What is our picture of Jesus? Could it be that if he walked the earth today many of us would be offended by him?
I want to introduce us to the possibility that we might we wrong about Jesus and not to be offended, but put our feet on the solid rock of the real Jesus.
We will examine John the Baptist’s offense at Jesus and see how it relates to Jesus and preparing for Jesus’ coming.
Are you the One
When John the Baptist heard of Jesus’ message, he was curious. He sent messengers to ask, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:3). John was to prepare the way for the Messiah. Yet Jesus was different than expected. Unlike John, he did not take on a Nazirite vow or the ascetic lifestyle of some of the prophets. He did not eat locusts or avoid wine. Jesus did not separate himself like a monk, but ate and drank with sinners. He was also not like some of the kings and judges of ancient Israel. He was not a warrior who came to fight and retake the land from occupying Roman armies. Instead, he came as a pacifist, who turned the other cheek. He healed and preached good news to the poor. Blessed are those who are not offended by this Jesus.
The only One
When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:3), he did not ask whether Jesus was one of the ones, but the one. Our world looks to so many ones for the answers. We look to politicians to be the one. We are disappointed every single time we elect another one, and soon a movement begins to get rid of that one and install another one. We look to fashion gurus, financial whiz kids, motivational speakers, new gadgets and ideas. Flip through the TV channels any night and see the would be Messiahs. There is the guy selling salvation in real estate millions, the fellow selling salvation from old vacuum cleaners, the people selling salvation in jewelry, and the vitamin Messiahs. There is only one real savior and his name is Jesus.
Still the One
John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one...” (Matthew 11:3). Like John are we are also disappointed at Jesus that he did not come as we think he ought? He taught nothing about tongues speaking, no Sabbath requirement, no prayers to Mary, no rosaries, no succession of popes or bishops, no Christmas rush, and made no specific liturgical demands. He did heal and preach good news to the poor. Yet, his preaching was not about worldliness, nor receiving material blessings for our giving. His preaching was about giving and self-sacrifice. It was about a kingdom not of this world, which cannot be described in the sometimes abusive, authoritarian, oppressive terms of this world’s religions. Do we paint Jesus in our terms or his? Like John, do we ask if he is still the One?
The activist & the teacher
John the Baptist asked if Jesus was the One (Matthew 11:3). He seemed perhaps a little disappointed in the way Jesus conducted his ministry. John was more of an activist and revolutionary and Jesus was more of a healer and teacher. Did John jump into the political fray with Herod because he was frustrated that Jesus did not? Did John expect the Messiah to rally troops together to storm the gates of palaces and take over as did past Jewish revolutionaries? Jesus seemed to hint that John was offended at him. We read nowhere that Jesus invited John to be a disciple. John prepared the way but seemed to be looking for a different Messiah. Are we disappointed with Jesus, the life of poverty, the hair, the dying on a cross or are we people of faith in Christ?
Let us rescue Christmas all over again
Christmas has so many pagan connections that puritanical Christians avoid it altogether, citing God’s opposition to pagan worship when he really only banned things like child sacrifice and temple prostitution (Deuteronomy 12:29-31, 23:17). Rather than avoid it, early Christians sought to conquer it and capture the time for Christ. Just as early Christians converted pagan temples into churches, so too did they convert the many symbols of winter observances into Christian ones. Today, Christmas is again becoming a pagan festival. It seems to be about the commercial pursuit of profit, the giving and receiving of gifts, the office parties, the stampedes for merchandise and the pressure to spend beyond our means. In the midst of the chaos, perhaps even like a voice of one crying in the wilderness (Matthew 11:3) let us rescue Christmas all over again.
Hear and see the real Jesus
We hear a lot about Jesus. Some of it comes directly from one of the four Gospels. Some of it comes from people’s imaginations. John the Baptist had an image of Jesus in his mind, but Jesus was different than he expected. Jesus encouraged John’s disciples to tell him what they saw and heard (Matthew 11:4). What do we see and hear of Jesus? Do we see a little baby in a manger? Do we see a long haired hippie? Do we see the tooth fairy who will grant our wishes? Do we see someone who heals lives and proclaims good news to the poor? Instead of living a fiction of a Jesus invented according to what we wish him to be, let us get to know the real Jesus and be grateful that he is who he is.
What does a Messiah look like
If we look at John’s questioning of Jesus in Matthew 11:6, it seems as if he was asking for confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah. He was not sure what a Messiah looked like. Do we know what a Messiah looks like? What would we expect to hear and see? Would we anticipate that he would come with political power, worldly wealth, or military might. Would he be dressed in simple clothes like a prophet or in the opulent robes of a king? Jesus’ answer to those who asked on John’s behalf was none of those things. He said that the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. This is what the Messiah looks like. He is the one.
Offended at Jesus
Are churches offended by the simplicity of Christ’s teachings? Is that the reason we create so many human traditions? As new Christians we often swallow all kinds of human ideas. As we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord, are we willing to discard misconceptions? When we find out that many beliefs of mere mortals are misguided, do we become offended at Jesus for allowing it? When talking to the followers of John the Baptist, Jesus reminded them of the signs predicted in the Old Testament proving who the Messiah was: healing and miracles. And then he said something seemingly strange: blessed are those who are not offended because of Christ (Matthew 11:6). In John the Baptist's case, things turned out differently than he expected. Will we be offended if while following Jesus our assumptions are contradicted?
Trees in the Bible
A Xmas tree, like all trees is good (Genesis 1:11-12), picturing the tree of life (Genesis 2:9) with 12 fruits (Revelation 22:2), picturing peace (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:1-4) and righteous people flourishing (Psalm 1:1-3; 92:12). Wisdom is a tree of life (Proverbs 3:13-18), the fruit of right living (Proverbs 11:30). Longing fulfilled (Proverbs 13:12) and a soothing tongue are like the tree of life (Proverbs 15:4). Don’t idolize trees (Jeremiah 10:2-5). They picture the kingdom of God (Luke 13:18-19) and faith (Luke 17:6). Jesus hung on a tree (Galatians 3:13) so that we may eat of the tree of life in paradise (Revelation 2:7). Let us wash our robes so that we may have right to that tree of life (Revelation 22:14-15).
Disappointed with Jesus
John the Baptist was not a follower of Jesus, but a forerunner. The shocking statement that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11), seems to indicate that John had not yet become a part of that kingdom. He seemed disappointed with Jesus, even though his mission was to prepare the way for him. What about us? Are we disappointed with Jesus? Is that why we latch onto things that neither Jesus nor his Apostles demanded of the Church? Is that why we attach ourselves to traditions and fads that focus on things that Jesus did not think were important enough to mention? The reality of Jesus is what unites all Christians. Is not what divides us the Jesus of our own making, because like John, we are disappointed with the Jesus that is?
Taking God’s kingdom by violence
Experts give two opinions on Matthew 11:12 and perhaps they are both right. Perhaps Jesus actually intended for us to take a double meaning from this. One meaning is that in light of John the Baptist’s imprisonment and pending death, it is obvious that the kingdom of God suffers violence and violent people have been trying to take it by force. Yet, God is in charge and there is no stronger power than his. The other meaning is that the Greek word translated as violent can also be translated as zeal or aggressive force and that such ardent zeal is needed for Christians to enter God’s kingdom. The innuendos of taking both possible meanings are obvious and the lessons are important. Christianity is not always an easy path. It is a spiritual battle against evil attitudes and wicked ways.
Could it be that we might we wrong about the real Jesus? Do we have unrealistic expectations of him? Are we expecting him to solve all our worldly problems now or do we look forward to that day when he will take over all the governments of this world? Have we put our feet on the solid rock of the real Jesus?