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Apologetics

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?

LET’S MAKE IT SIMPLE: WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? (A sermon)

These speakers share their ideas about how to change the world. They invite us to ‘step out of our habitual path of thinking’… 

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Here’s my TEDx talk if ever I was invited to give one:

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?

[I]

If I were to choose one person to follow as a mentor/ guide, the best human being I’ve ever heard of is Jesus of Nazareth. If I find a better-put-together person, I promise you, I’ll switch allegiance to them.

When I talk about Jesus to people I often get ‘Yes but’ responses. (You might have several this morning: hold them to the end and we might have time for questions). A common one: ‘Yes, but, you’ve got faith, I haven’t.’

How did you get here this morning? Car? Tram? Train? How many stopped and thought ‘Do I have enough faith to get into/onto this thing? Maybe if your car has let you down that might be a possibility, but, what you’ve thought about is actually not your faith as such, but its object. Same with people. Is this car reliable? Is this person reliable?

So why do people have faith in an ancient historical figure like Jesus? My grandmother heard a voice – a real voice, she says, in the night. I never have. The great St Augustine heard a child’s voice, and ‘all the shadows of doubt were dispelled.’ Saul of Tarsus had a Damascus Road experience – with a blinding light and a voice from the sky. In a life-changing experience of surrender to God C S Lewis knelt and prayed in his room at Magdalen College, Oxford – ‘perhaps that night the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’. Nothing like that’s ever happened to me.

So why is Jesus important to me? I didn’t commit myself to him via a theological system, or even church services. I didn’t follow him because my parents did: as I started thinking for myself I rejected their simplistic fundamentalism in many respects.

My ‘conversion’ really happened when I left home, and started reading and thinking about this amazing person who, on about 80 occasions in the Gospels, went around speaking and acting as if he were God. Imagine if you heard someone in Smith St (Collingwood, Melbourne), saying to strangers he’d just met ‘I forgive your sins. It doesn’t matter who you committed them against, I forgive you!’ You’d probably be both perplexed and a bit scared – and maybe you’d phone our country’s emergency number, OOO.

If what this Jew claimed about himself was true, then it’s all really breath-taking: he embodied ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’ for his people if only they’d realised it…

Now if eye-witnesses claimed someone you’d never actually met was God, what is one to make of that?

I reckon there are only four possibilities:

* Perhaps he was mad. I once met a psychotic person in a psychiatric hospital who claimed to be God. Problem was on that day he was Napoleon Bonaparte, and sometimes he’s the man in the moon. Was Jesus one of those? No: he’s the sanest person I’ve ever heard of.

* Was he a liar, an imposter? Problem with that is the question ‘What did he have to gain by it all?’ And what kind of person was Jesus on the evil-to-goodness spectrum? I think the question answers itself.

* Was he, then, a good person, a great teacher, and that’s all? C S Lewis wrote about this ‘patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher… He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.’ So did his followers get it wrong? And to a person they were prepared to die for something they’d concocted? I for one find that less credible than believing they reported Jesus’ words and actions truthfully, and eventually came to believe in him.

So, you ask, of all the people who’ve claimed divinity only one was right? Yes. If Jesus was God a lot follows: He was the ‘Word’ by whom the universe was created, says John the apostle. The next couple of cubic inches of air you breathe, he puts it there. He is ‘who you need’. Augustine famously wrote at the beginning of his Confessions, ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you’. Your destiny when you die depends on him. 

And then there’s his martyrdom. The 19th century German philosopher Nietzsche ridiculed the idea of God on a cross. But as John Stott writes (Why I am a Christian, 2013, p. 61): ‘When he was spread-eagled and skewered on his cross, strung up with nails or ropes or both, what looked like the defeat of goodness by evil was really the defeat of evil by goodness.’ I once heard with astonishment my English professor – an atheist – say that all great operas and literature are essentially about one or more of three core human experiences – guilt, love, and death. That was an ‘aha’ experience for me: the cross of Christ was about all three the theologians tell us (like Gustav Aulen in Christus Victor).

I remember talking to that professor about who Jesus might be and went through the classical ‘quadrilemma’ I referred to a couple of minutes ago. Does all that make sense? I asked him. ‘Yeah’. But you’re not a Christian? ‘No’. May I ask why not? He said it had little to do with logic, but rather lifestyle. He enjoyed living life his way, without being answerable to any God. Fairly common, I would think. C S Lewis in his autobiography Surprised by Joy (p. 143) put it well: ‘When I examined myself I found [within me] a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds…’

That’s the first of two big questions: the issue of faith, and its cousin, intellectual credibility. If Jesus is God, he has a right to demand allegiance.

[II]

So what’s he asking us to do? Simple: ‘Follow me.’

What does that mean? In John he gives his followers a mandate: ‘As the father has sent me, so I’m sending you [into the world]’ (John 20: 21). In other words: what you have seen me do, you do!

What’s that? At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (Luke 4:18) he gives us a dot-point summary: he came to offer ‘Good news to the poor, freedom for captives, sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to release people from their [inherited] debts.’ Whatever inhibits our well-being, Jesus offers to bring healing in those areas…

And that’s what we’re to do. Indeed at the final judgment (Matthew 25: 37-38) we’ll be asked how we went with all that. Jesus today is hungry needing food; thirsty, needing clean water, a stranger needing our hospitality, or naked needing clothes; sick, or in prison, needing our help…

SO… WHAT DO WE DO, AND WHERE DO WE START?

1. We begin with a commitment to follow Jesus. We invite Jesus into our life, and Jesus’ Spirit helps sort us out in terms of the accumulated baggage, guilt and shame that’s accumulated there.

2. And our motto, our watch-word, is the same as Jesus’ Great Commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10:27-28). Jesus’ hearers had a ‘Yes, but’ question about that: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Not easy.

When Serbs are slaughtering Muslims who is my neighbour? When Tutsis are being slaughtered by Hutus, who is my neighbour? When just about everyone’s being slaughtered by radical Islamists in Syria and Iraq who is my neighbour? Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan answers this very clearly: my neighbour is someone – anyone – who needs my help and I’m in a position to offer it.

3. And before we rush off to get help everyone, and in the process get  ‘spattered all over the wall of needfulness’ we do what Jesus said we do when the needs are so numerous and so great: ‘The harvest is plentiful…’ so – what? PRAY (Luke 10:2). 

4. And prayer is so important that we develop a relationship in the stillness and quietness of a ‘desert’ rather than rushing around wearing ourselves out. Speaking of TED talks, I note this week that there’s one titled ‘We’re all trying to be multi-taskers. It’s good for nothing!’ All of God’s best leaders, best people, regularly spend time in deserts, as Jesus did.

5. Then – LISTEN.  ‘A true friend is someone who listens to you and to God at the same time.’ But don’t get too addicted to ‘helping’ others. I’ve met many people who get a ‘buzz’ out of needing to be needed… Was it Thoreau who suggested ‘If you see someone coming towards you with the obvious intent of doing you good, run for your life’. Or C S Lewis: ‘She went around doing good: you could tell [who the helpees were] by their hunted look!’  

6. Work with others to alleviate the needs of the marginalized. Dave Andrews (Can You Hear the Heartbeat: A Challenge to Care the Way Jesus Cared pp. 112 ff.) tells a terrific story about some squatters in Brisbane, who were constantly harassed by the police. Because they camped illegally of course the police had to keep moving them on. Solution: ‘Bricks through the police station windows’. Dave had another suggestion: invite the police for a cup of tea, and talk about it. Eventually the Council and State Government found some ways to accommodate these homeless people legally.

Dave signed his book when he kindly gave me a copy: ‘To Rowland Croucher, with the prayer that you will not only keep the faith, but also the love that is at the heart of our faith.’ Dave was in the media last week because of his excellent ministry befriending Muslims… 

7. And, if you’re able, speak truth to power. Jesus did this especially with the Jewish religious and political authorities (though some have thought he was a bit soft on Rome… but that’s a discussion for another day). A recent excellent book to whet your appetite: Peter McKinnon’s The Songs of Jesse Adams – about what Jesus might have done if he were to come to Melbourne a generation ago. 

Conclusion: So doing what Jesus did helps answer the greatest existential questions I face about my life: Who am I? Do I have worth? What am I supposed to be doing with the one life I’m given?

It’s simple, really: Follow Jesus. Do what Jesus did. If you try to ‘save your life’ you’ll lose it. John Stott, one of my mentors, puts it like this:

If you insist on living for yourself, you’ll lose yourself. But if you’re prepared to lose yourself and give yourself away in love for God and your fellow human beings, then in that moment of complete abandon, when you think you have lost everything, the miracle happens and you find yourself’ (Why I am a Christian, 2013, p. 97).

And St. Paul’s excellent summary:

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11).

Rowland Croucher  

(Preached at St Martins’ Collingwood 12/10/2014 and many other places).

jmm.org,au

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