I’ll never forget it.
We were studying a familiar Bible story in the Gospels. It was one we’d all probably read several times on our own, probably heard preached a few times, and thought we knew forwards and backwards. It was what we would think of as an “easy passage,” one that affirmed what we already knew to be true about Jesus and the truths He came to deliver.
But things got turned upside down when I asked one simple question. “Who was Jesus talking to in this passage?”
Literally, who was gathered there, way back then, centuries ago, before they knew the full revelation of who Jesus was? Who was there, hearing His parable, being gripped by His words? Who was His intended audience? Whose hearts was He speaking to?
The answer was one none of us had ever paid much attention to. We read the parable without thinking through this. But Scripture mentioned it, so it had to be important. And the intended audience of Jesus’s words changed the meaning of the parable He was teaching.
We thought He was saying something warm and fuzzy with His story. But what He was saying was something challenging and hard.
And I’ll never forget it.
A woman who had walked with Christ far longer than I have shook her head at the words of Jesus. She shook her head at the mention of His audience. She shook her head at the response the people had, which is something that we had, all of us, ignored and overlooked, even though it was right there in Scripture.
She shook her head and said, “My Jesus isn’t like that.”
I’m not sure who her Jesus was, but looking honestly at Jesus as He is in the Scripture left her feeling as though something wasn’t quite right. Either her presuppositions regarding the Lord were wrong or Scripture was wrong. Both couldn’t be right in this case, so one or the other needed to change.
In the end, she went with what was comfortable. She ignored His hard words, metaphorically crossed out that part in her Bible, and went on worshipping a Jesus of her own making.
Don’t we all do this? Don’t we all skip over passages that are hard to understand and accept a lesser view of Him because it’s simply “okay” to do so in our lukewarm culture? Don’t we all choose to ignore what is clearly meant by His words because believing them would call us to obedience that we’re just not ready to live in?
Don’t we all love “our Jesus” more than the radical, revolutionary Jesus who calls us to more than what we settle for?
The first time I read through Radical, I was more convicted by the wrong way we attempt things in the modern church than anything else. Bigger buildings, bigger programs, bigger results — that’s how church is in America. And at the time, I was living in rural Oklahoma, which has nothing on the church culture in big-city Texas, where bigger is always a sign of God’s favor and smaller means your pastor should probably be run out of town. (Which is better than what they did to “minichurch” pastor Jesus, you know.) I felt certain that — aha! — our problem was that we were valuing things that Jesus didn’t value Himself, that we’d lost our way, that we weren’t aiming for the wrong goals. I blogged about it here, feeling quite convicted at the time.
And I’m convicted now. But I’m convinced that the problem isn’t our method or our priorities, many of which stem from honest, good intentions.
The problem is we don’t know Jesus for who He is. We don’t naturally “get” Him. He can be Lord and Savior to us, and we can STILL miss who He is and what He meant when He said what He said. We can miss Him because we take our eyes off Scripture, stop studying it to see what it really says, and trade in its truth for what we believe culturally and personally about Him.
He’s a little more than what I’ve made Him. Okay, so He’s a LOT more than what I’ve made Him.
I feel like this is probably a very dangerous cliff I’m standing on. Scripture isn’t simple. There’s more depth to every story there than we can glean from even several readings, and as we grow and mature in faith, I’m convinced that there are more layers that the Holy Spirit peels back for our understanding. Full revelation is there in Scripture, but God knows it’s too much for us to comprehend all at once. That’s why we encounter it again and again, always learning, never reaching full maturity this side of eternity. The depth of Scripture, of what it says about God and who He is, is as vast as a canyon that I can step off into… and it’s just as scary. Because once I get in, I’m pretty sure I can’t ever return to the safety of the cliff where the ground feels solid and life is comfortable.
I want to follow Christ. I want to follow Him, not a Jesus of my own making. And it’s going to be risky because reading Scripture and seeing what He actually said, what He meant, and what it means for me… well, it’s going to be life-changing.
But He’s someone worth believing. And worth knowing fully.
So, here we go….