an onion, a flashlight, and a bar of soap
Jesus is not who you think He is.
But if it is any consolation, He isn’t who I thought He was, either.
The more I read about him in scripture, the more I sit and talk with him in the morning over coffee, the more I cry out to him in the middle of hard circumstances, the more I get to know him in general… the more I know I never knew him at all.
The good news is, this is good news.
As it turns out, Jesus is WAY biggercoolerwiserstrongerfairermoregraciousmoreholymoreamazingmoreeverythinggood than I ever thought possible. I can guarantee you that my little pea-sized brain has only BEGUN to grasp the edges of his robe and his infinite greatness, and yet I am already in awe.
I’ve been studying some of his words here lately in a study of The Sermon on the Mount. It’s been an amazing study for a bajillion reasons, but the main thing I have gleaned from it is this: Jesus is absolutely awesome and utterly upside down.
Not just awesome in the “like, totally awesome dude” way (which He is also) but in the old school dictionary way: “causing feelings of fear and wonder : causing feelings of awe.” And not upside down in the “He is wrong” way but in the way of “causing feelings that everything you thought you knew is wrong : causing feelings that following him feels much like riding on a tilt-a-whirl.”
I’ve read The Sermon on the Mount 100 times. It’s good stuff, for real. But I have never really picked it apart, dug around and gotten my hands dirty in it, peeled it back and looked at it up close and personal like. That’s kinda embarrassing for me to say since the purpose of this ministry is to speak/write about this Jesus fellow and this particular piece of scripture happens to be his first/main recorded scripture where He lays out some of the most important parts of following him. No big deal.
In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus covers important topics like:
- Who God is.
- What He wants from us.
- How God blesses and rewards us.
- God’s purpose.
- Jesus’ purpose.
- Our purpose.
- What we should do.
- What we should not do.
- Why it matters.
- How to give.
- How to forgive.
- How to pray.
- How to obey.
- How to discern.
- How to be merciful.
- How to go to Heaven.
- How to love.
- How to live.
Again, no big deal.
In my defense, I THOUGHT I knew what it all meant and I THOUGHT I had studied this. But…
Scripture is an onion.
Much like Carl Sandburg said about life being like an onion, scripture also holds this truth: “… you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”
So I have been slowly peeling away and there has indeed been weeping. I mean, I am just FLOORED at some of the things Jesus said. I have been digging deeper into the words He used like “meek” and “humble.” I’ve been researching original terminology/translation and then talking it over with him to try to break it down to what He really said and meant and wants from me. And I totally get why the Bible says that those who were present at this sermon were amazed and astonished, (“And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine…” Matthew 7:28) I can picture myself in that crowd, sitting criss-cross-applesauce with my mouth hanging open, wholly dumfounded, because basically what He was saying turned everything upside down. His words and teaching flew in the face of everything they (I) thought they (I) knew about God and religion and faith.
It’s the same way today.
So often – far too often – we walk around in our tiny lives thinking: (1) we have no need/use/interest in what God wants for us OR (2) we have it handled, thanks for asking OR (3) we think we already know everything.
But when Jesus showed up that day, and when He continues to show up for us again and again in scripture now, He proved that all to be untrue.
We have it all wrong, y’all.
Most of what Jesus said turns life and faith upside down and inside out. Most of what Jesus said sounded (and sometimes still sounds) completely foreign and weird and impossible; ludicrous, even.
But here is the thing: It’s all true.
Which brings me to my second metphor:
Scripture is a flashlight.
We often hear Jesus described as “The Light.” And He is. So it makes sense that the things that came out of his mouth would serve as a flashlight of sorts, shining into the very darkest nooks and crannies of our hearts and lives, running off the vermin and exposing our cluttered corners.
We love him and hate him for this, for we are great lovers of darkness (we think we aren’t, of course. We think we like truth and light and fair and right. But what we really like is gray and maybe and does-not-apply-to-me.)
So when scripture shows up and shines a bright little beam into the gray or murky or slightly compromised parts of us, when it exposes our lies and motivations and hearts, we squint our eyes and bat it back and protect our dim, shady corners like a dog does a bone. We like our vices and excuses and extenuating circumstances just fine, thank you very much. We like to wear masks and play dress up and pretend to be better/different than we are… and light does not allow for such hypocrisy. Darkness cannot exist where there is light, just as lies cannot exist where there is truth. When we shine truth into us, the darkness has no choice but to flee.
This is what I love most about Jesus. Hear me on this, all of you who think you know what He says and what He wants and who He is….
I have had dozens of conversations with folks who “have no use for organized religion.” They’ve been “burned by church” and they’ve “seen the hypocrisy” of believers. I hear you. I believe you. I agree with you.
Now, may I introduce you to your new best friend? I think you will like him very much as you have much in common… He is someone who found religion inadequate and irrelevant. He is someone who was completely and utterly despised by religious folks. He is someone who looked hypocrites in the eye and called them “wolves in sheep’s clothing, whitewashed tombs… full of uncleanness,” and a “brood of vipers.”
He is Jesus and He is not who you think He is.
He was a rebel. A healer. A mercy giver. A justice fighter. A truth-teller. And He was the Son of God. He hates hurt and hypocrisy as much as you do (except unlike us, He is innocent of both these things.) His ENTIRE REASON for coming to us was to call out and undo all the damage religion has done to this world. And his ENTIRE PURPOSE was to show us who God really is and fulfill the promise of love and redemption for us as his children.
If you are angry at the church, I get it. Me too.
If you have been burned by organized religion, I get it. Me too.
If you have seen hypocrisy on the pulpit or in your home , I get it. Me too.
But the Jesus found in scripture is not to blame for any of those things; we are.
As much as I wish the church/Christianity was a better representative of Jesus, it just isn’t. Gandhi said it best: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
So whether we are inside that church building 7 days a week, or cursing religion while smoking cigarettes in the alley behind it, let us all remember that ALL Christians are flawed and ALL Christians still battle with sin. Becoming a believer is not a magical quick-fix-perfection-inducer. It is simply a surrender of the heart and will to the Maker and Savior.
Basically and Biblically, Christianity is acknowledging God as God, us as broken, and making a commitment to follow him as best we can. But sometimes we forget. Sometimes we forget we are broken (or we forget we are being healed.) Sometimes we forget who He is or who we are in him. Sometimes we go back to doing what we have always done in history, society, culture, and life: We forget that God is sovereign and He cannot be mocked or superceded by our every whim.
Thank goodness for Jesus. Thank goodness for all He said and did and believed. And thank goodness those things were all recorded, and when closely examined, will make us weep and bring us closer to truth.
Which brings me to my final metaphor:
Scripture is a bar of soap.
I’d like to take credit for this comparison, but Charles Stanley said it first (then I adapted it a bit and am telling everyone I know about it.) I love this metaphor because every time we crack open the Bible, peel back its words and let it shine a light into us, it also cleanses us. It washes away the lies we’ve believed. It disinfects the dirtiest parts of us. It shines us up and makes us smell better, look better, be clean. It undoes what this world/this day/this life can do to us and makes us new again. Scripture is the truth-telling, life-giving gift of God that makes it possible for us to know him and follow him.
Bonnie Floyd is one of my favorite Christian speakers and I love what she says in one of the talks she gives on the importance of Scripture. She talks about how when we hear someone speak or attend a retreat, we will only remember about 10% of what that speaker shares. So often we forget the important points and details just days later. So in her talk she says, “If you forget everything else I have said this weekend, remember one thing: The Word, The Word, The Word.”
Now, when I counsel people about hardship or marriage or life or death, I use this. They won’t remember anything I say either, either because I am a blubbering idiot and/or they have too much in their brains already. So when they are asking what God says about something, I encourage them the same way Bonnie did to me and the same way the Bible does in saying, “…the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Romans 10:8).”
Wanna know what God thinks about that hard thing you are going through? The Word.
Wanna know what God says about your marriage? The Word.
Wanna know what God says about your career or future? The Word.
Wanna know what God says about raising kids or making a budget or dealing with injustice and hurt? The Word, The Word, The Word.
In it, you will find the answers to all of life and love. So peel it back, let it shine like the sun upon you and wash you clean again. I promise, you will begin to discover more about who He really is (and I hate to ruin the surprise, but you will be astonished.)
Jesus is not who you think He is. He is much, much greater.
A Verse and A Prayer
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I think I have maybe misunderstood You. I think I have maybe misunderstood who Jesus is and why you sent him too. Would you please shine your truth into my life? Would you please reveal yourself to me through your Word and your Son? I want to know the real you, not the culturally popular version of you or the version I have made up in my own head. Show me who you are, Lord. Astonish me. Amen.