“4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” - Philippians 3:4-9 [NIV], Paul speaking on his conversion from relying on himself and religious law to instead relying on faith in God
While browsing social media on Easter, I noticed that a friend of mine had written about their annoyance at the number of so-called Christians who post “He has risen” and yet are hypocrites who don’t act at all like the Jesus whom they claim to follow. I liked that post and thought about commenting on it, though I didn’t. I think that friend has since deleted it and I don’t know what, if any, discussions became of it.
But that post got me thinking.
To believe the things that Christians do is a very experiential and emotional thing. To believe the things we do also involves a very real back and forth with our consciences and with who we understand Jesus to be.
And all of this is a far cry from when we misrepresent Christ because of our religiousness and emphasis on rules, factoids, and public displays of virtue.
It is often said that Christians are their own worst enemies or that many people might like Jesus, but they can’t stand his followers. Fair enough. I can think of plenty of my own shortcomings and deliberate failings. The truth is that one of the advantages of wearing my Skyline Vineyard Church T-shirt on Sundays is that after services I am more conscious of my behavior since I am more clearly representing my faith and my church. Maybe many Christians would represent Jesus better if everyone knew what they claimed to believe and follow, recognizing them as Christians as they go about their daily lives.
Pastor Jeff paraphrased C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity on Sunday when he said that what Christians believe has only three possibilities; that we’re telling the truth, that we’re liars, or that we’re insane. (C.S. Lewis said that about Jesus). And, if you think about the story of Jesus and the basic theology of Christians, it certainly seems like such a wild tale and set of beliefs could only be one of the three.
Christians believe in a literal all-powerful and loving being that we call God. We believe that God made everything there ever was, including humanity, and that he set moral laws to govern our behavior. We quickly broke, and continually break, those laws. Imagine all of the lies, blood, greed, pain, complicity, horrors, and suffering we’ve inflicted on ourselves as a species. From Cain killing Abel, through to colonial genocide and slavery, the World Wars, the Holocaust, fascism and communism, and the body count in Syria today. All of that stacked against us. The price for all of this is death. Yet we Christians believe that God chose to die for us instead of carrying out punishment for our individual and collective wrongs. We believe that God took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ and that he got himself killed as a perfect sacrifice in humanity’s place. He then came back from the dead and told us what he did and said that accepting that sacrifice and repenting is how we avoid the punishment for our individual and collective wrongs.
That’s the story. That’s Easter. And that’s the exciting message that people who post “He has risen” are trying to, and often failing, to convey. It’s a crazy, miraculous, and wonderful story. It’s THE story. But we’re bad messengers because we’re hypocrites and we’re flawed ourselves. While we remember the facts about what we believe and we remember the rules, we forget our own experiences with God. We forget who Jesus really is and we replace him with a caricature of our own making- the angry and abusive father-figure god, a republican or democratic god, a god that hates gay people, or immigrants, or Muslims, or Trump-voters, or whites or blacks, a god that happens to completely vindicate us but that points all the fingers at whoever we dislike.
To ignore the reality and the experience of God, we risk getting lost in rules, factoids, pomp and circumstance, and all of the other legalistic, spiritually dead actions and words that drive people away from Jesus. How many people are hurt by the church or become disheartened in their desire to know more about God because of those who call themselves Christians? How many people who just need a friend, or who are trying to get away from a bad situation or break a habit of sin or prejudice, find their journeys more difficult because of Jesus’ people?
As mentioned at the beginning, and as Pastor Jeff said in his sermon, this whole Christianity thing is very experiential. Someone might know historical facts about the chronology of Jesus’ ministry. Maybe they can quote a great many verses and know obscure Greek translations of key words. Maybe they worry constantly about what rules apply to what parts of our lives. Maybe they even complain loudly about how so-and-so doesn’t follow those rules. But that’s not what Jesus said to do. He said to love others as ourselves and as he loved us. Jesus died for us. If that’s his ultimate example of love, how many Christians would do the same?
For those of us who have been in very bad places in life and who sought out Jesus, those times when we connected with God and had nothing left to turn to were incredibly powerful. Those moments go light years beyond the shallow cultural trappings and postures of Christians in the public sphere. It was the feelings of love, belonging, and hope, along with the ability to forgive ourselves and others that see people through the toughest spots. Humans need meaning, purpose, and love. Billions have, and billions will, turn to Jesus when everything comes crashing down. He is our defense when the black nothingness of depression beckons, when those we love inevitably die, or when our souls hurt and our mortality weighs on us. Speaking for myself and a few close friends, I know that for me and others personally that believing in Jesus saved us (and still is saving us) on many levels and that it is real and works for us. THAT is the message we ought to be living both on Easter and on every other day.
Easter is the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection and the pronouncement of his death as forgiveness for us all. The disciples themselves had very experiential and personal experiences with Jesus. Their relationships with Jesus were real and emotional, as were their own inner conflicts. In fact, we tend to forget that even Jesus himself struggled as he was tempted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. He also prayed repeatedly not to suffer the painful death on the cross, but in the end he acted out of love for us anyway despite the torture. If Jesus himself revealed such emotion and experiences, why do we Christians feel the need to put up a front or pretend that we’re somehow special? If we think about it, it is rather silly and embarrassing.
Easter is about God’s love for us and about how we can imitate that love. As Pastor Jeff summarized, “God loved us, God gave us his son Jesus, and when we trust in that, we’re saved.” We should remember our experiences with Jesus and share those with others. Every day we represent Christ and every day we can either reflect him or reflect something else. The choice is ours, but the good thing is that we’ve been given our own experiences and relationship with Jesus to guide us and to share. Take heart in that. Isn’t that much better and authentic than the exhaustion of religious performance and of trying to remake God in our own image?
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.