On Fridays we are taking a journey with Michael Spencer through the Gospel of Mark. We have found many of his writings and sermons on Mark and are editing and compiling them into a book: Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. The following is a blog post written by Michael Spencer in May of 2008. It is one of nearly 200 source documents that will shape the commentary. The book is still quite a ways from completion, but if you would like to be contacted when it is available for purchase, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.
Mark 3:20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”….Mark 3:31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers* are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said,”Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Most Christians aren’t like Jesus.
Should we even try to be? Isn’t that impossible?
None of us can be like Jesus perfectly, but the Gospel of the Kingdom calls Jesus’ disciples to hear his call and set the goal and direction of their lives to be like him. For a follower of Jesus, Paul’s words of “follow me as I follow Christ,” are translated simply, “follow Christ in every way possible.”
Ghandi said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” He’s far from the only one to have made that observation, and those critics aren’t holding anyone to a standard of perfection. They are simply looking for enough congruence that the claim to be a follower of Jesus makes sense.
Christians have gotten very good at explaining why they really shouldn’t be expected to be like Christ. At various points, these explanations are true. At other points, they start sounding like winners in a competition for absurdist doublespeak.
Perhaps many Christians don’t resemble Jesus because they don’t really know what Jesus was like. Or- more likely- they assume Jesus was very much like themselves, only a bit more religious.
Getting our bearings on being like Jesus will start with something very important: discarding our assumption that our personal and collective picture of Jesus is accurate.
One of the constants in the Gospels is the misunderstanding of Jesus. The list of mistaken parties is long.
Herod the Great mistook Jesus for a political revolutionary.
The religious leaders mistook Jesus for another false Messiah.
Jesus’ family mistook him for a person who was “out of his mind.”
Nicodemus mistook Jesus for a wise teacher.
The rich young ruler mistook Jesus for a dispenser of tickets to heaven.
The woman at the well mistook Jesus for a Jewish partisan.
Herod Antipas mistook Jesus for John the Baptist back from the grave.
The people said that Jesus was a political messiah, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
The disciples….oh my. The disciples were certain Jesus was a political messiah/king who would bring the Kingdom through miracles, but just at the moment they were most certain of who and what Jesus was, he turned everything upside down. Only after the horror of the cross was past and the Spirit opened their minds and hearts to the truth did the disciples begin to see Jesus clearly.
Thomas mistook Jesus for a dead man.
Like the blind man in Mark 8, the disciples had partial, unclear sight that required a second touch for clarity.
I believe Judas misjudged Jesus. Saul the persecutor certainly did, as did Pilate and the Romans.
If you got all the people who misjudged Jesus into a room, you’d need a bigger room.
When our children were small, my son was a big fan of wrestling. Every wrestler has a “signature move” to end a match; a move that no one does exactly like they do.
When I read Mark 11 and the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the merchants and moneychangers, I believe Jesus’ “signature move” is turning over the tables of expectations about who he is and what it means to follow him.
Read back through the Biblical examples I’ve cited. In almost every instance, it’s Jesus who overturns the tables of expectations and preconceived notions. It’s not just a discovery by a seeker. Jesus is the initiator of the big surprises. Part of what it means to be a Jesus-follower is to have your notions of religion, life and God turned upside down by the rabbi from Nazareth.
So is Jesus like today’s Christians who so easily assume they now what Jesus is all about? I’d like to suggest that the answer is “No.” Jesus isn’t like today’s Christians at all, and a large portion of our failure of Christlikeness comes down to a failure to know what Jesus was like.
Do you like grape Kool-Aid? I’ve always loved the taste of grape Kool-Aid on a hot day.
Have you ever tasted grapes? Do grapes taste grape Kool-Aid?
No, they don’t. But you could easily imagine a child who loves grape Kool-Aid eating a grape and saying “Yuck!! This doesn’t taste like grapes at all!”
The real thing has been replaced by the advertised replacement so long that there’s genuine confusion and disappointment at the taste of a real grape.
So it is with Jesus. The version of Jesus that dominates so much contemporary Christianity is the grape Kool-Aid version of a real grape. And many, many Christians have no “taste” for Jesus as we find him in scripture, especially the Gospels.
Where would the real Jesus perform his “signature” move of turning over our popular misconception of him?
Here’s just a few tentative and preliminary suggestions.
Jesus wasn’t building an institution or an organization, but an efficient, flexible movement with the Gospel at the center and grace as the fuel.
The church Jesus left in history was a “band of brothers (and sisters)” than an organization of programs and buildings.
The message at the heart of all Jesus said and did was the Kingdom of God, which implicitly included himself as King and the status of all the world as rebels in need of forgiveness and surrender.
The movement Jesus left behind was made up of the last, the lost, the least, the losers and the recently dead. The world would never recognize this Jesus shaped collection of nobodies as successful.
Jesus treated women, sexual sinners and notoriously scandalous sinners with inexplicable acceptance.
Jesus taught the message, power and presence of the Kingdom. He did not teach how to be rich, how to improve yourself, how to be a good person or how to be successful.
Jesus didn’t teach principles. He taught the presence of a whole new world where God reigns and all things are made right.
Jesus rejected the claims of organized religion to have an exclusive franchise on God, and embodied the proof that God was in the world by his Son and through his Spirit to whomever has faith in Jesus.
Jesus practiced radical acceptance in a way that was dangerous, upsetting and world-changing.
Jesus calls all persons to follow him as disciples in the Kingdom of God. This invitation doesn’t look identical to the experiences of the apostles, but the claims and commands of Jesus to his apostles extend to all Jesus-followers anywhere.
God is revealed in Jesus in a unique way. What God has to show us and to say to us is there in Jesus of Nazareth. All the fullness of God lives in him, and to be united to Jesus by faith is to have the fullness of all God’s promises and blessings.
Jesus didn’t talk much about how to get to heaven, and certainly never gave a “gospel presentation” like today’s evangelicals. Nor did he teach that any organization of earth controlled who goes to heaven.
Jesus never fought the culture war.
Jesus was political because the Kingdom of God is here now, but he was the opposite of the political mindset of his time as expressed in various parties and sects.
Jesus was radically simple in his spirituality.
Jesus was radically simple in his worship.
Jesus wasn’t an advocate of family values as much as he was a cause of family division.
Jesus fulfills the old testament scriptures completely, and they can not be rightly understood without him as their ultimate focus.
The only people Jesus was ever angry at was the clergy. He called out clergy corruption and demanded honesty and integrity from those who claimed to speak for God and lead his people.
Jesus embraced slavery and servanthood as the primary identifiers of the leaders of his movement.
Jesus didn’t waste his time with religious and doctrinal debates. He always move to the heart of the matter. Love God, Love Neighbor, Live the Kingdom.
Jesus expected his disciples to get it, and was frustrated when they didn’t.
Jesus died for being a true revolutionary, proclaiming a Kingdom whose foundations are the City of God.
Does this sound like Jesus as you’ve encountered him in evangelicalism?
That’s the sound of tables turning over.
That’s the taste of a real grape, not the Kool-Aid.
That’s why so many Christians aren’t like Jesus.
They have no idea what he was really all about.