang it up, I commend to you the following blog.  It is excellent!

As long as it is convenient (or, I feel like it) I will pray to my own personal savior.  As long as it doesn’t cost me anything I don’t wish to go without, I will stand up for God’s truth.  As long as it doesn’t conflict with my social pursuits or affect my status, I will confess the name of Jesus.  After all, He is MY personal savior.  But, oh boy, when I’m in a scrape, I can pray with the best of ’em.  He’s my personal savior.  This thinking is juxtaposed to Paul’s assertion that we ought to be “slaves of Christ.”

Slave.  Does that word offend you?

There is a way in which familiarity breeds contempt.  The all too human temptation to minimize or de-claw God, is just as alive in the Christian church as it was on the pagan alters.  Humans want a safe, predictable, servile deity, to whom they can pray and placate with dervishes and lip service.  None of the Greek poets ever once conceived that the pagan gods would want to know if their worshipers were sincere, only that they were prompt, pious, and paid the proper temple fees.

Humans invent gods, to make The God, more tolerable.  We do not love goodness, nearly so much as we suppose.  What we actually love is convenience.  (Thankfully, it is inconvenient to live in a world totally dominated by our evil desires.  This is why we get as close as we possibly can, without going over that precarious line that would totally cripple society.  Having some sin in our society lets us get things done, but too much would be the end of civilization.)  We create petty Gods, because we are petty.  We created Cupid,  because we ourselves are possessed of obscene cupidity. We want the gods to bless our crops, keep us safe, save our souls, and, beyond that, stay out of the way.  The god we seem to like the most, is called the “Life Force”.  The Life Force gives us all the personal and intellectual benefits of having a deity who creates the world and loves us unconditionally, without all the pesky nonsense of morality, judgement, or lordship.

Dr. Peter Kreeft argues that the gods of our society are really the canaanite deities reborn.  These are Molech, upon whose alter we sacrifice our children, babies and unborn; Ashtereth, a fertility goddess whose easy sexuality we drool over during every film, sitcom, and magazine; and, of course, Mammon.  Who can serve two masters?  No one!

The God of the Bible sees through the religious detritus, and commends us to worship him in “spirit and in truth”.  Mere sacrifice does not assuage his wrath.  No muttered mantras or rehearsed prayers will forestall His promised judgment.  He is not one to be managed, minimized, or pacified with trinkets.  And that is why He is not the kind of God we’d invent. No one asks for the kind of God which He is.  (Not, of course, at first)  The kind of God He is, is like a taste which one develops over time.

When I was a child I hated green beans, peas, and broccoli, all foods I enjoy as an adult.  They didn’t change.  I changed.  I grew up.  Now that I am a man, my tastes have matured and developed.  I can stand, somewhat, the intense savor of the salt of holiness.

Oh, sure, we like certain of His attributes, for instance, His love and His mercy.  But, we like much less His steady demands on our time and insistence on our moral behavior.  We like even less His pressure to conform our hearts and minds to that of His son.  Our hearts shout back at Him, “But, why should I have to change?  Why can’t you take me as I am?”  Frankly, it is offensive to us. Frankly, that is what He means it to be.

So I ask you to consider: When you say that Jesus is your personal savior, do you mean that what He did on Calvary He did for you.  Do you mean that He is the God you serve? Do you mean that you have accepted Him?  Do you mean that Jesus is going to take you to heaven?  Do you mean that His demands on you are perfectly natural, and you delight in His commands?

Our reformed brothers like to say, “God saved me,” rather than, “I accepted Jesus into my heart”.  It violates their sensibilities to put oneself in the driver seat, and render Jesus as a passive participant.  The phrase “God saved me,” expresses that He is the active doer, rather than the one being accepted.  And, on this point, I have to agree with them.  God is not in need of our acceptance, nor is He a passive party to my justification.  Jesus is Lord regardless of whether or not we obey Him.  God is praiseworthy, even when He is not being praised.  He is admirable, even when no one is admiring Him.  God is God.  You don’t accept or reject Him, He accepts or rejects you.  And, He doesn’t come to you with hat in hand hoping you will choose to do His will.  He is no supplicant.  But, He is humble, gentle, and lowly of spirit.  That God saved me proves He is humble, a proud God would have nothing to do with one such as I.

If, the statement is true that, “I accepted Jesus into my heart.”  It is a far lower, baser, and less complete truth than, “God saved me.”