Emmanuel in Extremis

Why did Jesus come? Fundamentally? We’re on the cusp of Advent and thinking about the promised arrival of Messiah. Did he come to give the Romans a taste of their own medicine? Was he sent to vindicate the Pharisees? Could he be a latter-day King David? Might he make us all happy?

Some in Israel hoped for at least one of these outcomes, possibly more than one, and perhaps others I’ve not enumerated. Jesus was going to disappoint a lot of people. People with an agenda, who wanted him to do things for them. Here’s why this is on my mind…

Yesterday I spent a day being spiritually, theologically and intellectually stimulated by “Catalyst Live”. Held in Reading Town Hall and operating a little like TED talks for thinking Baptists (that wasn’t the official tag line, and I’m not a Baptist, but I was thinking), the short lessons centred loosely on the topic of global mission. We can’t talk about mission unless we reflect on why Jesus came.

In particular, a talk by Sam Wells focussed on the question at the top of this article. Why did he come? Sam’s assertion is that he came to be with us, not to do things for us. If that’s right, it tells us a great deal about how we are to express our discipleship. One line (paraphrased) from Sam’s talk , “The cross revealed that Jesus would rather be with us, than with the Father.” Of course Jesus did many things for us (died for our sins etc.), but his love for us led to him being with us – even in death. Sam’s sentence reminded me of what Paul said, 

“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Phil. 1:23-24 NIV11)

The Apostle was clear on what was better for him, but chose what was better for his friends. Discipleship led him to be with people. If we’re too focussed on what we want to do for people, or feel we can achieve for them, we may do good, but miss the point. If God is about relationship and love, then He does not need to ‘fix’ everything, and indeed never will in this life. Our role as followers of Jesus is not to fix people, but to be with them, showing the love of Jesus, hoping they will then want to know the God we know. Then, whether everything gets fixed or not, we will be with God together. 

If Emmanuel, God with us, stayed with us to the end, preferring human death to heavenly relief, going beyond commitment to extreme sacrifice, then we can be confident of God’s love for us. As we go out to be with people, in their mess, stress and distress, we’ll stand a good chance of convincing them of God’s love for them. That’s why Jesus came – to be with us.
Malcolm Cox

“Who’d be a hater?”

hateMy next sermon text is Luke 14.25-35 (Sunday 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford). What do you think of the first two verses?

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–26 NIV11)

There might not be a more controversial, hard-to-accept verse in the entire Bible.  What does it mean to ‘hate’ in the way Jesus intends? How can Jesus talk about hate in any positive sense?  Didn’t he tell us to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27 NIV11) It’s in the same gospel. Is he contradicting himself? Well, we’ll look at this in more depth on Sunday, but for now let’s consider the following issues.

First, the word, “hate”. We need its cultural context. According to Kealy, Hebrew, “had no suitable words to express different shades of meaning. Thus words such as “love” and its opposite “hate”…were used to express the idea of preference.”¹ Hence we should not see this as a a call to literal hate, but more one where a preference of one over the other is involved.

But does God never hate? Yes, He does. He hates insincere worship:

“Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:14 NIV11)

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.” (Amos 5:21 NIV11)

With this understanding we can surmise that Jesus is saying, “Are you ‘all-in’? Are you ready to be fully committed, truly sincere?” This fits the following two parables (we’ll look at these in more detail another time). We cannot be divided in terms of who is first in our affections: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13 NIV11)

If we are to love all people (and loving our enemies must include our families even if they are also our enemies!), Jesus cannot be asking us to literally hate our families. So, what does he mean? Perhaps it is that the love one of his disciples has for him must be so strong  that the highest other human love is hatred by comparison (see also Matthew 10:37). In other words, Jesus comes first. Always. In everything.

Such an interpretation does not weaken the command. On the contrary, it strengthens it. We are called to a radical reordering of priorities. Our devotion to Jesus is so total and complete, so wholehearted and genuine that observers will see love for friends, family and things as hatred in comparison. This is not so much a call to remove love for family as a call to ensure love for Jesus is so hot that all other loves we have are cold by comparison.

How do we sustain this love? Recall that eternal life is on offer: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25 NIV11) As well as many other great and special promises: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29–30 NIV11)

More reflections on this passage will be coming later in the week. But, for now, what are your thoughts on this passage? How do interpret the “hate” Jesus is talking about?  How do explain it when talking to other people? I’d like to hear your ideas. Please drop me a line via email, or leave a comment on this blog

God bless,

Malcolm

 

¹Kealy, C.S.Sp, Seán. Freedman, David Noel, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, eds. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.

“True Treasure”, Luke 12.22-34, as preached at the Watford church of Christ

Don’t: worry about stuff – Because: God’s got your back – Therefore: give stuff away (be generous) – And you will have lasting treasure

“How to Feed 5,000 People”, Luke 9.10-17, Watford church of Christ

Jesus feeds 5,000 people, but what is the spiritual lesson for the crowd, the disciples and us? We see how he sets up a faith opportunity for the disciples, and how he supplies the inspiration for future times when their faith will be tested further.

“OMQ”: Turning Back? John 6.66

Some of the disciples turn back and leave Jesus. We can understand the crowds and the Pharisees not following him, but why his disciples? Any insights?

“OMQ”: Turning Back? John 6.66

To listen to the audio click here.

“OMQ”: Hard Teaching? John 6.60

Jesus demands that his followers eat his flesh and drink his blood. This certainly sounds strange, but why is is “hard”? Any ideas?