Our Sanitized Jesus
It may be a bit inappropriate to start a blog with a reference to a toilet, but here goes. When I was a kid, I loved staying in hotels when I traveled with my Mom and Dad. In those days, when you went into the bathroom, the toilet bowl was decorated with a strip of paper across it that read, “sanitized for your protection.” I doubt any special cleaning process was used, but that badge of honor worn by a foreign toilet always brought a sense of comfort.
On Sunday our scripture reading included a quote from Jesus that, for some reason, brought that claim of sanitation to mind. In Mark 8, Jesus says, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (38)
Why would anyone be ashamed of the words of Jesus? Well, because quite frankly Jesus said some pretty shocking things, things that I fear we are afraid to say today. I’m concerned that much of the gospel we hear preached today has been ‘sanitized for our protection’. If we are to be stewards of the word of God, can we continue to be ashamed of some of Jesus’s teachings in the midst of this adulterous and sinful generation? Here are a few examples.
Jesus hated sin in every form. He named it and was unequivocal in His command to His followers to stop doing it. These included selfishness (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, Luke 16:19-31), pride (Luke 20:45-47, 18:9-14), hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2-16, 15:7, 22:18, 23:13-29, Luke 12:56, 13:15), greed (Matthew 6:24, 33), hatred (John 13:34-35), judging others (Matthew 7:1-6; Luke 37-38), sexual sin and adultery (Mathew. 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23). Jesus equated hatred with murder and lust with adultery. Will we name sin and its consequences in 2020 as Jesus did?
For Jesus, the ultimate consequence of sin is hell. Jesus talked about hell, not as a euphemism, but as a real, horrible reality, and named those who would end up there. Jesus doesn’t only reference hell, He describes it in great detail. He says it is a place of eternal torment (Luke 16:23), of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43), where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48), where people will gnash their teeth in anguish and regret (Matt. 13:42), and from which there is no return, even to warn loved ones (Luke 16:19–31). He calls hell a place of “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30), comparing it to “Gehenna” (Matt. 10:28), which was a trash dump outside the walls of Jerusalem where rubbish was burned, and maggots abounded. Jesus talks about hell more than He talks about heaven and describes it more vividly. There’s no denying that Jesus knew, believed, and warned against the absolute reality of hell. Even harder are some of Jesus’ teachings about how to avoid it. Will we preach Matthew 5:30 “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell”? Will we acknowledge, as Jesus did that, that “Many are on the path to destruction, and only a few even find the way to life”? (Matthew 7:13-14) Will we sound the call to, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”?
In the same way, Jesus talked about Satan, the devil in personal, clear and absolute terms. He directly confronts Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4). It is Satan who steals the word from people (Mark 4:15), who binds people with sickness (Luke 13:16), who is the father of lies (John 8:44) and for whom hell was created (Matthew 25:41). For Jesus, Satan is real. How about us in 2020?
Jesus was inclusive in His invitation to follow Him but exclusive in His criteria for entry into heaven. In John 14:6 Jesus states clearly, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He goes on throughout John; “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36), “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18), “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3), and “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9) Will we proclaim Jesus as the only way to salvation in this day?
Jesus acknowledged the divisive nature of His words and commands, and He did not shrink back from it. In Matthew 10:14 we read: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” In Luke 14:26-27 Jesus says, “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.And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Will we acknowledge that following Jesus may result in some forms of disunity? That discipleship may mean separation and the breaking of some relationships? Hard words for 2020.
Want some more?
1) Love your enemies – Matthews 5.43-47
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
2) Turn the other cheek – Matthew 5.38-42
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
3) God or money: you have to choose – Matthew 6.24
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
4) You must deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus – Luke 9.23-25
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
5) Rejoice when you are persecuted on account of Jesus – Matthew 5.10-11
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
6) The world hated Jesus, so expect the world to hate Christians – John 15.18-20
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
7) Serve the poor, or go to hell – Matthew 25.41-46
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Clearly these scriptures all need to be read in their context and preached within the larger story of the boundless love of the Father, the redeeming grace of the Son and the transforming power of the Spirit.
So, why is all this so important? Because a Sanitized Jesus offers what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (The Cost of Discipleship)
The Sanitized Jesus who offers cheap grace is the gospel of the owner who wishes to manipulate and control the Word of God to fit his or her own needs; just enough grace and good news without the need for repentance, obedience, sacrifice or surrender. The result is a gospel without the power to transform, a gospel for those ashamed of the truth.
Our world today needs the full gospel, the whole truth and the un-sanitized words of the authentic Jesus. Will we be faithful, unashamed stewards of this Jesus?