Jesus is often depicted as very tame. Above all else, Jesus is a “nice” guy. He’s a safe companion. He doesn’t stir things up, He avoids conflict when he can, and always helps old ladies across the street. When you see Jesus depicted in movies, he is well-kept, neatly dressed, always calm, and he generally walks very slowly.
And I think this is how Jesus often is in our lives: Tame and unobtrusive. When we think of Jesus we think first of select bits of the sermon on the mount. Jesus said things like…
“Blessed are the meek,”
“Blessed are the merciful” and
“Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Jesus would NEVER call his religious authorities a “brood of vipers,” “blind fools,” or “hypocrites.” Jesus would NEVER insult his nation’s King by calling him a “fox.” He would certainly never reproach one of his best friends with the line, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus would never go charging into the temple with a whip made of chords and overturn the tables of the shop keepers exclaiming, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers!”
But Jesus did do and say these things.
Yes, Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but he also said
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10: 34-36).
Yes, Jesus preached radical forgiveness, but he also said
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off… And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” (Matthew 9:43-47)
Jesus did speak words of comfort and peace, but he spoke much more as well. Jesus is tender, and nice, and comforting, but he is also a roaring lion and a piercing sword. It’s a scary dare to read the Bible because Jesus is much more dynamic, much more unpredictable, much more DANGEROUS than we have been taught.
Dorothy Sayers once put it well:
“If this [Jesus] is dull, then what, in heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore — on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommend him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as ‘that fox’; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a ‘gluttonous man and winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners’; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; he cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God, either…
Voltaire made a similar point more briefly: “God made man in His image, and man returned the favor.” We have domesticated Jesus, cultured him, made him into our own Western upper-middle-class Oxbridge image.
It’s a scary dare to invite Jesus to be the leader of our lives, because he will undoubtedly lead us into the unexpected and the dangerous; he will undoubtedly get us into trouble!
Such is the case for the apostles in Mark chapters 4 and 5. A multitude had lined up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to hear Jesus speak, and he was teaching them from a small boat. We pick up in verse 35 of chapter 4:
35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
14Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. [They knew Jesus was no safe character.]
18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis [that is, in the ten surrounding towns] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
21When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him…”
This is really a ridiculous story. Here the disciples and Jesus are, seemingly in the middle of an ideal ministry opportunity on the scenic banks of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus says, let’s go to the other side. We could stay here and preach the Good News to hundreds of eager folks. But no, I have a better idea. Let’s cross the Sea of Galilee, at night, the 7.5-mile-wide Sea of Galilee surrounded by high mountains and known for sudden violent storms!
And what’s even better, the Apostles agree! No questions asked. Sure, they have their doubts when water is pouring over the sides of the boat half-way across, but honestly I don’t think I even would have agreed to the crossing…certainly not without a lot of questioning.
I would have said, are you sure this is a good idea Jesus? Why can’t this wait til morning? Why do we have to cross the Sea now? And Jesus would have responded. Well, there’s an incredibly violent and incredibly strong demon-possessed man on the other side, and I’d like to go have a chat with him.
ARE YOU SERIOUS? This is the kind of guy that if you see him on the street, you be sure to cross over to the other side. But not Jesus. He crossed over to this man’s side. He went looking for trouble. And when he had gotten into the trouble he was looking for, it appears in verse 21 of chapter 5 that Jesus immediately crossed back over to the other side of the Sea. Jesus made this trip for no other reason than to heal this one troubled man.
I imagine there were a lot of days like this for those who hung out with Jesus, days where Jesus made a seemingly absurd decision, days when Jesus went looking for trouble, because it was in the place of trouble that God had work to do; it was in the place of trouble that healing needed to take place.
Jesus did not come for the healthy but for the sick. He came for those in trouble. As He
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach
good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the
prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4: 18-19).
The Spirit of Christ is on YOU because he has anointed YOU to be an agent of healing in the times and the places of trouble. Our God goes looking for trouble. Are you willing to go with Him?
Are you willing to follow God into a non-traditional career, or have you only given him three options: doctor, lawyer, investment banker – all financially secure, all culturally praised. If we put God into a box like this, he will be nowhere to be found.
Are you willing to follow God to a suffering land, to a third-world country that needs food, needs service, and needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ?
Are you willing to speak words of truth when they should be spoken but others would rather not hear them, in the dorm room, in the locker-room, at home?
Are you willing to follow God into the depths of a friend’s depression or addiction? Or would you rather not go looking for such trouble? Would you rather promise to pray from a safe distance?
Our God went looking for trouble. He went looking for the ultimate trouble, not for trouble’s sake, but because that’s what it took to save us. He came down from his heavenly throne and entered this troubled world as a helpless babe. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling a well-known, centuries-old prophecy of the Messiah to come:
“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he rode into Jerusalem, where he would soon be crucified. He was declaring his Kingship. He knew exactly the sort of trouble he was getting into.
And he knew that before long he would be fulfilling another prophecy written about him hundreds of years before his birth:
“Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
As Christians, we like talking about how Jesus died so that we would not have to. That’s true. Our God in his extravagant and unthinkable love accepted our death that we might live in His fullness of life.
But just as true is that Jesus died so that we COULD die. Jesus died so that we might by his Spirit be courageous enough to lay down our lives for others the way He has laid down His life for us. As one commentator puts it, “To have our feet in the footprints of Jesus, our backs must bear a cross.” As St. Paul put it, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). And as Jesus Himself put it,
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
So I urge you, go looking for trouble. Go looking for the trouble that a disabled person has washing or eating on his own. Go looking for the trouble of a teammate thinking about quitting. Go looking for the trouble of the depressed, the lonely, the poor.
1 in 7 children run away from home before the age of 18. 700 children died from easily treatable diseases or hunger in the time it has taken you to read these reflections. There’s plenty of trouble in this world, in this city, in our college. Find the trouble, as Jesus always did, because it’s at the place of trouble that healing needs to take place.
Dig into the living words of the Bible and you’ll find that there is nothing dull about Jesus Christ; and if so, there is nothing dull about God, either. Yesterday, today, and forever, our God is a troublemaker. So what trouble is He making in your life? And what trouble is He calling you into, in order for you to be His agent of healing?
Follow his call. Because God doesn’t want admirers; He doesn’t want believers. He wants followers, willing to follow Him through trouble and trial into the purpose and the adventure and the fullness of love that is life with Jesus Christ.