GROWING LIKE JESUS — LIFE BEFORE DEATH
Growing Christ followers...
“45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why didn't you bring him in?’ ‘46No one ever spoke the way this man does,’ the guards declared. ‘47You mean he has deceived you also?’ the Pharisees retorted. ‘48Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.’ 50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, ‘51Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?’ 52They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.’”
You can hear the exasperation in their voice. This was the last day of the feast. This was therefore their last chance to arrest Jesus. During the Feast of Tabernacles anyway. Which they had tried to do before according to chapter 7 verse 1. And again in verse 30. And again in verse 32. All to no avail. And while Jesus’ time had “not yet come,” their’s was running out. So you can understand why the chief priests and Pharisees are so annoyed when the temple guards return empty handed. They were sure this was the perfect time to seize him. Because Jesus had finally alienated some of the crowd. More than once in chapter seven, the reader is told that the crowd was divided about Jesus. Some believed, but others according to verse 12 said, “No, He deceives people.” Same type of thing in verse 32 and 40 and 43.
Some people learned to discern the truth and believed Jesus. But others did not. Still others were ambivalent and didn’t know what to think or do. Therefore, they probably would not have intervened had the temple guards arrested Jesus. But, when the time comes, the temple soldiers decide not to arrest Jesus. Interestingly, not because they didn’t have their chances or partial support from the crowd or permission from the chief priests, but apparently because they simply didn’t want to! Why? I think it’s because Jesus introduced them to the myth of redemptive violence. What’s the myth of redemptive violence? Well, in a nutshell, it’s the false premise that we can use violence to stop violence. But it’s a myth. It doesn’t work. And I can’t see how it’s Christian.
Shane Claiborne in his book The Irresistible Revolution illustrates this well. He tells the story of a young man who was a decorated army veteran in the 1991 Gulf War. He wrote letters home in which he told his family how hard it was to kill. He told them he felt like he was turning into an animal because day after day it became a little easier. He came home from serving in the Army Special Forces horrified, crazy, and dehumanized. Later, writing from federal prison in Florence, Colorado in March 1998 in a piece entitled “Essay on Hypocrisy”, Timothy McVeigh wrote: “Do people think that government workers in Iraq are any less human than those in Oklahoma City? Do they think that Iraqis don’t have families who will grieve and mourn the loss of their loved ones? Do people believe that killing of foreigners is somehow different than the killing of Americans?”
Elaborating on McVeigh’s comments, Claiborne writes, “No doubt his mind had been tragically deranged by the myth of redemptive violence. He bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in hopes that complacent Americans could see what ‘collateral damage’ looks like and cry out against bloodshed everywhere—even in Iraq. Instead, the government that had trained him to kill, killed him, to teach the rest of us that it is wrong to kill. Dear God, Claiborne writes, liberate us from the logic of redemptive violence.”
From another prison cell the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated it this way: “These are extreme times. The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?” As Norm Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries said in that 30 second commercial, “We need more of God’s love right now to help us love one another. God’s love is available to us. He wants to help us live a life where we love one another.”
While we don’t have much information on what exactly Jesus told those guards and what they thought of Jesus, we know enough that whatever Jesus said and however He said it, He convinced them not to do their job! At least for that day. I think He helped them consider the myth of redemptive violence. Which, as point number this week, is what growing followers of Jesus do. Just think about it! Using violence to teach our children not to use violence makes no sense! It’s got nothing to do with pacifism or conscientious objection or even national security. It’s common sense. Basic Christianity. It’s how Jesus lived His life. And it makes sense. Even to soldiers! At least the ones in John 7 and Matthew 27.
But let me ask you something John Lennon asked first. Imagine there’s no heaven. Or hell. Imagine that Jesus didn’t die on the cross and that there’s no such thing as eternal life. Do you imagine that you would still follow Jesus? Have you ever thought about that? Or asked yourself that question? If there was no life after death, would you still be a follower of Christ? I wasn’t always sure. But I am now. And I believe some of those soldiers Jesus met were too. Why? Because Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live. Otherwise, much of what He said is pretty pointless isn’t it? I mean seriously, how hard do you think it will be to love our enemies in heaven? Think about it! We won’t have any!
So what’s the point? The point is: Following Jesus makes sense! Both in this life. And throughout eternity. To Samaritans and soldiers and everyone else in between! And this is incredibly good news to the average American. Because they’re not wondering if there is life after death. They already know there is. Whether they’re Christian or not. It’s obvious they’ve already made that leap of faith when you see the kinds of crazy paranormal shows on TV these days. What the average American is wondering, as Shane Claiborne so eloquently puts it, is: is there life before death?!!
And in a very short period of time, I think Jesus convinced these temple soldiers that there was! He was the water of life! His will is always done in heaven and on earth! The Kingdom of God is here! And how you live your life in this life makes a difference. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 5:38-44. “38You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Some people think this means we’re supposed to be doormats and helpless victims. No, conscientious objection is not passive acceptance. Ask Dr. Bills Sr. about that. Or watch the new Desmond Doss DVD sometime. Neither Christians or entire countries of Christians are called to be doormats and helpless victims. Read up on Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr to see how active peaceful resistance can transform entire countries. I don’t think Jesus wanted His followers to roll over and play dead. It takes incredible courage and strength to turn the other cheek. Staring straight into the eyes of your false accuser with love instead of hatred. Forcing your enemy to recognize your God given humanity. It takes the superhuman grace of God to choose not to retaliate. It is so much harder to befriend than it is to defend. Maybe that’s why so few Christians do so. Jesus taught the myth of redemptive violence. Why don’t we?
Moving on, look at verse 46. “46No one ever spoke the way this man does,’ the guards declared.” But that wasn’t an isolated opinion. The crowds in Matthew 7:28 came to the same conclusion. “28When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
Growing followers of Jesus consider the myth of redemptive violence. Point number one. Why? Because there is life before death. Which is point number two. Jesus came, John10:10 says, to come and give us life and life what? Abundantly! Even the pagan Emperors could not ignore this truth. It’s recorded in the books of history that the Emperor Julian confessed, “The godless Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own.” Why? Because there’s life before death. And that life is worth living. And sharing.
It changes the way you look at the poor. Not as cases to pity. But as people to pamper. Because God loves them like crazy! It changes the way you look at the rich. Not as wealthy and in need of nothing. But as partners looking for places to put their treasure where moths and rust cannot destroy it. It changes the way you live your own life. When you actively reject that which is bad and pursue that which is good.
Will anyone else remember Nora dancing during the Rwanda Clean Water banquet last Saturday night? She got machetied barely surviving the genocide in Rwanda. Has been separated from her family. Has eye witnessed unspeakable tragedies and loss, and yet there she was, swaying and smiling and dancing with the Cozzens on Saturday night! That image of radiating joy and love and determination to be active for that which is good has been forever burned into my mind.
Maturing and growing followers of Jesus long for life before death. Not just after death. Real Christians aren’t consumers. Or doormats. Or victims. They are Christian soldiers marching onward living extreme mind boggling forms of love. And those kinds of Christians are very contagious! They are a force to be reckoned with that no weapon can stop. Those kinds of Christians could change the world including ours. Which makes me conclude: The reason people aren’t flocking to Jesus in North America is not because they haven’t heard the Gospel. I think it’s primarily because they haven’t seen it! They haven’t seen anybody live it. And share it. It hasn’t become contagious enough yet to spread like a virus. From person to person infecting the hearts and hands of ordinary people. Like civil servants. And soldiers. People who have jobs to do.
But when the average American encounters an extremist for love and not hate, they say, whoa! This is unheard of! This guy is crazy. In a good way. This girl is extreme. And we like her! Tell me more about your church. Tell me more about Jesus. I wanna know what love is! Following Jesus appeals to men and women who like to be challenged to live extreme lives of love. Growing followers of Jesus consider the myth of redemptive violence. Point number one. They long for life before death. Point number two. And they look for leaders with integrity. Point number three. Let’s look at the last few verses here in John 7 starting in verses 50-51.
“50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, ‘51Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?’” Some folks think that Nicodemus wasn’t a true follower because after his midnight conversation about conversion with Jesus recorded in John 3, he kept his job in the Sanhedrin. He kept working for the state. He didn’t sell all he had and give it to the poor or whatever we usually say proves to people that you’re sold out for Jesus. Some people even have the audacity to say that Nicodemus was a wimp. But that’s not the picture of him I see John painting in the Gospel of John. I think it was incredibly brave to keep your job and live for Jesus in it. Isn’t that what Scripture reveals Nicodemus did? Yes, John 12:42 says, “Many even among the leaders believed in Jesus, but because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” But John 19:38-39 adds, “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus...the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night...”
All the other disciples minus Judas are running for their lives, denying Jesus in the darkness, hiding in the upper room. But Nicodemus stays where he is, defends him in broad daylight, and sticks around to bury him when no one else would. Now who here is living like Jesus? Nicodemus or the disciples? Who here has integrity? Nicodemus or the disciples? And in our passage today, who is living like Jesus and has the integrity? Nicodemus or the other rulers of the law? Nicodemus!
Which leads us to point number three. Growing followers of Jesus look for leaders with integrity. People who don’t run. Who don’t deny Him. Who will defend the defenseless. THAT’s what our armed forces do best!!! And because those temple guards saw those characteristics in Jesus, they chose to disappoint the Pharisees instead. So who are you trying to please? I don’t know about you, but I want to please Jesus! Not a bunch of liars. Which is what those rulers of the law were. They knew that the prophet Jonah came from Galilee [2 Kings 14:25; Jonah 1:1]. Same sort of thing with Nahum and Elijah. But in verse 52, they mock Nicodemus with their lies, “Are you from Galilee too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
Sixty years later they’d eat their words when the well known and respected Jewish rabbi Eliezer [90 AD] would mock theirs. He would say later, “You have no single tribe in Israel out of which prophets have not come forth.” But men of integrity don’t lie or tell half truths to make their point. Men of integrity don’t mock others who disagree with them. Men of integrity don’t judge and condemn others. They are patient and kind. They use the brain God gave them. And they defend the defenseless. They look for leaders with integrity.
But the temple guards weren’t the only ones who recognized that. Nicodemus did too. Even when his colleagues did not. Christ’s life stands it stark contrast to the lives of the rest of the chief priests and Pharisees and religious leaders of that day.
Which makes me wonder: What do the people in our sphere of influence think of us? Knowing we go to church and profess to be a followers of Christ, do they mock us behind our back? Or do they see men and women of integrity?
My prayer for us today is that we would consider the myth of redemptive violence. Long for life before death. And by God’s grace, be the leaders of integrity others are looking to follow. May God help us this week live courageous lives worth sharing.