The Disreputables Types
Respectable religious types can spot an absence of good old fashioned piety a mile away. Take the religious leaders in Jesus’ day as an example. The more they see and hear from Jesus, the more they are sure they want nothing to do with Jesus. They disagree with Him so much, they are so convinced He is a threat to good religious order, that they actually make plans to murder Him. Jesus is not just irreligious, He is a bogus Savior. A sham Messiah. He is nothing but trouble for everyone and should be killed as soon as possible. Jesus is the exact opposite of what these Messiah-watchers know about Israel’s long-awaited Deliverer. He is not a Savior. For them, Jesus is the devil in the flesh.
The reason Jesus gets their dander up is because they are afraid of Him. He breaks their Sabbath rules. He prefers the company of disreputable types. He attends a dinner party at a tax collector's house. Jesus seems to actually enjoy the company of prostitutes. Worse yet, He forgives sin with no respect whatsoever for the rules set down and enforced by the religious establishment. Jesus even seems to delight in challenging their views about how God does business.
But, what is worse than all of that, what makes the religious leaders angrier than anything else Jesus does, is that whenever Jesus shows up He takes away their religion pills. He steals their spirituality pills too. He grabs their morality pills and flushes them all down the drain. That is why these phony-baloney, super-righteous, unforgiving score-keepers want Jesus dead. And why not? They’re high on the smack of their own religiosity. They have got God-fearing believers everywhere all doped up, too. They have got them strung out on a steady diet of good behavior, as if that is the key to their relationship with God.
We are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Losers set free to trust in God’s promises.
What Jesus does is force these religious dope-fiends to go cold turkey. He gives them nothing but the sobering word of His cross. He sets them free from their need for the dope of acceptance. But because they do not even want to imagine the withdrawal symptoms they refuse to listen to Jesus’ diagnosis. They refuse to hear the freedom that comes with His forgiveness of sinners. A freedom that releases them from the opiates of religion and spirituality and morality.
God has already accepted them, in advance, in Jesus. But, since they reject Jesus, they push back against their one indispensable need: Jesus! They don't need any other person, religious institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for god-pleasing faith and love.
The religious leaders have spent their whole careers struggling to be winners. They have overdosed their way through the pursuit of success, and respectability, and being the center of attention. For them, Jesus represents their ultimate fear: God is for losers.
Jesus says, “Those who save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 17:33) But the religious leaders' first concern is themselves. That is why they are so outraged by Jesus' self-defeating, self-destructive behavior. The religious leaders' addiction to winning drives them to become the very thing they most fear. They turn into losers.
It is a strange sort of fear—fear of being labeled a loser—when we stop to think about it. For one, it is contrary to Jesus' words: “Those who save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” This is what trips up the religious leaders, and us too!
The Strangeness of the Gospel
It is strange, because loss and failure are inevitable. Our life runs downhill. We are going to lose no matter what we do. Climb as high as we want on the ladder of success, but day by day we are going to lose our grip. We start out healthy and end up sick. Some of us start out sick and get sicker. We start out being of sound mind and end up losing our marbles. Above all, we start out alive and end up dead. Dead poor, sometimes. Dead drunk. Dead tired. Dead in our sin. But always and without fail we end up just plain dead.
Is this bad news? No, it is not bad news at all. Our death is the best news the world has ever heard. The old world runs by death. Death has always been the engine of life. Every living thing enjoys its life because something else died. The robin eats the worm. The cat eats the robin. The fox eats the cat and the fox, once he's dead, is eaten by the worm's grandchildren. Nothing can survive from eating dirt.
How strange it is then that we spend our lives in a frenzy fearing death as if we are being suffocated. We avoid death like the plague. Then we turn around and furiously inflict death on other creatures all over the map. This just points us to the one great obstacle to faith in Jesus and love for our neighbor. Our unwillingness to accept—in faith and in love—that death, the ultimate loss, is the instrument of our personal salvation.
Jesus’ death ‘FOR YOU’ will be our salvation, even our death in sin. God will for certain take back management of creation from all our phony-baloney, super-righteous judgments about how He ought to run things. He will throw out our religiosity, and spirituality, and morality pills. He will be a stumbling block to all attempts to upwardly rehabilitate our eternal life. Jesus will make us go cold turkey by feeding us on nothing but His words, body, and blood.
Jesus sets us free in His dying to be a beloved child of God. The body of Christ laid out and given into death for our sin. The blood of Christ poured out, shed ‘FOR YOU’ for the forgiveness of sin. All we can do, all we need to do, is trust Him. We are forgiven for Christ's sake. Losers set free to trust in God's promises and love each other because Jesus will never stop forgiving us and lifting us up out of our losses and death. Not now. Not ever.