WILL THE AUTHENTIC JESUS PLEASE STAND UP! MATTHEW 8.18-34
(Utterances of Matthew 8-10 are linked to Matthew 5-7)
What, if any, is the difference between our EXPERIENCE and EXPECTATION? Perhaps we plan a wedding or a holiday with visceral enthusiasm. But often we cannot control or understand all the factors and our experience is far less than our expectations. Let us make a trip through some of life’s journeys, such as believing that marriage is a universal panacea, the fulfilment of life’s purposes and ultimate solution to certain temptations. Too often, all too often, painful clashes recur until differing values and perspectives are resolved. Perhaps childhood memories are of painful situations such as a shattered home, of a drunken and abusive father, a crabby and selfish mother or omnipotent children, in laws, etc.
When Jesus confronts the world today, similar misconceptions must often be cleared away. As we begin to draw nearer to Jesus, we often carry our assortment of expectations urgently in need of modification. Perhaps a follower might think Jesus is a spiritual “fix” worth trying. Perhaps a source of “spiritual fulfilment” without raising questions about sin, truth, obedience or growth in discipleship. Perhaps, in some families or communities, social pressures teach that profession of faith in Jesus is a step to local acceptability, always assuming that profession of faith in Jesus is not to be taken too seriously. Meeting the Authentic Jesus often produces a real jolt (e.g. Augustine’s and Paul’s conversions).
One of the points of friction that develops when Jesus confronts the world is the sheer “authority” of Jesus (e.g. Matt. 8.22--allegiance to Jesus over family; forces of nature, demons, 8.22-28). Jesus is either a Liar, a Lunatic or the Lord!
Now we must turn in the road less traveled to encounter The Authentic Jesus, who is unforeseen, unpredictable, unnegotiable and in any real encounter - unavoidable (not in this life, but in life after death). When we encounter the “Resurrected Lord” He becomes unavoidable (Luke 24). There are at least four characteristics of our AUTHENTIC JESUS:
I. THE AUTHENTIC JESUS MAKES DEMANDS THAT ARE PERSONAL AND COSTLY (8.12-22 - The Cost of Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). He is Lord of Heaven and Earth, therefore, there is no cheap grace!
A. Two new people introduced (8.18-20) Jesus emphasizes The Cost of Discipleship (The opponents of Jesus were the Scribes)
B. Costly decision
C. Justification by grace
D. Freedom of God in giving salvation
E. Following Christ costs everything “I couldn’t bear a religion that costs me nothing.” “No reserve, no regret, no retreat.”
II. THE AUTHENTIC JESUS IS FAR MORE WONDERFUL THAN EVEN HIS MOST INTIMATE FOLLOWERS SUSPECTED (8.25-27) His name is “Wonder” (see Isaiah 9.6 - His name shall be called “Wonder”) (e.g. Borden of Yale, abandoned enormous wealth and status to prepare for ministry in the Middle East; Dietrich Bonhoeffer died in a German concentration camp for his faith; Solzhenitsyn was placed in a concentration camp for his faith in the Gulag Archipelago in Russia.
Our salvation is a great paradox--it costs us nothing yet it costs us everything! We are saved by grace alone, but there are no cheap facsimiles that know little of the biblical gospel and less of biblical holiness. The Authentic Jesus makes demands that are personal and costly.
III. THE AUTHENTIC JESUS PUTS SPIRITUAL AND HUMAN REALITIES BEFORE ALL ELSE (8.28-34). In this great passage, even the Demons knew who Jesus was, while His disciples failed to understand. In our post modern naturalistic culture, the category of Demons is denied as ignorant superstition. But we have been in Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 6) for a long time. (Increased insurgence of occult (e.g. Darth Vader in Star Trek). The Demons here know The Devil’s Advocate)
Jesus knows better than His disciples; this is the amazing point (Jude 6; Revelation 20.10). But knowledge of Jesus in their case breeds taunts, violence or hatred, not repentance. What distinguishes disciples from demons is loving obedience, not naked knowledge (8.33-34). Why didn’t Jesus deal with Roman Injustice, rather than individual problems?) Here we are confronted with the challenges of Priorities. Being a disciple of Jesus provides the best opportunity for serving Christ without compromise or distinction. Blessing from the Authentic Jesus are links that last for all eternity.
IV. THE AUTHENTIC JESUS OVERTURNS MANY COMMON EXPECTATIONS: This point emerges not from a single verse or paragraph, but to the entire flow throughout all The Gospels.
1. Jesus’ ministry is always flexible. He has the right word for the prostitute, the tax collector, the priest, the teacher of the law, the slave, the would-be disciple, the Pharisee, the crowds of the unnamed, the smooth-tongued interrogator, the Roman official, the soldier, the grieving sister, the blind, the sick, the poor, et.al.
2. Jesus’ flexibility is not the small talk of the public relations expert. His talk is not characterized by gifted small talk (e.g. the Telemarketers). His encounter always strikes at the heart of the needs, values, selfishness, weakness, hurts, or pride of the persons being addressed (e.g. what telemarketers could learn from Jesus).
3. Jesus displays marvellous insight into the questions of many inquirers. He immediately turns to Nicodemus’ area of expertise, The Scriptures. (John 3.10, “Israel’s teacher”). The Old Testament promises are standing before Nicodemus. Jesus calls for “a New Birth.”
4. To the Rich Young Ruler whose god was his wealth (Matt. 19.16-30), to the Disciples who were jockeying for position (Matt. 18), to religious leaders more concerned to trip Jesus in His words and to tear down His ministry than to bow before Him and acknowledge Him as Lord, Jesus makes an appeal to a child as the Kingdom standard. Jesus not only responds with sharp replies on a case-by-case basis (Matt. 22), but He also delivers a blessing as well as a grieving denunciation (Matt. 23). To Zacchaeus (Lk. 19), Jesus’ presence and personal interest was enough to bring about restitution.
One crucial distinction in Jesus’ responses to all these persons is what He does NOT say in each of these instances. In all of Jesus’ encounters, only Nicodemus is berated for not having grasped it. The model of a child’s responsiveness and simple faith is not applied by Jesus to Zacchaeus, Nicodemus or the rich young ruler.
What is the commonality in all of His replies, other than His flexibility and peerless skills in spiritual diagnosis? Perhaps two reflections might shed some light on the question-- (1) The Gospel structure is tremendously diverse. (2) In each encounter, Jesus’ reply stands directly opposite to the circumstances of the individual. (e.g. Paul in I Cor. 7.22 (slave/freeman; James insists the brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position/The rich should take pride in his low position (Jas. 1.9,10) This could cause economic damage, e.g. Philemon being a Christian and helping his slave)
The authentic Jesus is a liberator and a producer of privilege. In Him we are liberated from Sin and Death; these seem to be our ultimate concerns and also provides privilege of being a Child of a King--“Lord of Lords and King of Kings!” Despite the fact of diversity, our authentic Lord addresses our needs regardless of our backgrounds.
The Gospel is not only big enough to be applicable to highly diverse circumstances, but it also is most fittingly applied in ways that fly in the face of the individual involved. The complex diversity of the human condition has at its core a handful of rudimentary commonalities. If this is true, our post modern multiculturalism represents a complete rejection of this claim.
The Gospel can be applied with such flexibility precisely because the needs turn out to have more commonalities behind them than a causal glance might suggest. That is also the reason why Jesus consistently overturns so many common expectations. Our expectations are inevitably bound up with who we are (e.g. Habits of The Heart and James Sire’s Habits of The Mind) and who we are is so bound up with our ignorance of and rebellion against God. Despite our diversity, that is what Jesus and His ministry inevitably confronted. Small wonder then that Jesus overthrows our categories and our expectations: for He did not, He could not possibly be the one who was to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1.21).
This issue is precisely our postmodern challenge of contextualization in our multicultural maze. The difference between the Gospels is that their different authors and different audiences have different needs and categories. The supreme example of this challenge is precisely Paul’s witness to the Athenians (Acts 17) with the pagan context of their intellectual history and structures. On Mars Hill Paul encounters different Habits of The Heart and Habits of The Mind in his cross cultural witness; he must in some measure subvert and overthrow the categories of that culture. Central in this hermeneutical procedure was that all cultures are in some degree and particulars in rebellion against the Creator-Redeemer God revisited ultimately in Jesus. IF the presentation of The Gospel remains entirely congenial to any culture it can only be because the Gospel has been stripped of its stark independence, hopelessly tamed like a pet poodle, to do the bidding of that culture.
Our Western culture’s pursuit for “Self Fulfilment” is a case in point. If the Gospel is presented as something that meets the need, well and good; for in this sense, As Augustine discovered, our souls are restless until they find their rest in God. But if this theme is constantly reiterated without any mention of servanthood and death to self-interest, we become guilty of nurturing the very Narcissism and Hedonism that have corrupted so much of Western culture and that stand as glaring indications of our rebellion against God. This issue is especially crucial in the caste system of India. Christians in all cultures must constantly be aware of their great shaping by the pervasive influence of our surroundings, rather than by Jesus Christ and His Truth.
The Authentic Jesus consistently overturns many common expectations. Any other Jesus is a sham. C.S. Lewis is still correct when he wrote that “. . . Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or Lord” over all cultures and throughout all millenniums.
The Authentic Jesus is always more wonderful than both our Habits of The Heart and Habits of The Mind. Only the Authentic Jesus shall prevail through our Sorrows, Diseases and ultimately, our Death.
James D. Strauss